The three UTSU presidential candidates — Brent Schmidt (StudentsFirst), Shaun Shepherd (Unity), and Rohail Tanoli (Independent) — came by The Varsity’s office to answer questions from The Varsity’s Editorial Board. Here’s what they had to say.

Interview conducted by comment editor Alex Ross on behalf of the editorial board. Below is a recording of the interview, followed by a full transcript.

Index

i) Give us three concrete plans you will implement if you are elected President of UTSU.

ii) One of the theme’s of last night’s debate was the need for a stronger, more unified student body and we want to know what steps you would take to achieve this goal.

iii) An issue that doesn’t seem to be brought and it’s an important one is the issue of student mental health. Many students who go to U of T struggle daily with issues related to mental health and we want to know what you improve support services and aid students with these struggles?

iv) A persistent issue, during the school year and especially during the election period, is basically citing a lack of turnout for events, for commission meetings, and for board meetings and even voting  for the Executive of UTSU. In my time here the highest it’s been is 16 per cent, that was two years ago; last year was half that, it was only about eight per cent. What would do to improve the turnout rates for these events and for voting?

v) Would you change UTSU’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students? So why? If not, why not?

vi) What is an issue — you don’t need to go into this in too much detail, but just briefly — an issue that is completely invisible, that you think does not get addressed or talked about at elections. Something that really hasn’t been highlighted. Is there an invisible issue that’s just not regarded at all, that you would like to address if you’re elected president?

vii) Shaun — one of the constant criticisms, and what it seems to people outside the UTSU, is that people who run as incumbents — or who are friends with previous executives, were involved with them — seem to win year after year. The fact that also it seems that working for UTSU is not only such a time commitment, but also such a personal sacrifice. Can it still be claimed that the union is accessible, if that’s the case, and would you change the culture, if you feel that there’s a problem with the culture at UTSU?

viii) Rohail, you’ve billed yourself as the independent neutral candidate. Let’s say that you’re elected, how do you deal with managing a team, whether an entire slate, or a mix of people, that you didn’t run with in the election, and that may have ideas that you fundamentally oppose?

ix) Brent, at last night’s debate, most of the cheers and jeers were coming from your supporters. They were holding up signs that were attacking Mr. Shepherd, they were yelling, ‘raise the bar,’ interrupting speakers, shouting things like ‘lies’ and so forth. Do you think that you can still run as a uniter, if your supporting base was being so divisive at the debate, and do you think you should have done more at the debate to maybe address some of the dialogue?

x) Closing Statements

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THE VARSITY

Give us three concrete plans you will implement if you are elected President of UTSU.

BRENT SCHMIDT

The first concrete plan shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at the table, we’ve been talking about this for a long time. We want to try to start building a campus bar. We don’t think the bars around campus are a) accessible or b) student bars. There’s a big distinction between a student bar and an off-campus bar. I think we can do this in a number of ways, by getting space from the administration, and also by raising funds. We don’t think that a student levy would be required or anything like that. It’s a practical plan that we want to try and implement. The second thing we want to do is we want to raise clubs funding by 50 per cent. I know that a club that I was involved with in the past, that I’m no longer involved with — The Model United Nations Society — at no fault of the UTSU was receiving only about $200 a year. This was a club that had 200 to 230 members and would travel around the country competing. And paying $400 to attend a conference is not accessible at all. So basically what would happen is that only the rich kids would be able to go to these conferences. And I think that we can try and make these clubs more accessible by having more funding and the 50 per cent figure is something that we would try to accomplish. We would try better if we could, but I think a reasonable figure would be 50 per cent. The third concrete plan that we’ve been trying to implement is sweeping reform of the Board of Directors, of the election rules, and how we engage by putting stuff online.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

I would like to continue the work that has been committed to making an Accessibility Audit. Speaking to some students at the debate some didn’t feel that the debate room itself was as accessible as it could have been. Speaking from my own personal experience and noticing some of the challenges on campus, having an invisible or visible disability, it’s difficult to get to class, and to get your lecture notes sometimes. We do have Accessibility Services and they do an amazing job but we think they could do better. We think that an accessibility audit about the ways in which our buildings are accessible in something we want to do to assist with that. Second is we want to pedestrianize St. George Street. I know some people are like: “why would you want to do that?” However, we realize that this campus doesn’t have a sense of community and I think both people around the table would recognize that. There’s no central place where students can come together. Specifically, commuter students. I’ve been a commuter student for quite some time and it’s difficult to find a place where you can get plugged in without having to make a commitment. And by pedestrianizing St. George Street on a regular basis what that space becomes is essentially everything. It becomes a student life space, it becomes a student clubs space, and more so becomes a forum for students to express their creativity. And the third thing that we would be doing is, well it’s no surprise, I’m from a clubs background, I was an executive for the Black Students Association, and in terms of being with that organization, one of the challenges we had was being able to not only do outreach but be able to promote the events we had through ticket sales. It’s difficult being a full time student and being able to sell tickets. One, it’s haphazard because you’re usually switching phone numbers around. Also, it’s an issue of being able to control your own money flow. So what we want to do is open a box office within the union where clubs can essentially sell their tickets. People could purchase tickets through the union, which would drive traffic to the union so they know what the UTSU is doing and it also provides a safe space for clubs.

ROHAIL TANOLI

The first one, and foremost plan that I’m going to push for is granting the fact that most of the students here are on some form of monetary assistance. I’m going to push for a U of T bookstore discount. Why do I think this is important? First, every student no matter if you’re in the music department, if you’re an arts and science student, you’re going to buy books from that textbook store. If we can drop prices there that’ll be an economic relief to every single student on campus be it international or national. It’s important that it’s international because the Drop Fees campaign and the Ontario Tuition grant was only for Canadian students. This is going to help international students as well. Our jurisdiction does fall over international students let’s help them out. The second thing I’d do is increase clubs funding. I’ve been involved in numerous clubs at the University of Toronto. I went around the Sussex clubhouse and I asked different clubs and their executives if there’s one thing you could ask for from the University of Toronto Students’ Union what would that be? And they said more funding because they’re either not receiving enough or not receiving it at all. That’s a very big problem. We have a culture here at the University of Toronto from our student union, since I was first year which is get yourself involved. Put yourself out there. I think WE need to get students involved and on top of that the students that are in clubs who are getting themselves involved. By not funding them we’re basically screwing them in that sense. So we’re telling them to get involved, they put the effort to get involved and then we’re like “Yeah we’re not going to help you out.” It’s ridiculous in my opinion. The third thing I would do is I’d build a campus bar. Now I don’t want to build this campus bar per se. I’d get an affiliate campus bar, like I’d go on College street and ask: “Would you like to be called the U of T campus bar?” The reason why is because I don’t want people to come and get drunk or whatnot. That’s going to happen whether we have a campus bar or not. What I’d like is for social networking to take place. Varsity clubs or student organizations that throw fundraisers can throw them at our U of T campus bar, increase networking, increase transparency on campus.

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THE VARSITY

One of the theme’s of last night’s debate was the need for a stronger, more unified student body and we want to know what steps you would take to achieve this goal.

BRENT SCHMIDT

  One of the dialogues revolving student apathy, I think this is unfortunate, keeps on revolving around coming to union members and express their concerns there. When I’ve expressed my concerns to Danielle in the past or to Corey in the past I’ve often been told well if you sent me an email or if you tried to contact me of course I’d be able to deal with you. I don’t think that’s enough. I don’t think as a student leader that it’s enough to say that. if you’re representing every student you need to actually engage that student as well. I don’t think it’s enough to say that we should only deal with the concerns of the people who e-mail us and there are many silent concerns that never actually get addressed. I also think that there’s a lot of issues around the discourse that surrounds political issues. I think of the problems is that the union often endorses things that it shouldn’t. The prime example from last night’s debate was Israeli Apartheid Week. This is actually a very interesting issue because on my slate we actually disagree quite a bit on whether or not Israeli Apartheid Week is a good or a bad thing. But we all agree with the sense that it should not be endorsed by the union because it necessarily has a lot of students on campus feel excluded, feel like the union has no business representing them. Now in terms of the TA strike — and there’s a video that quite clearly proves this — Danielle talks in her capacity as the leader of the student union and says that she’s standing in solidarity with the TAs. Even if there are many students who would want smaller tutorial sizes, which I would want as well, I think there are a lot of students who would not like the idea of TAs going on strike because of the fact that a) it might have them not graduate on time b) could effect whether or not they can get a job later. There are a lot of pressing concerns that would come along with a TA strike I don’t think the union took into account when it went to the CUPE meeting and implicitly endorsed it. I don’t think it’s enough to say that when Danielle went up and spoke on behalf the students’ union that she did that as an individual. I think that when you’re the president of the students’ union you have to take responsibility for your actions. And I don’t think those sort of endorsements are good. And necessarily leave a lot of people out of the picture.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

Currently the University of Toronto Students’ Union offers a number of services. The reality, as everyone has mentioned, there are issues being able to do outreach and getting students to those services. One of the things we wanted to do was connect those services to our engineering students, to our professional faculty students like law, medicine, dentistry and we want to create mobile kiosks where we would be extending range and the outreach of services directly to those places. That would two things: one, it would actually hire more students and you enable those students who would not otherwise be able to access those resources to access them. I’ve already mentioned it once is that we want to pedestrianize St. George Street. The whole purpose of that activity is to create a space where one, it’s symbolic, it is St. George St. we are the St. George campus and it creates a space where students could host regular events and actually come together in a space where that is not nodular. On this campus there are so many different colleges, there are so many different faculties, everyone is competing for student space. You have the New College Commons, the Woodsworth Commons, the St. Mike’s Commons, Brennan Hall, but they’re all competing for the same group of people. We want to create a space that doesn’t have a label to it, that is unified. And that’s the point of the St. George St. closure. The last way that we would try to unify students is trying to create an accessibility fund. They want to create events that are accessible for students. We want them to be able to pool their money to do so. I know that this year at least there have been some students that have approached us and asked us: “How do I get translation for an event? I’ve never done it before.” We want to connect them in actuality to those resources.

ROHAIL TANOLI

First of all I would work with the St. George Round Table and network with the UTM student union. This year it’s no big secret that the St. George Round Table and the UTSU have been butting heads. And it’s not only been this year and it’s been like that for the past few years. That needs to change. We need to start working together. Frosh week needs to be held collaboratively.   It has to be a U of T event. Not a U of T and then a St. George Roundtable. They’ve got to be done together. Also, Winterfest needs to be done together. Everything we do should be done in collaboration so we expand our ability to reach students. We need more engagement. Moreover, I would instill an open door policy. I understand that on the doors it says that the office is open from 9 am to 6 pm and that you can walk in whenever you want, and I can walk in whenever I want, but will I find who I want to talk to when I want to. Many times I walk in there and I don’t see executives at all. Granted they’re very busy. They must be doing [something] important. The point here is that I’d post hours where each executive would be there for sure and walk in the door, open the door, say: “Hello Mr. President we need to change this.” That’s what the open door policy would accomplish. Moreover, zero political campaign support from my union. Anything that is political that involves off-campus politics, I would absolutely not endorse it. Politics divides people. People have to draw lines and pick sides. Build walls and not bridges. What we need to do is focus on concerns that unite us. Last thing, I’d just hold more club fairs and if we gave student clubs more funding they’d be able to do so. Clubs really do unite students. They’d all meet each other and they’d all have social networking.

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THE VARSITY

An issue that doesn’t seem to be brought and it’s an important one is the issue of student mental health. Many students who go to U of T struggle daily with issues related to mental health and we want to know what you improve support services and aid students with these struggles?

BRENT SCHMIDT

In full disclosure I have an invisible learning disability. I suffer from ADHD and I’ve had a lot of problems not only getting access to Accessibility Services, but also when I tried to set up a meeting with CAPS to get a diagnosis, it took three weeks and by then my exams were already over and I couldn’t get any recognition for any of this. It comes down to a promise that we made in our campaign that is very important. A lot of the student lobbying that comes out of the UTSU right now is that they are focused on two things broadly: flat fees and dropping tuition rates. While I think that both of these things are great projects that the UTSU should take on, I think the UTSU should be more open and more visible in its lobbying for other things. I think that there should be lobbying that’s not just talking about access to education but also quality of education — there are plenty of issue about quality of education that need to be addressed at U of T, and mental health is a barrier to the quality of education. If you are someone like me, who has a learning disability and you don’t have access to note-taking services, this necessarily affects your grade, it necessarily affects your ability to act in classes. So I sympathize a lot with those who have that, and I think the lobbying efforts taken by the UTSU, even though I know that Shaun and others have been working towards it, I think they have to be more visible and more central and that’s what I would advocate for.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

This ties in slightly — I know we supposed to talk about things that we’re doing, but this also ties in to work that’s been done. We are trying to work with individual partners to secure more funding — those have been conversations that have been had, and we want to continue to do that as well. When we’re talking about mental health issues and all kinds of accessibility issues, these are all things that we want to consider when we look at the accessibility audit: that this campus actually deals with those barriers. We recognize that, and we want to go to work with campus partners to do that. The final thing that I would mention is that I am familiar with CAPS; the reality is that most students aren’t. By and large most students don’t know about the services that the university at large offers. What I would like to do is actually to link those services to our website and further promote them in any type of visible way that we can. I know that we have for example our orientation kits; we typically put materials in there, but we haven’t thought about expanding the materials in such a way that it’s not just UTSU-branded things, but so it’s materials that reflect the services of the university at large. That’s one way of promoting that I’m open to doing.

ROHAIL TANOLI

How would I improve it? I’ve been a volunteer note-taker, and I’ve been in the accessibility office, and I do think that they have their own offices and own supplies and whatnot, but I do think they could use more resources for increased efficiency. That’s just my personal experience from the office. One last thing that Shaun mentioned is that there are a lot of resources that the university has that people don’t know about, and I think that is a problem of the student union. They need to spread awareness of the accessibility services that are already there; people need to know about them and people need to use them so that we can have equitable student grades.

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THE VARSITY

A persistent issue, during the school year and especially during the election period, is basically citing a lack of turnout for events, for commission meetings, and for board meetings and even voting  for the Executive of UTSU. In my time here the highest it’s been is 16 per cent, that was two years ago; last year was half that, it was only about eight per cent. What would do to improve the turnout rates for these events and for voting?

BRENT SCHMIDT

I think there’s been an actual, tangible reason why this happens. I don’t think it’s just because U of T students don’t care, because if you look at other campuses, such as Queen’s, voter turnout is actually quite high. What I’d say is the reason that this happens, and I’ve mentioned this before, is because of the dialogue that surrounds the UTSU. Many people are fervently in favor of the position that the UTSU takes in its lobbying efforts, but then there are just as many people who think that it’s abominable, some of the things that they do, supporting Israeli Apartheid Week and the TA strike. I think when you have that sort of discourse around your union — that’s supposed to be supporting all students — you necessarily force an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that many students would just never ever want to be involved with. I also think there’s an issue of being able to advertise the union and people knowing about it in general. As I said in the debate last night, when I went up to a student and I asked them, ‘What do you think of the UTSU and what they do for you?’ and he told me that he had no idea what the UTSU was, I think there’s a problem there in that — and I understand that we have such a large campus, but I don’t think that it’s acceptable that certain students don’t know about this. And I think one of the things that happens is because there’s not a very good relationship a lot of the times, between the UTSU and colleges; the example that I would cite is this year and about the frosh kits, there was a disagreement about whether or not they would have materials placed in the frosh kits. I think at the point where you have that disagreement and you allow people not to see that the UTSU — for instance, Trin didn’t use UTSU frosh materials this year — at the point where no-one in Trin in their first year gets any of these materials because of a political squabble. I think that’s necessarily disadvantaging students at the expense of a political squabble, and I don’t think we should be involved in that. I don’t advocate, and I want to be very clear about this, going the other way. I advocate a middle ground here insofar as I think that you shouldn’t take a side in either supporting this events, or not supporting them, but rather should be a body that tries to represent students as much as possible in all ways.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

I have a couple of ideas. One is further promoting the elections. I think at large — I’ve had so many conversations with students, and one’s who don’t know that there’s an elections happening. That’s for many different reasons: because the union currently doesn’t have access to the listserv, the emails and so on and so forth, but I think it’s about the way we promote. That is something that I’m willing to challenge, the social media sites and also by advocating that the student union have access to it’s membership’s email addresses, so they can promote things like a mass-election. Secondly, I think we should be expanding the visibility of our board members. Currently the executive team is the go-to for the union, and I think everyone on the table, your own respective colleges, you don’t know  who your board members are, and I think the board should stand out as the brunt of where the work actually does get done. Because that’s the reality — it’s not the executive team that takes on the work, it’s actually the board that makes the decisions. I think that’s key — that we have to stop taking the union as being six people in an office; it’s actually a team, it’s a board of people. And lastly I think that in terms of being able to get people more involved in the elections, it comes down to putting the union as central on this campus. That comes to students feeling invested and unified in what we do. So coming down to the events things, I think it comes down to hosting events that students feel comfortable in accessing, and giving services that students would like to use. So an example would be — one of the things that we’d like to do is to host a winter week of welcome, which is not an alternative necessarily to orientation, but it’s additional, it’s something that’s encompassing every single student on this campus and not just first years. But it’s very much so the same thing. That’s something that we’d like to do: hosting a concert and all those sort of frivolous activities that happen around that time, but not making it just for first years but saying, ‘Hey, you know what? You’re U of T students, welcome back, we want to be able to host some events for you. We’re your student union,’ and then disseminating information as such.

ROHAIL TANOLI

I think the main problem here is that people will vote if they feel it will make a difference. The best way to ensure that is to instill a sense of campus identity. I’m sure the voting turnout on the Mississauga campus is much higher than the St. George campus, and there’s a reason for that. Mississauga has a better close community than the St. George campus does, and we need to work on that. Which is why some of the ideas like increased clubs funding and building a campus bar are, in my opinion, absolutely necessary. Moving on; this campus, in my opinion — it’s way too political. There are way too many political divides and lines that are being drawn down, and I tell you truth, most of the students just don’t care. When they don’t care about outside politics and they want issues to reverberate themselves, they see these campus politics and they say, ‘You know what? Forget this, I’m just going to study and go home.’ That’s what they see. This campus is too political, we need to stop being political, we need to start caring about students. We need to spread awareness in general; social networking, promote. I’ve been a promoter for over two years and if there is one thing I know, it’s not promoting yourselves, it’s promoting to people who are going to promote, and promote, and promote [indicates]; it has to be an umbrella organization. That has to happen. And work together with student unions. St. Michael’s college has a much better grasp on St. Michael’s students than the UTSU does; Vic student union has a better grasp on their students, New College has a better grasp on their students. Work with these colleges, branch out to them and let them branch out. Make the umbrella organization, and you will get students involved.

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THE VARSITY

Would you change UTSU’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students? So why? If not, why not?

BRENT SCHMIDT

I think this is something that needs to be discussed, and I think it’s something that is often brushed under the table, both by opposition slates, and by the incumbent slates — they don’t want to have an open discussion about it. I do think that — and I’ll say it quite openly — if I was elected that I would push to have a referendum and I would not take a side either away. I do think that  when your part of a large body like this, such as the CFS, it isn’t enough to enter 20 years ago and then expect all students to stay in that body. I think it’s important to have reassured consent, because insofar as every student in the future is going to be affected by being involved in this body, I think they should have some say in whether or not that body still applies to them. There are many students at this campus who don’t like the CFS’ mandate and don’t like the idea of a lot of our money going to the CFS. A lot of other students would say that we only get any success by having collective action. I think those are both very important and both valid concerns. But I think at the point where you don’t allow for a referendum to exist, at the point where you don’t allow any discussion of the CFS to happen on campus, which it doesn’t — it hasn’t happened in the past, in past elections, this never comes up — I think that’s a problem and I think I would make the commitment that I would hold that sort of referendum if I was elected.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

I would say, in terms of the role of the CFS, I do openly agree with a lot of the things they do. I have disagreed as well; I voted ‘no’ on a few CFS motions, but overall I feel that they play a good role on this campus, they play an integral role. In terms of a number of the services that we access, the reason that we have access to those is because there’s the CFS, an organization that’s using strength in numbers and that’s saving student’s money. That’s something that I feel strongly about. What I’m open to doing is I’m open to having regular town halls. It’s something that my team would like to do, where students can air any grievances. So if there is an issue with the CFS, and there is a reason for which students would like to hold this referendum, or would like to look at membership again, I’m open to those concerns through the town hall, then after that making the appropriate channels to those things, and that’s what I would like to be able to do to hear the memberships’ concerns.

ROHAIL TANOLI

CFS — a very interesting organization. In 2009 Concordia held a referendum and a majority of the students said, ‘We do not want to be a part of of the Canadian Federation of Students.’ Concordia tried to leave, and the CFS sued them; did not allow them to leave. What is concerning about this is that, first of all, a little over 70 dollars of every student that goes to the student union has money given to the CFS. That’s a little over 70 dollars. And granted that a lot of our economic situations, it’s just something we can’t afford. Now, if the CFS were giving me direct — if they had a direct impact on my life, I’d definitely be for it. Unfortunately for a majority of students the CFS has absolutely nothing to do with them, and tell you truth, it’s a lot to ask to give a little over 70 dollars and have nothing for it. Interestingly a lot of students don’t know they’re giving 70 dollars because the budget isn’t as clear as it should be. But that’s another issue. I also think that the CFS’s lobbying power is great, but they haven’t really used it strong enough. Instead they go on street protests, like ‘Drop the Fees’ — I’m all good for that, but where’s your lobbying power? Use the lobbying power that we give you. Lastly, they need to stay out of campus business. I feel that the CFS is too involved in our campus. A prime example is that some of the people that sit in on the Election Referendum Committee are employees of the CFS and a friend of mine last year when she asked for the possibility that the CRO not be an employee of the CFS, she was shut down. Those were the words she used, she said, ‘I was shut down.’ Now I think the CFS is way too involved in our campus, give us lobbying power, that’s awesome, but stay out of our business, is how I see it.

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THE VARSITY

What is an issue — you don’t need to go into this in too much detail, but just briefly — an issue that is completely invisible, that you think does not get addressed or talked about at elections. Something that really hasn’t been highlighted. Is there an invisible issue that’s just not regarded at all, that you would like to address if you’re elected president?

BRENT SCHMIDT

Absolutely. And I think that Carmen knocked it out of the park last night when she talked about this: quality of education. We can talk all we want about accessibility, and that speaks to me a lot, because accessibility is a problem for me, but if I have accessibility to an education that isn’t going to be valued in the future, ultimately that’s not very valuable to me. So what one of the problems Shaun and his slate have promised, in terms of being able to get rid of your lowest grade, I think that when Carmen talks about the effect that this could have on our degrees, it’s very important. I don’t think that we need to just talk about what makes it easier for students, or talking about these sort of pork plans, that are good and will make students vote for us, but also what would be best for students in the long term in terms of quality. I think that tutorial sizes are an incredibly big problem. I also think that access through mental health and things like this are problems with the quality of our education and I think that we don’t spend enough time talking about how we can make education, in and of itself better; expanding writing centres, being able to help students on campus who have problems with being able to do their work. I’d love to see the union talk more about this, because I think that this issue often does get swept under the rug, because all we talk about is accessibility — and accessibility is phenomenally important, but I think quality of education is just as important.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

I think that in terms of the most invisible, and least talked about things, I’ve heard a lot about quality of education myself, but I would say that it would be — there’s something about this campus that sucks. I’m going to step back a bit. There’s something about this campus that drains people. I’ve been here for a few years now, the fact of the matter is that there’s something that divides people. Irrespective of what it is, there’s something that isn’t really building bridges, as Rohail would use, and isn’t developing unity. It’s not building community spirit. I don’t want to call it ‘school spirit,’ because it sounds very cliche, but the fact of the matter is that most students at this university do not one, identify as being U of T students; they identify with a college, or a program, or a faculty, and it’s very internally divisive in terms of being able to come under one banner. And I think that’s fundamentally one of the problems of getting people out to the UTSU, the University of Toronto Students Union, because if you go, ‘Oh no, wait, I’m a St. Mike’s student, I must be with SMCSU. Oh no wait, I’m an engineer, I must be with EngSoc,’ and I think that is one of the hidden underlying issues. I’ve actually had some conversations with alumni that have said outright, ‘the college system is actually an archaic system,’ and it was once something that was amazing for students, gave people a community, when residences were the primary ways of engaging students, but now we’re a commuter school. I think that we should stop unifying under these other banners, or at the very least, start accepting the fact that we’re not just St. Mike’s students with St. Mike’s concerns, we’re not just New College students with New College concerns, we’re University of Toronto students. I think that’s where a lot of the problems are coming from. We’re talking about the UTSU not working with colleges and the UTSU not understanding St. Mike’s students — I don’t think it’s the fact that we don’t understand St. Mike’s students, I think it’s the fact that the students don’t know themselves which umbrella they fall under. I think that we have to change some of the discourse.

ROHAIL TANOLI

Very similar to what Shaun said. I don’t think it’s so invisible, as much as it is not talked of. Campus is not united — no-one can argue that it is. The problem here is that colleges have their own agendas, and they don’t work well with the UTSU, and that is a problem, we should fix that. That is why we need, in my opinion, less political activism and more student engagement. We need someone who’s moderate, who’s going to come in there and who already has the connections with college student unions and has the experience to do so. We need new faces, in my opinion, in the union, who are going to implement new ideas, not just a continuation of the past. Engineers are always alienated; even with the Drop Fees campaign, it was not a proportional decrease in fees. Engineers pay way more than Arts and Science students. Say we drop it $500, that’s not a lot for engineers — it’s a lot for an arts and science student, it’s not a lot for engineers. We need to have proportional decrease in fees and drops, and everything we do needs to be fair and equitable with every single student on campus. Lastly, students do not associate with campus, and it’s true. The only way we’re going to make it happen is by building social networking — make them have memories they will remember on campus for the rest of their lives, and have friends. That’s all.

At this point we asked each candidate one tough “hardball” question. Here are their responses.

***

THE VARSITY

Shaun — one of the constant criticisms, and what it seems to people outside the UTSU, is that people who run as incumbents — or who are friends with previous executives, were involved with them — seem to win year after year. The fact that also it seems that working for UTSU is not only such a time commitment, but also such a personal sacrifice. Can it still be claimed that the union is accessible, if that’s the case, and would you change the culture, if you feel that there’s a problem with the culture at UTSU?

SHAUN SHEPHERD

So when you mention that the union isn’t accessible, I broke that into two major spheres. One — let’s just say it’s the case that the election already happened, there’s already a set body, a set board, you can think of accessibility as being able to connect with the union and I think that across the board we feel that not many students have been able to access the union or at least are having issues in accessing it. So regarding that form of access, I think it’s about once again continuing to develop unity on campus and at least developing a context in which the average student, the regular student, the commuter student — such as when I was in first year — who doesn’t get involved and really doesn’t know where to get involved, can at least find a way to plug in. That is what part of the street closure is for, and that is to allow students who don’t have the time — commuting from Brampton for example — but can’t commit to being a part of a club, for like 10 hours a week, but do want to be able to get plugged in and engaged on campus, they can walk through and find a common place, that isn’t falling under a particular faculty or program or anything, but that is just an open UofT-based and -branded. That would be one way that we want to promote access, by giving people a common space where anyone feels they can actually participate. The second form of engagement you mention is electoral engagement; I think that’s what you’re trying to get at with your question. Regarding electoral engagement, I share some of your sentiments actually. I believe that students should be getting more involved, and I think that last year’s elections, and even this years, has kind of shown that there aren’t many students who are interested in running for these positions, and I think it’s a shame. I don’t know what it was like in the past, I can’t speak to that, but I really do feel that students should feel like they should run. I’m unsure if it’s a financial issue, I’m unsure if it’s an issue of the way that the union is perceived, but I am to once again listening to concerns at the town hall, and addressing these concerns. In terms of what I understand, some of those concerns may be financial, so I’m actually open to amending the bylaws to allow students to be fully reimbursed, or even to fund potential candidates upfront, to allow them to run. And I think these are considerations that have to be taken seriously, and I am open to these considerations but obviously any stance I take would have to be with consultation with students, and being able to listen to what these needs are. It would be hasty to make suggestions and take action based on what I feel is the climate. But I do understand in terms of my understanding is that it’s financial, as well as just not knowing that there’s elections happening.

***

THE VARSITY

Rohail, you’ve billed yourself as the independent neutral candidate. Let’s say that you’re elected, how do you deal with managing a team, whether an entire slate, or a mix of people, that you didn’t run with in the election, and that may have ideas that you fundamentally oppose?

ROHAIL TANOLI

How to manage a team with different ideas. I’ve been doing it my whole life, realistically. I come from a very diverse background, and I’ve come to a super-diverse city. Now, with my specific experience: Party for a Cause was generally dominated last year by people from St. Michael’s College. What I did is I talked to the two presidents this year, Kelly Hayes and James Park, and I told them, ‘we need to make sure that Party for a Cause becomes a University of Toronto thing, not a St. Michael’s College thing.’ What we did is we integrated people from different colleges, we told them to promote for us, and they gave us their ideas. I was the central medium figure between them and the presidents; it’s what I’ve been doing. Also, I’m the president of a literary society, and this literary society — there are people with very different views. Some people are conservatives, others are liberals; some people come from Asia, some people come from Europe. As president, I have to hold every-one’s views, and make sure everyone has their point taken. So I’ve been doing that this whole year. How would I manage the team? Now, besides my experience, to get to the question, the very heart of the question, I know that this is repetitive, but if you could look — since I’m independent and not on a slate, every single problem that comes to the UTSU, or decision, I can take a step back, I can look at the two different sides and I can see where the middle ground. In the middle ground is compromise. That is what I think is absolutely necessary — someone to just step back and think rationally — not politically, not emotionally, just rationally — about what is the best solution. ‘We have people who want this, we have people who want that. How do we get them both in the middle?’ That is what I’m always going to aim for; moderation is my main thing and that is what I would do. I would step back and look at everything rationally. That is how I’m going to manage to work with these people, not to mention I’m already friends with a  lot of people on the incumbent slate, and the opposition slate. So we generally get along as friends; that is definitely a bonus when it comes to doing business.

***

THE VARSITY

Brent, at last night’s debate, most of the cheers and jeers were coming from your supporters. They were holding up signs that were attacking Mr. Shepherd, they were yelling, ‘raise the bar,’ interrupting speakers, shouting things like ‘lies’ and so forth. Do you think that you can still run as a uniter, if your supporting base was being so divisive at the debate, and do you think you should have done more at the debate to maybe address some of the dialogue?

BRENT SCHMIDT

In full disclosure, me and Shaun, right before this discussion, actually had a talk about what happened at the debate. I think we both had some concerns about how both of our sides acted. In terms of the signs and the jeers and the cheering that happened, I’d first of all say that our equity candidate asked them to stop, I asked them to stop in my speech, and that is something that bothered me quite a bit. But the thing is that while these people came out to the debate and support my slate, they don’t necessarily — they’re not a representation of what I’m trying to propose necessarily. In terms of the jeering, everything that they said about Mr. Shepherd, and what you might not have heard about, which were some racist comments that happened — and I don’t know if they were directed at Mr. Shepherd himself, but there were some really terrible comments that happened, on both sides of the floor, and I’m willing to fully condemn that right now. And if anyone that was supporting me had anything to say about that, even if they were a close personal friend, I’d be fine condemning that. For instance, a good friend of mine Brett Chang last night did not compose himself well. He was jeering, he was cheering, he handed out these signs — I asked him not to do it and he did it anyway, and I told him after the debate that I was not pleased with the way that happened at all. I don’t have any control over him — I didn’t have any control over him last year during the election either. I wish that wasn’t the case, and I wish that people who came out showed a little bit more respect. I think that because of the fact that I’m willing to publicly disown the actions of people who are close personal friends, the willingness by me to condemn actions that are taken by people who are close to me, and might actually have personal ramifications — when this gets put online, Brett Chang hears me saying this, again not just to him directly but in an actual interview, I imagine he’s not going to be very pleased about that. I think that’s a good sign of leadership, and I think that is something that should have people trust that I’d be able to unite people. I think that those actions were reprehensible and I think it really detracted from what otherwise was a pretty good debate. I think otherwise we had a lot of good clash on issues and I think it was really unfortunate that what that debate’s going to be remembered for isn’t when me and Shaun were talking about issues, what it’s going to be remembered for is the cheering, the jeering, the signs. The University Affairs portion of that debate was a very, very good portion of the debate. Carmen, my first-year, had some very interesting discussions with Munib, and I think that because of the cheering and jeering people aren’t going to remember that.

***

CLOSING STATEMENTS

ROHAIL TANOLI

What this university needs is someone who has no political affiliations, someone who does not stand in either black, white, pink purple — it doesn’t matter what side of the spectrum you look at. Someone who will stand in the shades of gray, and will look at every single problem rationally and objectively, for the students, only for the students, and no political agendas. That’s what this university needs; that’s why I’m not running on a slate; that’s why I’m independent. I’m a moderate person, and I will destroy those walls and I want to build bridges between our community. If you want to put students first, you should vote for Rohail Tanoli, if you want campus unity, you should vote for Rohail Tanoli as well.

SHAUN SHEPHERD

Team Unity is a team that once again consists of students from all faculties, all programs, as well as all talent types. We have students that are just excited to be engaged for the first time on campus, and students that have been around for a bit and carry about that experience that needs to be there. The fact of the matter is that we’re  a team that’s dedicated to building a community on campus and to not being distracted by a lot of the jeering, literal and figurative, that happens around this idea of building community and building unity on campus. We’re still dedicated to being inclusive and to allowing all voices to be heard and to very least augmenting those voices that aren’t heard on campus, and that’s what we’re committing ourselves to.

BRENT SCHMIDT

What me and my team stand for really is we’re a slate of ideas, and I’m totally fine standing on that because while Mr. Rohail might be more charismatic than me, and Mr. Shaun may be a lot more handsome than I am, I think that it’s completely okay that me and my slate stand on our ideas, I think they’re very good ideas. I’m going to go over them one last time so that people can know about them. I talked about the transparency and how we can reform the board, and not only that but all the election procedures, to make being able to run for this union more accessible and have more people involved. I talked about the 50 per cent increase in clubs funding. I think it’s important not to just talk about increasing clubs funding, but telling people how much exactly you’re going to do it by. Because we had an increase in clubs funding this year, it was by about a thousand dollars in the budget line, but per-clubs funding ended up actually going down. The reason that was, was because we had more clubs join the union. I think we need to actually be more serious about getting more access in these clubs funds. The last thing of course is about building a campus bar. I think that when we talk a lot about what it means to be at U of T, what it means to not have this community, it’s a lot to do with the sort of services that can be provided by our community. I think that a student-run bar specifically, I think the words ‘student-run’ are very important here, is good because of the fact that it will bring revenue into the union that we can use to give people more services, but I also think that what it does is it gives students jobs and a place that they can go that’s uniquely U of T. I don’t think there are many places on campus — and I don’t think that this just applies to the bar — that are uniquely U of T. There are many places that, as Shaun outlines, are uniquely St. Mike’s, Woodsworth, New College, and I think that we need more spaces for people to feel like U of T students. Students First is a slate of ideas, it’s a slate of our platform, and I ask that everyone will hear those ideas and contrast them when they’re thinking about this election. Vote to put students first!

 

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