Reflections on the second UTSU executive debate

Compass came out strong and independents held up, but 🅱️oundless had difficulty keeping up

Reflections on the second UTSU executive debate

On March 21, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presented a second round of executive debates on the topic of union operations. Unlike the first day, all positions present — President, Vice-President Internal, VP Campus Life, and VP Professional Faculties — were contested, allowing candidates to discuss weaknesses in one another’s platforms.

Compass emerged strong on the second night of executive debates. Compass candidates’ financial and operational knowledge of the UTSU’s past actions presented them as better prepared than their opponents. Compass also expressed ideas that considered all aspects of the university, including student need and financial support.

Though 🅱️oundless and independent candidates conveyed solid ideas as well, these paled in comparison to their opponents’. 

Independent candidate Spencer Robertson and Compass candidate Yolanda Alfaro presented very similar ideas for VP Campus Life, with Robertson putting an emphasis on the importance of the Student Commons as a central, uniting space, and Alfaro focusing on improving access to on-campus student life for commuter students. This was the friendliest of the debates, with moderator Jaren Kerr making time for questions like whether or not they would book Drake for orientation if they had to brand the show the “Drake Pepsi Concert.”

Compass VP Internal candidate Tyler Biswurm and Compass VP Professional Faculties Yasmine El Sanyoura emerged as clear winners in their respective debates.

“Humanizing” the UTSU was central to Biswurm’s ideas, who presented himself as someone fully aware of the UTSU’s shortcomings and who would be able to use this knowledge to form substantive, realistic goals that aim to increase student engagement. While pointing out the difficulties in creating new bursaries, he noted the need to simplify and centralize applications to make financial aid more accessible.

El Sanyoura supported her ideas with a detailed history of the VP Professional Faculties position, and she proposed policy amendments for faculties beyond her own, indicating that the medicine faculties’ gym fee adjustment rates could set an example for potential future adjustments for other faculties with sessional start and end dates.

In comparison, 🅱️oundless candidates seemed flustered and unprepared as members from the Compass slate revealed inconsistencies and shortcomings within the 🅱️oundless platform.

Specifically, Biswurm noted 🅱️oundless candidate Alyy Patel participated in a $3,000 off-campus retreat in her role as UTSU orientation coordinator, which is hypocritical in light of her platform points in this regard. 

Though she noted that she “wasn’t the only orientation leader” who took part in the retreat, she didn’t own up to her choice or explain how and why her opinions may have changed since.

In addition, Biswurm criticized the idea of running a pub within the student commons, calling it unrealistic considering the deficits experienced by other student union-run pubs around the country.  

To their credit, 🅱️oundless candidates seem to be trying to reach out to students who don’t have much knowledge of the UTSU’s operations. However, though this accessibility is an important aspect of student outreach, their ideas seemed to be stagnated by this perspective, as candidates chose to focus on making the UTSU seem fun and relatable rather than constructively educating students and providing services.

This was painfully clear when🅱️oundless VP Professional Faculties candidate Gallop Fan responded to a question about whether the engineering faculty should have a fall reading week with the statement, “I want other people to make my decisions for me.”

🅱️oundless’ numerous slip-ups support the statement made by Fan during the introduction of his slate on the first night: “Let’s be honest, we’re running for the trolls.”

All in all, 🅱️oundless candidates seemed unprepared to debate topics unrelated to the few mentioned on their slate, which became apparent in contrast to Compass candidates’ overall better preparation and knowledge of the UTSU.

The presidents’ debate between Compass candidate Anne Boucher and independent candidate Michelle Mabira covered a range of topics, from the Hudson lawsuit settlement to clubs funding.

Like other Compass members, Boucher had a strong focus on specific, administrative changes that could be made to improve student relations with administration and the UTSU, emphasizing the need to balance student services with financial realities and making it clear that meeting with the UTSU does not fill a student consultation quota.

Boucher clearly has a good understanding of the UTSU’s faults, such as the absence of direct communication with students about finances and the lack of student support in running advocacy campaigns. To both ideas, she suggested making the budget more “readable” and hiring part-time student employees to run campaigns.

Mabira likewise suggested improving the “readability” of the budget, but went further by suggesting social media posts that actively inform students about their finances. Both candidates did a great job presenting their ideas, many of which overlapped.

Ultimately, the second night of debates was one of the best opportunities for candidates to make their intentions known and, overall, candidates took advantage.

Compass candidates showed their preparedness in terms of knowledge of the UTSU. Independent candidates Robertson and Mabira were able to bring in dimensions of passion and personal investment that made up for their inexperience within the UTSU itself. And even 🅱️oundless candidates effectively communicated their desire to improve the UTSU, however implausible their ideas may seem.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Anthropology and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

Reflections on the first UTSU executive debate

Both presidential candidates presented strong platforms, though a lack of opposition for VP positions diminished Compass’ impact

Reflections on the first UTSU executive debate

On Tuesday, March 20, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) hosted the first of two spring election debates. Moderated by Jaren Kerr, Varsity alum and current Staff Reporter at the Toronto Star, the main topic of the debate was advocacy. Running unopposed, candidates for Vice-President External, VP Equity, and VP University Affairs were given the opportunity to elaborate on their platforms. The two candidates running for President followed with a debate that conformed to a more traditional structure, with candidates responding to and rebutting one another’s points in real time.

It is unfortunate that so many candidates this year are running unopposed. As pointed out by Grondin — himself unopposed — such lack of competition is indicative of the UTSU’s failure to reach its constituency. It is also unfortunate, consequently, that VP candidates at the debate did not have an opportunity to discuss their ideas in contrast with opponents’.

Kerr did ask insightful follow-up questions aimed at clarifying holes in candidates’ statements. When unopposed VP Equity candidate Ammara Wasim stated it was not her place to judge the validity of students’ claims of the UTSU being anti-Black or transphobic, Kerr followed up with a reminder that judging the strength of such claims would in fact be a part of her role.

The VP candidates at the debate, all part of the Compass slate, remained relatively open-ended when presenting their platforms. Wasim and Grondin both seemed reluctant to pinpoint any concrete, single issues they would focus on if elected. While it is important to stay mindful of constituents’ fluctuating needs, both candidates wasted an opportunity to present clearly defined intentions. As uncontested candidates, Wasim and Grondin had no direct challengers —  elaborating on their platforms would not have harmed their campaigns, and in fact might have served to motivate other candidates in clarifying their positions on controversial or overlooked issues.

Yuli Liu, candidate for VP External, expressed her support for student consensus multiple times, for instance when asked about membership in the U-Pass and other transit discounts the UTSU could pursue. While consensus is important, it is also helpful for students to see how their incoming VP External evaluates and anticipates their different needs, especially on issues that have long been discussed in the community.

All in all, the VP debates would have been a better vehicle for fleshing out the strengths and weaknesses of candidates’ ideas if all candidates had opponents to debate with in the first place. Without the watchful eye of oppositional candidates, it is regrettable that VP candidates at this debate were not able to sufficiently address potential shortcomings in their platforms.

Fortunately, Compass presidential candidate Anne Boucher was very clear about her positions on Canadian Federation of Students membership and Student Commons space allocation. In addition, Boucher expressed how her past experiences with the UTSU and running as an independent helped shape the Compass slate’s hope for a more “human” UTSU. Articulate and composed, Boucher presented herself as an experienced and knowledgeable candidate leading the biggest slate of this election season.

Independent presidential candidate Michelle Mabira also stood out as an invested activist candidate. Mabira was the sole candidate who used her experiences navigating the UTSU’s bureaucracy to explain how she personally understood the reality of the UTSU’s difficult relationship with student groups. This perspective was important in a night themed around advocacy, where so many candidates expressed their dissatisfaction with the UTSU’s longstanding inability to connect with students. Mabira successfully established herself as a candidate fully invested in student advocacy, at the receiving end of some of the UTSU’s alleged neglect in the past, and who is hoping to rectify these actions.

Four out of five candidates at the UTSU’s first debate represented the Compass slate. While all these candidates spoke of their hope for a more human UTSU, Mabira stood out as a true figure for advocacy, using personal anecdotes to humanize not only her ideas, but herself as an emotionally invested candidate. The fact that the VP positions were uncontested worked to the detriment of Compass candidates — and more importantly, it is harmful to students who remain relatively ill-informed of the intentions of their future executives.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Anthropology and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

UTMSU executive candidates face off in debate

Election to take place March 7–9

UTMSU executive candidates face off in debate

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.

President

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.”

Vice-President External

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.”

Vice-President Equity

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

and Academics

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.