David Eby aims to increase “dismal” youth voter turnout this election

The NDP’s Vancouver-Point Grey MLA, David Eby, stopped by Koerner’s Pub last night for a few beers and a chance to talk politics with the UBC NDP club.

One of Eby’s goals this year is to establish a strong base of student voters. Turnout in the 2013 provincial election for 18 to 24-year-olds was 47.9 per cent — the second-worst category after 25 to 34-year-olds (39.8 per cent). “Dismal” numbers, according to Eby.

In the 2015 federal election, youth turnout was 57.1 per cent, as opposed to 38.8 per cent in 2011 — an enormous increase that puts 2013’s numbers squarely in the middle.

To get more students to turn out, Eby wants to avoid “[ramming] partisan politics down the throats of students, and instead say, ‘We don’t care who you vote for — we just want you to vote.’”

The BC Liberal candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, James Lombardi, is also hoping to increase youth voter turnout and engagement in the upcoming election.

“It’s been really energizing to see the number of young people that are actually getting involved, and I’m quite confident we’ll see that youth turnout click up a couple of points in the next election — hopefully more,” said Lombardi, adding that he is open to any and all invitations for meetings and debates on campus.

Of course, the left-wing NDP is likely to reap most of the benefits of an increased youth voter turnout. It was one of the major reasons the federal Liberals won the last election. But Eby — who beat Premier Christy Clark in her home riding last election — is well-practiced in speaking the language of student voters.

“I have a hard time understanding why a student might consider voting BC Liberal when they can't find adequate student housing, when the busses are driving past them and they're always full, when the economic development plan for our region appears to be a pipeline that's going to bring bitumen into the harbour,” said Eby.

“The NDP represents a very clear departure, whether it’s student housing, or funding for education, or economic development that’s sustainable.”

On transit and student housing

Eby touched on transit as a key issue for UBC students. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recently announced a SkyTrain expansion — slotted to begin in 2019 — which would bring the Millennium Line to Arbutus, but well short of UBC.

“I can’t understand why you would have all those machines in the ground, all that investment and not run it all the way to UBC,” said Eby. “I do understand that it may be a while before there’s a market case for so much transit out to UBC, but I think that the reality is that we’re going to need it eventually and the cost-efficiency of doing it all at once ... is pretty obvious.”

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Lombardi took a more cautious tone, saying that more work needs to be done with mayors and the federal government before the Liberals will know what the future holds for the Millennium extension.

In the meantime, Lombardi has been a vocal proponent of ride-sharing services — a hot topic in BC while the Liberals examine regulations around the industry.

“I’ve been very vocal and I will continue to be vocal to press my party and our government to bring ride-sharing in, and I’m hopeful that will happen.”

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Eby — the Opposition Housing Critic — also noted that universities can’t borrow money to build student housing. This is a system that he blames for the lack of student beds on campus, and something he says an NDP government would reverse when demand gets too high.

“We’ll have a program in place to subsidize the construction of that housing so that the rents are actually affordable for students,” he said.

“I’m a renter in Point Grey, so I know how hard it is to track down housing. We’re really trying to address affordability from every possible angle,” said Lombardi, citing the government’s $855 million affordable housing investment and the foreign buyers tax.

Lombardi’s position is that it’s better to let the university shoulder the full cost of on-campus housing.

“UBC’s a little bit fortunate because it does have an endowment, so it can tap into its own resources to grow housing on campus as opposed to needing to go into debt,” said Lombardi.

Both Lombardi and Eby said that they're up for participating in on-campus meetings and debates to spur youth engagement.