Voting habits: International students engage in the 2019 federal election

For many, October 21 will be a day much like any other at UBC. You will probably be late to class, The Nest will be painfully packed by noon and The Delly will still be amazing. But this isn’t just any Monday, it’s the day of the Canadian federal election. Many weeks of hard work and campaigning end with this one day to answer the all-important question: who will represent the people and lead the country for the next four years?

Tensions will be running high for many Canadian citizens at UBC. But will the same tension be felt by non- Canadian students?

To vote in Canada, you must be over the age of 18 and you must be a Canadian citizen. UBC has a lot of international students and under these requirements, they are ineligible for voting. According to UBC, 25 per cent of the student population was international in the 2017/18 academic year. So how does this significant population of campus feel about the upcoming federal election that they can’t even have a say in?

Predictably, many international students do not feel the need to stay up to date with the candidates or the issues discussed.

“Talking with my friends, the election isn’t a big thing on their minds ... You’re absorbed by school and what’s happening [here],” said Felipe Alfaro, a member of the Young Liberals and an international relations major from Panama.

Tomas Kantor, a fifth-year international relations major from Chile, agrees.

“It’s a negative feedback, if you will, where we just surround ourselves with international people and we fall into the snowball of un- Canadianness,” Kantor said. “We’re not really engaged in the Canadian political debate.”

In short, they both felt that there can be a sort of bubble at UBC for international students that comprises mainly school work and insulates them from the current events in Canada.

But some students do feel strongly about the need to stay up-to-date politically. Matisse De Rivières, a third-year French dual degree student in arts, said she is keeping up with the election.

“I don’t understand how you can go to another country and not get involved somehow in the local life which means for me ... how to understand where you live and what are the dynamics?,” said De Rivières.

For De Rivières, it’s about being a part of the country she is living in.

“I’m actually so glad — I didn’t realize when I applied to this program [at UBC] that I would be here for the elections and I’m so thankful for that because that is just such an amazing opportunity,” she said.

When asked why they believe that international students have a tendency to not care as much about the elections, third-year French economics major Alix Chambaz noted that international students generally only respond to policies that strongly affect them.

“[I feel] that international students, if they don’t have an interest in politics, are not really going to care about it,” she said.

But quite a few issues do affect international students — especially immigration.

“There can be changes the way that migration works,” Alfaro said. “And I remember there was a change from the Harper government to the Trudeau government.”

This isn’t to say that students are apathetic to domestic issues. For instance, both Chambaz and De Rivières felt strongly about Canada’s need to fix the state of their relations with Indigenous groups.

“Addressing the Indigenous issue should be Canada’s main priority. I can’t believe that it hasn’t been done already,” said Chambaz.

Ultimately, international students are by no means a monolith. The students interviewed gave a variety of different answers and opinions regarding international students and the federal election. But the one thing that was truly consistent across the board was how strongly each student felt about the importance of voting.

“We fought so hard to have a system where all of us can have a stake in what decision making is going to look like,” said Chambaz.

“If you can vote, you have a duty to.”

—With files from Sarah Zhao.