The campaign period for the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are in full swing, and the executive candidates faced off at UTM’s Blind Duck Pub in a two hour debate on March 1.
There are two slates competing in this year’s election compared to four last year. No incumbents are running for re-election, and two of the candidates are UTMSU associates. The slates, Fresh UTM and UTM First, presented platforms that advocate for international student rights, U-Pass expansion, and healthier food options on campus.
Running for President with Fresh UTM is Salma Fakhry, who is Associate to the UTMSU Vice-President University Affairs and Academics. Her platform includes providing accessible education and reviewing UTM’s student centre expansion.
Alex Gignac is UTM First’s presidential candidate. Gignac’s platform advocates for a tier rewards system for club funding, which would see more funding provided to new clubs that participate in more events.
Additionally, he advocated for U-Pass expansion throughout Brampton and Oakville. All UTM students are provided with a U-Pass, which allows for unlimited access to MiWay for a mandatory fee charged to their student accounts.
When asked about the student centre expansion, Fakhry stated that at the last UTMSU Annual General Meeting, students voted ‘yes’ on a student centre expansion.
Fakhry said, “We must consult our student body. We cannot do this alone… We must lobby with the administration to find… an accessible funding model that actually takes pressure off students. We don’t want students to be paying extra money, because this is their right and this is their space.”
Gignac stated that he also advocates for the expansion: “We’re going to have to sit down with the university because the most important thing is that they cover a good chunk of the expenses… There will be no increased tuition for the student centre.”
Vice-President Internal and Services
Vikko Qu from Fresh UTM is running unopposed for Vice-President Internal and Services. His platform focuses on expanding limited accessibility and study space on campus.
Qu proposes making the U-Pass GTA-wide. When asked how he plans to establish a GTA-wide pass, Qu noted that he was involved in the GTA U-Pass conversation last year as Associate to the Vice-President Internal.
“What will happen this year is that first, we’ll consult the students by running surveys, by collecting data, by collecting information. And second, we’ll be talking to our levy groups, clubs and societies, and third, we’ll be running a referendum so that our students can vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [on whether] they want a GTA U-Pass,” Qu said. “We’ll present all the information to the government, to Metrolinx, so our students’ demands can be consented.”
Ali Taha is UTM First’s candidate for Vice-President External. Taha, who currently serves on the UTMSU Board of Directors, stated that his goal as Vice-President External would be to unite the three campuses. He also aims for a diversity of opinions on campus.
Jose Wilson is running for the same position with Fresh UTM. Wilson’s platform is centred on activism for part-time students.
The Vice-President External candidates were questioned at the debate on how they planned to reinstate the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) for international students.
Taha stated that, after some research, he learned OHIP was rescinded for international students in 1994, as the government did not feel it was feasible to implement the program for international students.
He noted that re-instating the program for international students would be very difficult and instead advocated for increased support for international students. “I would like to see more support and services for international students, like international ambassadors to be able to be appointed as [the point of] contact for international students when they get here,” said Taha.
Wilson noted that he is an international student, that he understood how expensive the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) is, and how it lacks coverage.
He said, “I remember a conversation with [Qu] where he mentioned that in order to take a ride in an ambulance, you would have to pay $500, because the ambulance does not take the UHIP coverage… We want to take a look at lobbying MPPs and premiers about re-instating OHIP for international students.”
Sagal Osman is running for Vice-President Equity with UTM Fresh. She cites her experience as an executive with the Black Students’ Association as a reason for her involvement. Osman wants to expand safe spaces on campus in addition to combating Islamophobia, sexism, and racism on campus.
UTM First’s Vice-President Equity candidate is Mduduzi Mhlanga, who wants to focus on finances and on-campus affordability.
The Vice-President Equity candidates were asked about how they planned to implement the Sexual Violence Policy at UTM.
Osman stated that she would like to see “an annual review of this policy. We need constant change so that we can keep advocating and keep implementing policies that keep communities spoken for and included.”
She noted that the policy provides support for perpetrators and wants to see the policy edited to make it “survivor-centric.”
“Our human rights need to be advocated for and spoken for, and if we can’t do that then we need to change that right now,” Osman said.
Mhlanga countered by saying he believed it was far more important to “find a solution that works and stick with it.”
“But overall, I believe that UTM is a very safe campus… so I believe that we have made real strides in achieving equality and equity despite sexual orientation, despite ethnic identification, despite your gender,” Mhlanga stated. “I believe that for this policy, it’s far more important to hear student’s opinions and see what they think needs to be changed, and then try to advocate for that change as well, once we again make sure the solution is viable.”
Vice-President University Affairs
UTM First candidate Christina Khokar wants students to have a better understanding of tuition fees, along with more information sessions related to tuition. Khokhar advocates for increased opt-out options from fees and levies.
Fresh UTM candidate Maya Tomkiewicz stated that students are often unaware of what is included in student policies. She is advocating for increased visibility of these policies on campus.
When asked what the governing council on campus does, Khokhar stated that UTM operates as a democracy. “I also want to improve this process by having a longer election period so we can get across to more people… right now, our voter turnout is only 35 per cent… I think everyone should have a voice… and I think everyone should recognize the value of these elections,” she said.
Tomkiewicz clarified that the UTM Campus Council is a subsection of the Governing Council: “They make decisions about different issues like academic policies, parking fees, tuition. Unfortunately, there is very little student representation on this council.”
Tomkiewicz then advocated for further representation of students on the council.
Voting takes place from March 7–9 at Davis Building, Instructional Centre, CCT Building, and Deerfield Hall.