After expressing disappointment with the format of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Debate that took place on March 8, the Whomst’d’ve UofT slate is calling for a new debate to take place.
The debate was moderated by Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Bridgette Dalima for the first half, and the event’s anti-harassment officer Ellie Ade Kur for the second half. The forum lasted approximately three hours and consisted of three parts: slate or independent opening statements, a general question period for non-presidential candidates from the audience, and a presidential debate.
Last year, each executive position had its own portion of the debate where candidates could directly engage with each other’s policies and comments, as well as answer questions from the audience.
Following the Executive Debate, Whomst’d’ve’s Vice-President University Affairs candidate Saarthak Saxena emailed the CRO, Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) Chair Ryan Gomes, and The Varsity, expressing concern with the format of the debate.
The Elections Procedure Code (EPC) states that the executive forum must have two components for each candidate: a question and answer period and a debate period wherein the questions are asked by an independent campus publication.
The EPC requires campus publications to submit questions in advance to the CRO for vetting. Though The Varsity and The Medium were asked to participate in the debate, The Varsity declined to submit questions for approval by the CRO, citing concerns over independence.
Plans for the debate subsequently proceeded without consultation of The Varsity.
In the email, Saxena wrote: “Ignoring the fact that the EPC was clearly written with a two party system in mind, and understanding that there are time constraints to take into account, we are still extremely disappointed to note that the EPC was not followed in constructing the Executive Candidates Forum for non-Presidential candidates, and some positions were slighted because of this inattentiveness.”
Saxena continued the email requesting another forum for non-presidential candidates while also mentioning that the slate was “disappointed” when a student was “repeatedly told to wait until the end of the Question and Answer period” to ask a question of the presidential candidates — given that the only presidential questions asked were pre-submitted.
The Varsity reached out to both Dalima and Gomes for comment. Gomes responded saying there will not be another forum and that the debate component in the EPC is “technically unenforceable” given that it was only written “with a reference to two candidates.”
Gomes added that the current format was “a compromise” given that there were a large number of candidates running. “There was supposed to be a more even distribution of questions to candidates, but in the moment that did not occur,” he said.
Gomes also stated that he is “truly sorry [that] this student was unable to ask a question” and that the “presidential candidate debate portion was never supposed to receive outside questions.”
Gomes also mentioned that this incident “will be noted for future debates.”
Dalima did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
However, Dalima did respond to Whomst’d’ve’s email, saying, “I know the Executive Forum organized by the CRO met the requirements laid out in the EPC.” She continued by stating that Whomst’d’ve was “welcome to work with the ERC to plan and execute a debate in their preferred format.”
Saxena, who was not satisfied with this response, asked Dalima to specifically state how the EPC was upheld, given there was no debate portion for non-presidential candidates and questions were not submitted by an independent campus publication.
Whomst’d’ve mentioned not having the “time nor the inclination” to plan a new forum. “Our preferred format is simply the one in the EPC. It’s the CRO’s job to ‘Organize and establish guidelines for the Executive Candidates’ Forum’… not the candidates, and we are disappointed that your suggestion seems more indicative of an attempt to pass on responsibility than of taking command of what was an organizational and EPC-breaking failure.”
The Varsity will be hosting a presidential debate on March 13 at 7:30 pm.