2014 Mayoral election: Ryerson students get involved

Akemi Liyanage, 21, is a volunteer photographer for the Chow campaign. (Courtesy Akemi Liyanage)

Akemi Liyanage, 21, is a volunteer photographer for the Chow campaign. (Courtesy Akemi Liyanage)

A Ryerson student has a front-row seat to mayoral candidate Olivia Chow’s campaign.  Akemi Liyanage, 21, is a volunteer photographer for the Chow camp.

It’s about more than just photos for the second-year journalism student.

At Chow’s first rally, Liyanage found support from other students who care about the same issues. She went to cover the event alone, not knowing anyone else involved in Chow’s campaign or in any of the campaigns.

“I met a lot of students who have graduated and are now looking for a job. They (were at the rally) volunteering. It was nice to talk about the struggles students face,” Liyanage said. “Being at events like this gives us a sense of hope. Employment situations can become better. We can find contacts, meet people and do things that make progress in our own lives and in the greater situation.”

Liyanage signed up as a volunteer for the Chow campaign after receiving an email blast, to which she quickly shot an email back and offered to bring her camera.  She plans to attend future events, including Wednesday’s mayoral debate at the CityTV headquarters, and take more photos for the campaign.

She said that student participation is important for the upcoming mayoral campaign, especially as a solution to the lack of young voter turnout.  According to Liyanage, there needs to be a greater recognition of young people within the political sphere.

“I really want the city to use the energy and genius of young people to make it better. We should be using young people the best that we can to make the things better,” Liyanage said. “We’re smart, capable and (available). We have a perspective that older people don’t.”

Liyanage isn’t the only Ryerson students taking part in the 2014 election.

Claire Stevenson-Blythe, a second-year environment and urban sustainability student, volunteers at the non-profit organization, Toronto Environmental Alliance. She canvasses and raises awareness among voters, in both mayoral and ward races, about environmental issues up for debate.

She said she noticed a disconnect between students and politics during a class project on political involvement in her program. She surveyed 67 students in one of her classes and about 87 per cent of those surveyed were not involved with political organizations.

The Ryerson student is planning a mayoral debate for her program in September.  Her goal is to encourage students to apply politics to both their program and the environment.

“In this program, we need to be active and aware in choosing our mayoral candidate,” said Stevenson-Blythe. “It’s important both for the environment and our own futures,” Stevenson-Blythe says. “We need to look at who’s running the city and what they’re doing with it, if we care about both of these things.”

Sachil Patel, president of the RTA student union, is no stranger to political campaigns. In high school, he campaigned for Soo Wong, the Scarborough-Agincourt member of the provincial parliament. Wong was his school trustee at the time. But now Patel isn’t as attached to the candidates or the issues, since he moved downtown for school.

“We’re here on a short-term basis, so it’s difficult to get involved when we’re only here for four years,” he said. “I’m going to move back home after school. I’ll get involved then, because there are issues and candidates I care about. But I can’t picture myself getting that involved here.”

For now, urban and regional planning professor, Mitch Kosny, said he’s excited about students who are interested in getting involved.

“A lot of my students start as these volunteers and then end up as policy advisers to mayors, councillors and MPPs, or they run for office themselves,” Kosny said.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.

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