The campaign period for the 2014 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections has officially begun as of 9:00 am this morning. It will feature an incumbent slate facing off against the first opposition slate in two years. The incumbent slate is running under the name “the U of T Voice,” and includes two members of the current UTSU executive, as well as three new candidates. The opposition slate is titled “Team Unite” and is headed by presidential candidate Ye Huang.
Yolen Bollo–Kamara is the presidential candidate for the U of T Voice. This year she served as the UTSU vice-president equity, and last year she was appointed to the role of VP-campus life. She has held executive positions at Amnesty International U of T, and the Black Students’ Association. Last year, Bollo-Kamara promised to host a mental health awareness campaign and create an accessibility fund for U of T clubs.
She stressed that her slate wants to focus on different issues than the current executive. Bollo-Kamara emphasized lobbying U of T to implement a fall reading week, and engaging students with the upcoming municipal and provincial elections as main platform points for her slate. “This team, we’ve called ourselves ‘The Voice,’ and we have all been involved in different capacities across campus, and we have a team that essentially represents the entire campus,” said Bollo-Kamara. Last year’s elections saw only one slate, and record low voter turnout.
Ye Huang and his Team Unite are running on the goal of uniting U of T’s students, which they believe are in “a crisis of dissolving.” “We want to bring people together, both students and the different societies and clubs,” said Huang. When asked what experience he had to bring to the position of president, Huang cited membership in several clubs across campus, including the Chinese Student and Scholars Association and the Chinese Debate association. He is also the president of the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity at U of T.
Other candidates that make up the Team Unite slate include Anna Yin for VP-internal, Pierre Harfouche for VP-university affairs, Baliqis Olaitan Hashiru for VP-equity, and Nicky Bhatty for VP-external. Huang says the slate formed after he reached out to Yin, a friend of his who he knew wanted to change the transparency of the UTSU financial operations, and who he felt was qualified because of her background as a commerce student. From there, other members of the slate, such as Hashiru, heard about the slate from friends and made the connection.
Luis Moreno is running as an independent candidate for the role of VP-external. Moreno attended the Scarborough campus for two years and held the position of social science director during his time there. He has since moved to the St. George Campus, and feels his experience working on at the Scarborough campus in addition to his volunteer experience working for political campaigns outside of the university will qualify him for the position. Unwilling to specify which parties he worked for, Moreno cited working as both a general and social media volunteer as experience that would serve him well in the position.
When Team Unite and Moreno were asked if they felt not being as well known on campus as the members of the incumbent slate would hurt them, their outlook was positive. “As much as it is worrisome in some ways, it can also be an advantage,” explained Yin. “People won’t associate us with the issues the current executives have been dealing with. Ultimately if people believe in us, they’ll vote for us. They’ll vote based on the different slates platforms, not who they are.”
Cameron Wathey is running for his current position as VP-internal. Last year, Wathey ran on the promises of policy town halls, a new and improved UTSU website, and a better homecoming — all of which he feels he has achieved in his time with the UTSU. Going forward he hopes to improve OHIP for international students, put a cap on international student fees and improve relations between the UTSU and both its board of directors and the various college student societies.
Other members on the team include Najiba Ali Sardar, for VP-equity, Grayce Slobodian for VP-external, and ZiJian Yang for VP-university affairs. Sardar is a third year student who has spent her time at U of T involved with the South Asian Aliance, and a working as both a frosh leader and a first-year mentor at Woodsworth college. Sardar stressed the slates commitment to a fresh look at ideas: instead of pursuing the pedestrianizing of St. George, they will instead be pushing for a crosswalk between Hart House and Queens Park. If elected Sardar would focus on feminism on campus and labour rights, specifically where they pertain to unpaid internships.
Slobodian is a second year student who acted as VP-campus life at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) this year. She wants to prioritize affordable transit and campus polling stations for municipal and provincial elections. Yang is a fourth-year student currently serving as the Woodsworth director on the UTSU board of directors. In the past he has also served as the events executive for the Chinese undergraduate association. He hopes to review the academic appeal process and continue to advocate for a policy that allows students to drop credits without penalty.
The election comes near the end of a turbulent year, with key questions about the membership and structure of the UTSU still hotly debated across campus. As the Student Societies Summit winds down, both Engineering and Trinity College students want to leave the union. The UTMSU’s drammatic exit from the summit on February 10 adds another dimension to the election. The entire St. George Roundtable, with the exception of Woodsworth college — although Woodsworth president Rhys Smith personally supports it — signed a letter stating that groups who have been asked to leave the union should be allowed to. It also stated that a system similar to the one that has been established between the UTSU and the UTMSU — where student fees paid to the UTSU are largely remitted to the UTMSU, although Mississauga students retain the right to vote in UTSU elections — should be available to any division that requests it.
This Thursday, March 6 at 6:00 pm in Bahen 1130 an All Candidates Debate will be held for both slates to discuss their platforms.