On Friday, 19 April I sent the following letter to Mayor and Council.
In light of the recent debate about whether to count post-secondary students in the proposed new electoral boundaries in Kingston, I believe that, as Principal of Queen’s, it is important for me to weigh in on the debate. The question at hand, which has caught the attention of many and engaged the community in an important discussion is this: Are post-secondary students residents of Kingston, or are they transients staying long enough to get a degree before moving elsewhere?
As a destination for students, Queen’s is responsible for their education, and health and wellness while they are studying here. We consider students to be members not only of the Queen’s community but also of the Kingston community. We actively encourage them to get involved in the city in which they live, work and volunteer. Our students respond by doing just that, in a variety of important ways.
Students maintain the right to vote in municipal elections as long as they are registered, just as any other resident of the city. While Queen’s administration, and I personally, represent the institution at large, and student government representatives maintain their own relationships with Council, individual students also rely on and deserve representation from members of Council. The fact that students move frequently and change addresses from year to year can and has presented challenges to both university officials and city staff. The university is committed to working with students and the city to ensure that everyone is counted. In the past, the Alma Mater Society has run campaigns to encourage students to get out and vote, and I am sure it will do so again for the next municipal election.
How to count a student population is an extremely complicated issue. The federal census normally counts students where they reside permanently, most likely with their parents in a different city or province. The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation is responsible for enumerating residents who live in the municipality. Again, this is not an easy task given that the majority of our students move frequently and landlords may not always report the names of their tenants. How the city determines its electoral boundaries and who is counted in a district is within its own purview; however, I believe it is extremely important to consider students who live in this city when assessing population numbers for electoral purposes.
Students bring an enormous amount of talent and energy to the communities in which they live and if the City of Kingston would like to see students remain in the area after graduation, it is important to count them now and make them feel part of the community.
The university has an excellent relationship with the City of Kingston and we will continue to work with Council to address the needs of the university and ultimately our students. It is important that a solution is found that will reconcile the city’s need for accurate information on the size of electoral districts with our students’ clear desire to be counted among the electorate for the districts in which they live.
I encourage councillors to find a resolution that will count our students among Kingston’s citizens.