Former running mates Vickita Bhatt and Henry Ssali returned as rivals this year, competing for the presidency of the UTM Students’ Union. The election wraps up today, with their slates Students United and UTM Renew battling for executive portfolios. Last year’s elections, which featured a single ticket, saw low turnout. Organizers are expecting a different result this year.
Bhatt and Students United have put forward what they call a “contract,” outlining their priorities and pledging to pay back 100 per cent of their salaries in the form of grants and bursaries if they do not fulfill any of these promises.
Included in the document are promises to split tuition payments on a per semester basis, extend OHIP coverage to international students, and negotiate with the university to contribute 50 cents for every dollar going towards the expansion of UTM’s Student Centre. Bhatt also said she would discontinue the Drop Fees rally in order to focus on what she called local action, saying this year’s event was less successful.
Ssali, running on UTM Renew, emphasized grassroots consultations to promote transparency and accountability. His slate’s VP external candidate, Stefanie Marotta, said she would hold open town halls before meetings with the Canadian Federation of Students or any other institution. Ssali said he would advocate to remove the late withdrawal from transcripts and lobby for a Go Bus route to UTM.
He criticized the process for selecting a president, which he said was run by a small group of ex-presidents. “It’s like a dynasty. Certain people choose candidates who cannot question authority,” he said. Asked why he decided to run, Ssali said, “I’ve been having debates year after year, because I question everything which other executives haven’t been able to […] on certain issues that are important to students.”
Marotta was a little more willing to talk about her differences with her opponents. Marotta took exception to the idea that OHIP could be extended to international students, since it would entail additional entanglements with provincial authorities. She said it would be more practical to push for extended University Health Insurance Plan coverage, while putting more money into the International Student Identity Card.
Marotta also said she would consider looking at incorporating Chartwells, the UTM food provider, into the student union, a condition previously set by the administration in exchange for matching half for every dollar put toward the Student Centre expansion. “Any time that we have talks with the admin, the union immediately goes on offence and the admin goes on defence. That’s not a conducive ground to negotiate with them,” she said. “For the last couple of years, the union has been working towards the same goals, and I think it’s proven that their methods have not been working.”