Features | The Daily’s Endorsements 2008

[Correction appended]

The campaigns are coming to a close, online polls are opening, and it’s time for McGill’s downtown undergraduate students to start filling in the blanks of next year’s SSMU executive. In years past, The Daily has lamented the dearth of quality in SSMU candidates. This year, however, there is a bumper crop of campus politicos who, we think, deserve your vote. (In most races, anyway). It’s been a long and arduous process for both candidates and students, but here are The Daily’s endorsements. Read them over, debate them, love them or hate them – we just hope this helps you make up your mind.

President

Kay Turner

This year’s candidates for SSMU President are not terribly impressive. While both Turner and RJ Kelford have years of valuable experience heading up large portfolios, neither seems to have a strong grasp of the McGill administration nor external affairs. But Turner’s extensive experience in SSMU and level-headed vision for the union make her the clear choice over Kelford.

Kelford is running on a campaign of big ideas, many of them convincing at first blush. But our confidence in him fades once he tries to argue for putting all of SSMU under the surgeon’s scalpel, be it he General Assemblies, our external representation, the Shatner Building, SSMU committees, and clubs funding. Kelford’s penchant for overhauling operations in his image – as he did as Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) President – has earned him admirers, but also many enemies. At a massive student union, in a portfolio as a teambuilder more than a visionary, Kelford will likely steamroll his projects and visions through SSMU at the expenses of stepping on the toes of other executives and Council. Further, it’s simply impossible for Kelford to accomplish all he’s proposed in one year while keeping the SSMU executive running well as a team.

Turner still has steep hurdles to overcome. There is much she has faltered on this year: Greening SSMU Frosh was an utter failure, this year’s Faculty Olympics were postponed, and she has often had trouble articulating herself at Council meetings and during interviews. Further, we’re concerned her knowledge of administrative issues is superficial, as is her grasp of SSMU’s work with the rest of the student movement.

But her experience in SSMU outweighs her opponent’s to-do list. Turner been effective this year as a planner and mediator, and she’s had a taste of what is and isn’t possible to accomplish. She also has a stronger grasp of the social and political questions facing SSMU right now, such as its ethical investment policy, tuition, and defending student life on campus. Her ideas are simple enough to be effective, and overall, she woud be a competent, progressive, and level-headed leader for SSMU.

Internal

José Diaz

Although there are four people vying for the Internal position, this comes down to two candidates – Julia Webster and José Diaz. While each brings different and equally valuable traits to the position, our endorsement here ultimately goes to Diaz. He brings new ideas to the table, and is the first candidate for this position in as long as we can remember that takes the broader organizational and political aspects of the position seriously.

Kevin Chambers is amusing, but doesn’t have the professionalism for the job. And Brad Milech’s ideas to move all SSMU events off campus is the last thing undergraduates need. Webster is a strong candidate; she has experience planning large events and dealing with the McGill machine as this year’s SnowAP director and as President of Arts and Science Council. Webster would effectively coordinate Frosh and SnowAP, Internal’s two largest events priorities. However, her interpersonal skills are weak, as is her French – both important for her position. Further, beyond token mentions of ethical sponsorship and sustainability, she doesn’t seem to be interested in the broader political aspects of her portfolio.

Diaz has great ideas about making SSMU events more inclusive and diverse. He wants to host more Town Halls and bring more speakers to McGill – not a bad move, especially considering the interesting public figures Concordia has brought in this year. We are concerned about his lack of experience in organizing huge McGill events like Frosh, and his lack of SSMU involvement, but we’d like to give him a chance to prove himself. Webster would be a competent continuation of the current VP Internal’s success. But Diaz would bring a fresh perspective to a portfolio with great potential to make SSMU relevant for all students.

Clubs & Services

Samantha Cook

The Daily is endorsing Samantha Cook for VP Clubs & Services. Cook has more relevant experience and a better grasp of what the Clubs & Services portfolio entails. As a Queer McGill co-administrator, Cook has experience working in one of SSMU’s largest services, an important asset for the portfolio that her rival lacks. She is also better-versed in important issues for SSMU groups, like the administration’s crusade to strip clubs of the McGill name. We trust Cook will be able to handle complaints from clubs and services who want more money or more space, a task which occupies most of the VP C&S’s waking hours.

Despite our endorsement, we do have some reservations. Most importantly, The Daily was disappointed that Cook downplayed opponent Johnson Fung’s claim that SSMU ought to digitize the C&S portfolio, and by her dismissal of his concerns about SSMU’s woefully outdated web site. Fung has some good ideas; he just isn’t suited for the position.

While we were impressed with Fung’s technological know-how, we question his faith that technology alone will solve perennial spacing and funding problems for clubs and services. Fung outlined a plan to increase clubs and services’ efficiency with technocratic solutions like digitizing SSMU and physically counting the amount of people who use SSMU offices. SSMU could certainly be more efficient, but there will always be less money and space than clubs demand, and a VP unprepared to deal with scarce resources is unprepared for the position. As well, Fung has experience in publicity and finances – which would make him a solid candidate for Internal or Finance & Operations, but not C&S.

We strongly endorse Cook for this position. That said, we applaud Fung’s desire to revamp SSMU’s online infrastructure. If he isn’t elected, perhaps SSMU should consider hiring him as webmaster.

External Affairs

Devin Alfaro

Our strong endorsement here goes to Devin Alfaro, whose amicability and clear priorities give him an edge over opponent Trevor Hanna.

Both candidates are experienced; Alfaro is an Arts representative to SSMU Council and chair of the student union’s External Affairs Committee, and has been involved in campus group like NDP-McGill and Queer McGill. Hanna is a former executive in provincial student association la Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and a perennial SSMU exec candidate. But involvement in an organization like FEUQ – a problematic lobby group that SSMU left in 2006 – doesn’t exactly count in Hanna’s favour.

Hanna says he will respect students’ desire to steer clear of FEUQ, and we’re sure he would. But it’s clear that Hanna would take the bureaucratic approach favoured by his former association, while Alfaro would continue the current VP External’s focus on student mobilization and independent coalition-building.

After leaving FEUQ and being unfairly kicked out of the Canadian Federation of Students this year, SSMU is charting an independent course, and Alfaro is the best man to have at the helm. His involvement on the External Affairs Committee means that he’s up-to-date with the student union’s current status, and his easy charm should mean he makes fast friends with his counterparts on the provincial scene.

Alfaro’s platform could certainly use some work. His performance at the exec debate was disappointing, and he should clarify how he will improve SSMU’s municipal and community relations after years of neglect. But while the candidates’ platforms overlap, one of Hanna’s key positions is simply alarming; he says he would put the issue of accessible tuition aside in favour of focusing on student aid.

No one denies that scholarships and bursaries are important, but we’ve heard this line before. It’s employed by right-wing student politicians and groups like the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, who favour ineffective scholarship programs over broad-based tuition decreases. Ignoring the importance of low tuition means higher fees, more debt, and less accessible education.

Next year, SSMU will enter a delicate time. The Students’ Society will need to forge its own ties at the federal and provincial levels. The Quebec student movement is divided; Quebec students face their first tuition hikes in years, FEUQ is struggling for relevance, and rival student group l’Association pour une solidarité synicale étudiante is losing ground after this year’s failed student strike. We’re confident that Alfaro will lead undergraduates through a successful year on the external front.

Acclaimed

University Affairs

Nadya Wilkinson

The University Affairs position is acclaimed for next year, but we’re fairly happy that Nadya Wilkinson has the job. For the first time in recent history, someone from outside the sleazy depths of student politics will take on this decidedly dense portfolio.

That’s not to say Wilkinson doesn’t have experience working with the administration. She’s been able to build a good rapport with the admin through her work with the Sustainable McGill Project – which recently received a commitment from administrator Dennis Fortune for a Sustainability Centre – and the Senate subcommittee on the environment. Not surprisingly, her experience with SSMU comes from her time on its environment committee, which was responsible for drafting SSMU’s sustainability policy and creating the Green Fund.

Wilkinson has also been a regular voice at Town Hall meetings, where takes a soft approach to questioning – but we hope her sunny disposition doesn’t mean she lacks the backbone for the job. Her green background is encouraging, but Wilkinson has a lot of homework to do on issues like liability, defending student space, and student-run food services before she’s ready to assume the role of VP UA. SSMU members need a strong voice on these issues, and Wilkinson has made it clear that she’s eager for the steep learning curve ahead.

Acclaimed

Finance & Operations

Peter Newhook

VP Finance & Operations is uncontested this year, but we’re a little wary of acclaimed candidate Peter Newhook. We’re not sure that Newhook has the skills to handle SSMU’s messy finances, and beyond being a Management student, he has no real experience. His transition into student politics is likely to be tumultuous.

The Daily is concerned that Newhook sees Fops as “one of the lesser-political, experience-based positions.” Tuesday’s debates revealed that he is unfamiliar with many of the policies and committees attached to his position – for example, he appeared confused about the difference between SSMU’s environment fund and the Financial Ethics Research Committee.

While Newhook obviously recognizes that dealing with money has political implications, we’re not convinced that he has his priorities straight. He mentioned that in Shatner he may favour food services from businesses rather than student initiatives, based on the assumption that businesses are more organized. At a time when students are clamouring for their own spaces and food services, this is an unwise move. Newhook must view his position as not only a budget manager, but also as a student representative and an advocate of their welfare.

All this said, we haven’t written off Newhook entirely. He was clearly a better candidate than former opponent Rushil Mistry, who dropped out of the race last week. And Newhook’s proposal to eliminate fees for student groups who book events in Gert’s is more than welcome. But Newhook faces a steep learning curve. We hope he’s up for it.

Referenda

Reconfirming the Daily Publications Society fee: YES

Were this question to fail, The Daily and Le Délit will no longer be able to publish. As independent student publications, both newspapers provide honest coverage of campus activity and are integral to a diverse and vibrant culture for students. Furthermore, Le Délit is the only French newspaper at McGill. See today’s Features and Commentary sections for more reasons why to vote Yes.

Supporting Online Opt-Out Autonomy: YES

Last year, McGill put all opt-outable fees on Minerva, assuming control over funding for autonomous student groups and SSMU fees. Not only could groups like CKUT and QPIRG not contest the process, but Minerva only included links to sparse and outdated descriptions of the organizations. We strongly encourage students to vote Yes in this symbolic referendum supporting the groups in administering their own online opt-.-out systems.

Clubs and Services: YES/NO

Everyone agrees that it’s crucial to support clubs and services, but the Daily’s editorial board could not reach a consensus on this question. While some thought it was important to vote Yes, others considered the question’s phrasing misleading and problematic. Unfortunately, as the question comes off as a tactical maneuver in response to the steep budget cuts that clubs and services faced this year, we’re unsure what difference this question would make.

Changing Chief Returning Officer to Chief Electoral Officer: YES

There’s no reason to deny Corey Shefman an accurate job title

Nomination of Auditors: YES

There’s also no reason to deny SSMU an auditing firm.

This article originally called the Financial Ethics Research Committee the Financial Ethics Review Committee. The Daily regrets the error.


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