If you want to know why most students do not pay attention to student elections, read The Varsity’s presidential candidate profiles for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The cliché of students not caring is by now a chicken-and-egg situation: students don’t vote because the unions don’t engage with them; unions don’t bother engaging because students don’t vote. Yes, we should try to be informed — but the current election offers little reason to.
While the candidates have had the opportunity to explain their ideas with more specificity during the executive candidates’ debate, their Varsity profiles and candidate statements should be sufficient to at least present the foundations of their campaigns.
The fact that these profiles are barely distinguishable from one another is worrying.
Both Muntaka Ahmed and Arjun Kaul speak grandly of improving student experiences and equity concerns, which are important. But they fail to explain exactly how their presidencies will tackle these issues in ways that distinguish them from previous executives’ efforts.
The only person to stand out is Bryan Liceralde, a second-time candidate who notes that he lacks experience in student politics.
Liceralde’s plans include making residence free for students whose families make less than $90,000 a year; enforcing that the UTSU take a neutral stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict and refuse to fund clubs that promote “violence” against civilians from either side; and using the UTSU as a platform for his personal “rants on music.”
Last year, he announced his campaign was partly an effort to win the Rhodes Scholarship. Absurd? Yes. Impossible? Likely. Not worth voting for? There’s the problem.
Liceralde stands out not only for the quixotic nature of his own promises, but also for the other candidates’ inability to articulate concrete proposals.
Unlike Liceralde, the more experienced candidates didn’t bother addressing anyone who is not already involved in student government.
I would like to know what you actually plan to do in office, and what you have to say to the thousands of students who aren’t sure you do anything at all.
With two out of three candidates already part of the current government, a picture emerges of an insular world that speaks only for itself, and to itself. This may not be a problem for students who are happy with business as usual, but it says nothing for those of us who struggle to understand why we should care.
Liceralde has no such problem. Not only did he cite the issues of grade deflation, breadth requirements, and Credit/No Credit — about which many students are opinionated — but he also expressed a desire to challenge Doug Ford’s postsecondary policies as a cornerstone of both this and last year’s campaign.
Being an outsider candidate, he does not limit himself to topics students only care about if they are already familiar with the UTSU’s operations. Who else takes a stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict in their statement, let alone a simultaneously authoritarian and neutral one? Who else sees the presidency as an opportunity to promote their music taste?
While Liceralde’s dismissal of Billie Eilish and The Weeknd as “overrated” is incorrect, it makes for a unique campaign issue. This candidate does not merely want to be the UTSU president; he sets out to challenge what the very office of president entails.
For the first time, I feel I have some understanding of that vocal group of Americans in 2016 who declared they would vote for Donald Trump just for the hell of it — just to see what would happen.
Liceralde’s policies may not make sense, but at least they sound nothing like the status quo. This is the jaded, nihilistic approach one takes when convinced the system, at best, doesn’t care about the people it represents, and at worst, shouldn’t exist.
If the UTSU is not such a system, I look forward to a candidate who will change my mind.
Jacob Harron is a fourth-year English student at Victoria College. He is an Associate Senior Copy Editor.