Shouting matches and arguments were the theme of UTSU’s all-candidates debate held Wednesday night at Hart House’s debate room.
For over four hours, the large but divided crowd debated campus issues like clubs funding, study space, budget transparency, and and slate StudentsFirst’s proposal to build a campus bar.
For most of the night, the crowd was divided evenly between Team Unity and StudentsFirst supporters. When a candidate spoke, the opposing side engaged in mockery and name-calling.
Independent presidential candidate Rohail Tanoli noted this and began his speech by saying that the audience needed to respect the candidates.
“The problem with U of T is that we’re all taking sides,” Tanoli said.
Despite these appeals for civility, accusations of racism, terrorism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia continued to be exchanged.
Debate moderator and Multi-Faith Centre director Richard Chambers tried to calm the hostile crowd and steer the discussion forward.
At one point, during a speech from current UTSU VP external and Team Unity presidential candidate Shaun Shepherd, supporters of StudentsFirst held up posters saying, “No More Dirty Tricks, Mr. Shepherd.”
Of the many issues discussed, StudentFirst’s proposal to create a UTSU-run campus bar was among the most contentious.
Shepherd pointed out that U of T already has several campus bars. He listed Sammy’s Student Exchange at Hart House, engineering bar Suds, and the Graduate Student Union’s bar as examples of current on-campus bars, and added several off-campus locations to the list, including Molly Bloom’s, the Brunny, and Ein Stein’s.
Brent Schmidt, StudentsFirst’s presidential candidate, retorted that there’s no “undergraduate UTSU pub for all students.”
“This is the distinction Shaun fails to make,” Schmidt said, “If he tells me to suck it up and go to these other pubs where alcohol is very expensive, then he’s clearly not taking the issue very seriously.”
StudentsFirst’s VP equity candidate Karthy Chin proposed that building a bar would provide students with a more equitable and accessible space on campus.
This sparked a whole set of questions on how a bar counted as a “multi-faith space,” especially in regard to students who choose not to drink for religious reasons.
The campus bar proposal was only one of several issues addressed. Candidates also discussed the quality of food and food services on campus, the possibility of a “grade forgiveness” policy, where students could remove poor grades from their academic records, and whether the UTSU should support Israeli Apartheid Week.
For full coverage of the debate and an extensive look at campus election season, be sure to check out the next issue of The Varsity, online and on stands Monday.