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UTMSU executive candidate debate covers transit, campus issues

Nine candidates across two slates debate
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The UTM campus. DOMINICK HAN/THE_VARSITY
The UTM campus. DOMINICK HAN/THE_VARSITY

On March 9, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held its all-candidates debate, where candidates for the UTMSU election answered questions from voters. 

Candidates running on two slates — Change UTM and Inspire UTM — as well as one independent candidate came together to discuss their platforms. 

On the Inspire UTM slate, Maëlis Barre, Reagan Roopnarine, Alistair Kirk, Wenhan (Berry) Lou, and Suraqa Noor are running for president, vice-president equity, vice-president external, vice-president internal, and vice-president university affairs, respectively. 

On the Change UTM slate, Sam Aboul Hosn, Tamara El-Aydi, and Robin Abboud are running for president, vice-president external, and vice-president university affairs, respectively. 

Tsz Hei Justin Ma is running for vice-president internal as an independent candidate. 

Campus safety

The candidates were asked how they plan to create a safer campus. 

Roopnarine, who is running unopposed for vice-president equity, suggested a forum on consent, which would allow the UTMSU to hear ways to improve consent culture on campus. She also wants to improve U of T’s current sexual violence policy. “It’s not survivor-centric,” Roopnarine said. 

Aboul Hosn, who’s running for UTMSU president, said that one of his main goals is to invest in better sexual assault policy by talking to the university about building more health centres and infrastructure like “help buttons” on campus. 

Academic support 

“As a student, it’s frustrating understanding my academic rights and what contributes to an academic offence,” said one student. “What plans are in place to support students academically?”

Noor, a candidate for vice-president university affairs, pointed to one of Inspire UTM’s campaign points, which is to “revamp” the Know Your Rights Campaign. She explained that academic policies are constantly updating, and many students are not aware that academic offence policies have changed since classes have resumed in person. 

Noor would like to expand the UTMSU Survival Guide because she says that not a lot of students are aware of academic deadlines, such as for applying to specific programs of study. “I don’t want any student… to [be] held back due to their lack of knowledge on academic policies.”

Transit options 

“How will the UTMSU negotiate with local transit governments to make commuting from other places in the GTA — i.e. Scarborough — to save students time and money? As well, if students plan on driving to campus, do I have the option of not having to use the Upass?” asked one student. 

Lou, a candidate for vice-president internal, said they plan to present the UTMSU UPass survey — which collected data about student usage — to MiWay at the contract negotiation next year. 

Ma, the other candidate for vice-president internal, discussed the cost that students pay to commute from other areas of the GTA that have transit other than MiWay. “I think students should be able to choose which transit company they should be using,” said Ma. 

Abboud, the other candidate for vice-president university affairs, said that Change UTM wants to be transparent with students on UPass negotiation updates. “We’re trying to make it as economically and practically usable as possible, without giving anyone any false impressions about what we can and cannot deliver.”

University budget 

The candidates were asked how they will review the university budget. 

Aboul Hosn said that he wants the Ontario Student Aid Program to cover international students who have a one-year proof of residence, which could decrease international fees. He also wants to review the UTMSU’s ancillary and incidental fees by hiring an independent committee to see how much fees should actually be and what the money is being used for. 

Barre, the other candidate for president, said that, as last year’s vice-president external, she voted against increases in student fees. “We decided that that financial burden should not fall on students,” said Barre. 

Food on campus 

“What are you planning on doing about food costs on campus?” one student asked the candidates. 

Barre wants to lobby administrative decision makers to make sure that UTM requires proper food quality control, provides more ethical food sources, and increases food diversity for students with food restrictions. She’d also like to continue expanding the Food Centre at UTM to help ease food insecurity. 

Abboud aims to provide more flex dollars to students instead of basic dollars, because the difference between the two impacts students’ decisions of where they can eat and allocate their food budget. 

El-Aydi said that some students have come to her saying that meals provided by UTM’s food provider, Aramark, have caused health problems and that she wants “to ensure that the three meals that they’re eating are good meals.” 

Union transparency

The candidates were asked how they will ensure that they will be transparent as executives for the union. 

Aboul Hosn sees that students are feeling disconnected from their union, so one of his campaign points is creating a portal connecting students to the UTMSU, which students can use to be more engaged and informed. 

Barre said the UTMSU has different systems that allow transparency and participation, such as the Annual General Meeting and Commission meetings. She also said that all UTMSU documents, like meeting minutes, financial statements, and executive committee minutes, are available online.

Voting for next year’s Executive Committee and Division II – Directors at Large will be from March 15–17.