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Profile: Catherine Lai, UTSU’s newly appointed vice-president public & university affairs

New UTSU executive talks about leaving the CFS, Same Degree Same Fee, other plans for next year
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New VP PUA Catherine Lai. COURTESY OF CATHERINE LAI
New VP PUA Catherine Lai. COURTESY OF CATHERINE LAI

On April 30, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) appointed Catherine Lai to the position of vice-president public & university affairs (VP PUA), after the sole candidate of the regular elections season dropped out of the race. Lai will be the second ever VP PUA, after the positions of vice-president external and vice-president university affairs were merged in 2020

She is now entering her second year as a U of T student, majoring in peace, conflict, and justice studies and economics, with a minor in French. Lai arrived at U of T after two gap years spent working on contracts in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia. 

Previously, she served on the Toronto Youth Cabinet. She also co-founded her high school’s mental health awareness council, which was her first introduction to governance. 

“That experience was extremely eye-opening, it allowed me to encounter urban communities outside the urban bubble here in Toronto,” said Lai in an interview with The Varsity. Lai found that many of the challenges she saw in western Canada — including affordability, unreliable internet access, and food insecurity — are also prevalent at U of T. 

She plans to continue a number of advocacy efforts started by her predecessor. These include the Same Degree, Same Fee campaign, the campaign to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and working with the university on their university-mandated leave of absence policy review.  

On top of her predecessor’s campaigns, she wants to work with Health & Wellness to facilitate a more robust online booking system for appointments as well as to create a system available for students studying virtually outside of Canada. She also plans to expand the peer support program by increasing its hours and making it more accessible to those outside of the country. 

Overall, Lai wants to address food insecurity and unstable internet, which she believes are a central issue for many U of T students. This includes expanding the U of T food bank to include more options and to extend their hours.