News | SSMU exec wannabes vie for power

Each year, The Daily interviews the crop of SSMU candidates for your reading pleasure. We ask each candidate for each position the same questions, and offer you a condensed versions of our conversations. Then, you can check out The Daily’s endorsements on pages 12 and 13 to find out who we think should represent McGill’s 19,000 undergrads next year. And, most importantly, remember to vote at vote.electionsmcgill.ca!

Interviews compiled by Claire Caldwell, Kelly Ebbels, Max Halparin, Peter Hurley, Simon Lewsen, Jennifer Markowitz, Erika Meere, Olga Redko, Nicholas Smith, and Will Vanderbilt. Photos by Nadja Popovich.

President

RJ Kelford & Kay Turner

RJ Kelford

U2 International Development Studies

Smith Falls, ON

What experience will you bring to the position?

I’ve been President of the Arts Undergraduate Society [AUS] for two years, and AUS is the second-largest society on campus next to SSMU, and is the largest one that’s volunteer-run. I’ve been overseeing those operations for the last two years, and it’s been a very transformative period for the AUS. We’ve gone from having very few people involved to having very, very many people involved.

What would be your top priority if elected?

There are a lot of priorities. I think what we have to look longest and hardest at is how SSMU actually reaches out to students. Right now, the burden of student life is falling on the faculties and the clubs.

SnowAP didn’t do so well, so in terms of events, we’re just not doing as much campus-wide as we did before. In terms of services, we’ve done a lot of really cool green things, but we just need to keep expanding. SSMU isn’t doing nearly enough for students.

What should be the role of General Assemblies be at SSMU, and how would you improve participation in direct democracy?

Our first priority at this point should be, after having run two or three successful GAs, we should be working on following through with those resolutions. The fact is that we passed these resolutions at GAs and seen nothing come of them, which is an issue.

So like as far as promoting people to attend the GA, I think people will attend the GA as soon as we start making ground on the things that the GA has directed us to do.

How should SSMU fight for accessible education?

As it stands right now, it’s not sustainable to maintain SSMU lobbying on its own…. So we’ve got to look at developing alliances and partnerships within our developed framework, or even by looking for like-minded groups and starting our own association among universities, because also we’re in a unique situation with so many international students and so many out-of-province students.

Why are you the best candidate?

Because we managed to bring AUS out of the caves. AUS isn’t perfect, don’t get me wrong, but AUS is so much better than it was two years ago.

When I go into a student society, I look at it and I ask myself what we can do in two different ways. I look at how can we make what exists better, and what new things can we do to make the whole better.

Kay Turner

U2 International Development Studies

& Political Science

Toronto, ON

What experience will you bring to the position?

I was on Inter-Residence Council first year, I was Arts rep to SSMU second year, I was Rez Life facilitator second year. I’m a three-term student councillor. I was AUS external last year. I did a lot of work on SSMU committees and AUS committees. I’ve been involved in SnowAP for the past four years. I’ve been VP Internal of SSMU over the last year.

What would be your top priority if elected?

My top priority, and the biggest reason I’m running, is that I have the leadership and the good judgement to understand the issues that are facing the attacks on student life. I want to make sure that we keep student life on campus, and I think that that has to do with food services. Fighting for the rights to your campus is one of the biggest goals I hope to achieve.

What should the role of the General Assemblies be, and how will you improve participation in direct democracy?

The biggest problem with the GA in terms of participation is that if there aren’t the motions, people aren’t going to want to come out. The way you get more motions is by broadening the group of people who feel like they can come and are interested. I really think it’s a really great forum for everybody.

I will improve participation by demystifying the GA process and making students feel more relevant. One of my biggest problems is, often times the people who have the skills – motion-writing skills, debating skills, parliamentary procedure skills – are the people who feel they can be a part of the GA. That’s something that we want to work on with the GA web site, to get more information out there.

How should SSMU fight for accessible education?

The whole strike movement thing didn’t really work out very well.

We need to work with the administration to lobby the government. The more money we can get from the government, the less pressure there will be to raise student fees. Further, we need to build bridges with other student associations – not necessarily national or provincial student associations. If we can just build smaller coalitions with other schools, I think that’s good.

Why are you the best candidate?

I’m the best candidate because I really understand SSMU, the way it interacts with students, and with the administration. Because change is really important, and there are a lot of things that are really wrong with SSMU, and I know what those problems are.

VP Finance & Ops acclaimed

Peter Newhook

U3 Finance & Information Systems

Toronto, ON

What experience do you bring to the position?

At the debates I mentioned my time on the [Inter-Rez Council]. Being with the McGill cycling team gives me a bit more broader range. I think being a floor fellow has really forced me to know how McGill works, the different systems and everything that’s available here.

What would be your top priority if elected?

My top priority is increasing transparency, general accessibility of financial statements and documents.

How do you plan on balancing SSMU operations, such as the Haven bookstore, with the needs of clubs and services?

I would like to see the requirement fees to use Gert’s removed. Haven books – I don’t have any concrete plans for integrating that with clubs and services, but I think it’s really important that it doesn’t take away from clubs and services.

How do you feel about student-run cafeterias in the Shatner building?

This is the students’ building – it’s important to show that in practice and in principle that this is something that can be owned by students. If we say that this is the students’ building but that we’re partitioning it off to corporations, that sends a mixed message.

VP Univ. Affairs acclaimed

Acclaimed

Nadya Wilkinson

U3 Contemporary German Studies

Vancouver, BC

What experience will you bring to the position?

For two years I have been the chairperson of the Sustainable McGill Project. I’ve been in meetings, I’ve facilitated meetings with administrators, with faculty, the staff who empty bins, et cetera, and with students.

What would be your top priority if elected?

My top priority is to push for transparency from the administration, and also to push for transparency from my office – be that through a blog, or a huge student presence, or some sort of better community consultations. I want students to know exactly how they’re being represented to the administration, and I want the administration to know that the more clear they are with us, the more we can come to some sort of agreement.

How do you plan to engage students in General Assemblies?

I’m going to really push to make it obvious that we are working to implement and follow GA mandates. Also, I’d really get the administration to understand that this is a democratic choice from the students, and they need to respect GA mandates.

What is the name of McGill’s Associate Secretary-General? [Jennifer Towell]

Jennifer Towell.

VP Clubs & Services

Samantha Cook & Johnson Fung

Samantha Cook

U3 English Literature

Shrewsbury, Massachussets

If elected, what would be your top priority?

Most of all it’s advocating for student rights. In particular, working for the right for students to use the McGill name; and opt-outs, making sure that students will maintain their funding. I want to prioritize student space too. Obviously the Shatner building has limited space, but trying to use that as best as possible, and make sure that students have access to it.

What experience do you bring to the position?

I have experience as the co-administrator of a the largest student service on campus: Queer McGill. Other than that, I’ve been involved with Rez-Project, which is a program between Queer McGill and [The Sexual Assault Centre]. A lot of people in rez have gone through our program about gender, sexual assault issues, and queer issues. Also, I’m a member of the McGill Equity Subcommittee on Queer People, which means I have had experience working with McGill administrators and faculty.

It’s notoriously difficult for VP C&S to keep organized. What’s your best and your worst organizational habit?

My best is definitely my to-do lists. I live by my to-do lists, they’re very thorough. As long as it’s written down it’s gonna get done. My bad habit is forgetting to write things down. But generally I’m a very organized person.

Do you support cutting the Clubs and Services budget in favour of funding SSMU operations?

No. There are a lot of important SSMU operations that do require a lot of funding; I think it should be fairly balanced with the Clubs and Services budget. But it should never be as low as it was this past year.

How will you fight for student groups’ rights to use the McGill name?

I’m ready to fight the McGill administration on that point. I think there are a couple of people on the administration who will actually listen to student voices. We need to really advocate the fact that representatives go through every club that is to be accredited by SSMU. We are accountable for our students but we do believe that those clubs and services that are given their names deserve that name. Without students there would be no McGill, so I believe students deserve the right to use the McGill name.

Johnson Fung

U1 Molecular Biology & Philosophy

Markham, ON

If elected, what would be your top priority?

To make SSMU more visible and more relevant to students at McGill. The first thing I want to do is to bring clubs online. My vision for it: Facebook, or ssmuclubs.com. It’s not just so students can discuss them, and to improve visibility, it’s also to bring down all the administrative tasks.

What experience do you bring to this job?

[Arts and Science Integrated Council] VP Communication and Events… and VP Publicity for Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society. I’ve started multitudes of nonprofit projects. I’m running my own business right now. I have experience in advocating issues. I have experience running clubs. I have experience with technology.

It’s notoriously difficult for VP C&S to keep organized. What’s your best and worst organizational habit?

My email is perfect. Bringing C&S online eliminates all the paper problems. My biggest organizational problem since I was young was keeping paper in track. That’s how I got interested in online stuff in the first place, it keeps me organized.

Do you support cutting the Clubs and Services budget in favour of funding SSMU operations?

SSMU needs to take clubs and services as their first priority. The argument was that clubs and services is only 5,000 students, whereas the McGill’s [undergraduate] community is 20,000. It’s 5,000 for a reason. Students don’t know about clubs and services. SSMU is more involved in political aspects, and sometimes that drowns out the more fundamental aspects – for example, keeping a club alive. When you cut C&S from $50,000 to $26,000 you’re cutting away one of the fundamental parts of your students’ society to fund Haven Books, a failing business. That’s unacceptable.

How will you fight for groups’ rights to use the McGill name?

I empathize with McGill’s concern about their name, and having investors not like it. At the same time, they’re a university as much as a business, and there’s a compromise to be made. It involves a lot of talking to the administration. But the worst thing you can do is tell them: ‘This is what I want, this is what you want. You’re doing it wrong.’ I’ll fight for the McGill name, but the attitude won’t be all-out war against McGill.

VP External Affairs

Devin Alfaro & Trevor Hanna

Devin Alfaro

U3 Sociology & Urban Systems

Irvine, California

What experience do you bring?

I’m currently a SSMU Councillor, I’m one of the Arts Reps, and I’m chair of the External committee so I’ve dealt extensively with the issues in the external portfolio. I have been a SSMU rep at [Canadian Federation of Students] general meetings and a SSMU observer at [Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante] congresses, so I know the issue and I know where the players are. I think I have both the experience and the skills to be a good advocate for students.

What would your top priority be?

My biggest priority would be lobbying for more funding for education. For the last 10 years we’ve had governments more interested in cutting taxes than investing in public goods. This has had a negative affect on the quality of education. We have to reach out; we need to build coalitions on an issue-by-issue basis to try and get things done, particularly fighting for better funding from both the provincial and federal level.

SSMU currently belongs to no provincial or federal lobby group. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and how can SSMU best continue to fight for accessible education?

With the exception of ASSÉ, we’ve been a member of every group out there and we’ve found that none of them represent the issues that are most pressing for SSMU’s membership, so I don’t think there is an option that would fit us well. At the moment, the best thing to do is to remain independent. We need to build coalitions without actually becoming a member of an organization.

Do you personally support free tuition, a return to the freeze, increasing tuition, or some other plan?

In the ideal world I don’t think there should be user fees for postsecondary education. That said, I think it’s difficult to navigate in the current political context. I’m comfortable working for a less ambitious goal, and I think fighting the defreeze is important. I don’t think we should limit ourselves to free tuition being the only goal, but rather make it the ideal goal.

Which GA questions are most important to you, and what would you do to implement them?

Lower tuition with the eventual goal of not having tuition – that’s a very important mandate for SSMU to work on. We’ve done a lot of work on that issue and I think it needs to continue.

What role should SSMU play in improving neighbhourhood relations, especially in the Milton-Parc community?

This is a really difficult issue to deal with, it’s very much at the individual level. SSMU needs to help provide ways for its members to get more involved in the Montreal community. The most important things I’ve learned here I haven’t learned in a lecture hall, and I’d like more students to have that outlook and take advantage of all the opportunities that are there for them.

Trevor Hanna

U3 Physics

Montreal, QC

What experience do you bring?

I have a decade of experience working as a students’ representative. In high school I spent two years as a students’ rep to the Board of Governors, and I was also president of the students’ union. In CEGEP I spent one year as a rep with Marianapolis Student Congress. I was also VP of Federal and International Affairs at Féderation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ).

What would your top priority be?

Financial aid. Instead of being on the defensive about student aid we can get on the offensive, look for improvements in terms of the required contribution from parents. My pet project of sorts is to create a student mobility program similar to one in Europe called ERASMUS, which lets students spend a semester or two abroad studying at any university in the EU and have those credits count toward their degree. It promotes travel, learning new languages and new cultures. It would be really interesting to see what program we could implement in Canada and then expand that to North America.

SSMU currently belongs to no provincial or federal lobby group. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and how can SSMU best continue to fight for accessible education?

I think there are benefits and drawbacks to being members of student lobby group. During my time in office I plan to keep going as an independent student union, but that does not keep us from working with other student unions. Thanks to my time working at the FEUQ, I have a number of contacts in student unions across Quebec and Canada; we’re going to work together to get results.

Do you personally support free tuition, a return to the freeze, increasing tuition, or some other plan?

I personally support free tuition.

Which GA questions are most important to you, and what would you do to implement them?

There was one motion that was passed with regard to financial assistance and increasing benefits for student-parents. That’s something that would fit nicely in with my first priority, and you know we’ve got an increase in tuition fees that’s happening, and we need to make sure our financial aid system is up to par.

What role should SSMU play in improving neighbhourhood relations, especially in the Milton-Parc community?

This is certainly just a question of getting information to students living in the Milton-Parc community, raising awareness that they don’t have a monopoly on the neighbourhood, and that they should be respectful of the residents living there longer than they have.

VP Internal

Kevin Chambers, José Diaz, Brad Milech & Julia Webster

José Diaz

U2 Economics

Panama City, Panama

If elected, what would be your top priority?

My top priority would be ensuring that disenfranchised students are not excluded from the events that SSMU organizes.

What experience do you bring to this position?

I have over eight years of organizing events at different levels. I started university in Panama, and transferred to McGill. There I was a I was a member of council, Arts and Culture Senator, and later Interim President. Also I was in charge of the events on campus. After coming to Montreal, I’ve been involved with Queer Radical Week, and with Festival Imagination. I’m the current Social Coordinator of Queer McGill. I’m also the VP External for the McGill Institutional Students’ Network, and I work for the Canadian Universities Queer Services Conference.

Do you agree with having General Assemblies, and what do you think SSMU can do to better engage students in direct democracy?

It’s really important for us to have GAs. I’m advocating for [more] GAs and town halls. As for increasing student participation, it would be very important to have a cohesive effort with all of the faculties, and perhaps other groups to get them involved so they can pass that interest on.

How can the VP Internal work to reduce SSMU’s environmental waste?

When you’re having events, you can make those events more sustainable. Switching to big mugs used in some of the froshes last year, and the ones sold at SnowAP, instead of plastic cups. For the marketing of events, posters can be reused.

What political function, if any, does the VP Internal play?

It’s very important that the VP Internal helps mobilize students for issues such as GAs. One of the functions of VP Internal is communications, so it’s something that the VP Internal can take advantage of.

Given that McGill has been cracking down on alcohol at student events, what will you plan to do to ensure events with alcohol at McGill can happen?

I wouldn’t let them crack down on alcohol. Professor Mendelson mentioned that they don’t want to get rid of it. If we’re already having support in some parts of the McGill institution, it’s something we can work on. We must ensure that event organizers that are serving alcohol are abiding by the protocols.

Brad Milech

U2 Education & Secondary Mathematics

Montreal, QC

If elected, what would be your top priority?

I want to encourage students who are not taking part in activities at McGill to start taking part by diversifying the amount of activities that are available.

What experience do you bring to the position?

I have no SSMU experience, but I bring seven years of organizing parties and events for bars and clubs, so I’m very familiar organizing events of large magnitudes.

Do you agree with having general assemblies at SSMU, and what do you think SSMU can do to better engage students in direct democracy?

Well for one I understand the General Assembly was placed at a very inconvenient time during midterms, so they should definitely invest in finding a better time to have students assemble. Also they should start asking questions that are a little bit more relevant, like pertain[ing] to the school, with professors skipping out on their office hours; that’s something that needs to be changed, as opposed to some of the other things on their agenda. Some of the things on the agenda before were just ridiculous to talk about.

How can the VP Internal work to reduce SSMU’s environmental waste?

The SSMU VP Internal is going to run all the events around the school, so I guess using a lot more biodegradable cups and having recycling bins, and having the proper places to throw them out.

What political function, if any, does the VP Internal play?

I know our job is to talk amongst SSMU and facilitate the conversations between all the VPs and the President. If I get elected I really want to run a charity poker tournament. I definitely want to give back to Montreal and Montreal charities through being the VP Internal.

Given that McGill has been cracking down on alcohol at student events, what do you plan to do to ensure that events with alcohol at McGill can happen?

I know we have the WalkSafe program, so if I make anything on campus and people start drinking too much, I’ll always have security. I work in clubs and bars; I do like drinking. I like people to drink and have a good time. They don’t have to necessarily drink to have a good time, but I will have necessary security measures in place if anything should or could happen. I just want to add one more thing: I want to encourage students who are not taking part in events to become involved. I know that I can’t cater to everyone’s taste, but my goal is to throw at least one party or event that they will enjoy.

Julia Webster

U2 Cognitive Science & History

Toronto, ON

If elected, what would be your top priority?

My top priority would definitely be school spirit. A lot of things fall under “school spirit,” like creating better relationships within the faculties and internals and other clubs, faculties and associations. School spirit means supporting athletics as well.

What experience do you bring to the position?

I’ve helped run the bus trip to Queen’s, and I’ve helped to run Four Floors back when it still existed. In 2007 I was a manager of SnowAP, and in 2008 I directed SnowAP. I’ve been a Frosh leader with SSMU and other faculty Froshes. I’m McGill server trained. I’ve been President of Arts and Science Council this year. I’ve held a position as the VP Internal and the VP Academic Arts on the Arts and Science Council.

Do you agree with having General Assemblies? What do you think SSMU can do to help engage students in direct democracy?

I think that General Assemblies are a great idea. It’s really important to have a student voice because not everyone is involved directly in politics. GAs give a group of students a chance to voice their opinions to the larger student body, at least those who attend. As far as getting more students involved, I think that we really need to get the faculties behind it…so that it is not just minorities of students showing up and voting for what they want.

How can the VP Internal work to reduce SSMU’s environmental waste?

This year SnowAP made a lot of changes. We applied to the Green Fund, we got mugs, and we gave reduced cover prices. I spent a lot of time with my arms up to my elbows in beer water, washing out cups to make sure that they’re recyclable. The VP internal needs to work very closely with the environmental commissioner.

What political function, if any, does the VP Internal play?

This year, there hasn’t been that many issues that the VP Internal would deal with directly. But last year, Gill Prendergast had that open forum with Héma-Quebec and students. What’s important is fostering those communications on the current issues that are going on, and making sure that the student body is aware and has an opportunity to have a voice.

Given that McGill has been cracking down on alcohol at student events, what will you do to ensure that events with alcohol at McGill can happen?

I would push to require every student who serves alcohol be server-trained. I’d work with the first-year office more to make the first-year server training more dynamic and more accessible.


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