On Wednesday March 12, all 11 candidates for Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive positions faced off in a series of debates covering their past experiences and future plans. The debate was also livestreamed by Elections SSMU.
The debate held amongst the four candidates for the position of SSMU President, Tariq Khan, Austin Johnson, Aaron Friedland, and Courtney Ayukawa, largely emphasized improving SSMU-student relations.
“I think my lack of experience […] actually helps,” stated Friedland, whose experience largely extends to floor fellowing and facilitating Rez Project. “I understand the various barriers to enter into SSMU. I understand why students don’t enter SSMU […] so I can help ensure that they join.”
“I think the approach that we need to also take in the future is to educate [the students] on the policies,” added Khan. “How many people know about the Equity Policy? How many people know about the decisions [SSMU makes]?”
A member in the audience voiced their skepticism about the candidates’ promises to bridge the disconnect between the SSMU executive and undergraduate students. “One of the biggest disappointments I have with student politicians is that […] you’re running around different places and you pretend to care about everyone, and everyone sees your […] announcements. But as soon as you are in office, you disappear.”
In response, Ayukawa acknowledged the importance that SSMU actively engage with and give voice to the student body if she were to become president.
“I think it’s really important that the SSMU executives and myself [… do] not hide behind the door of that executive office. […] I have experience with going to my constituents and hearing their voice and I also recognize that I have personal opinions. But that doesn’t matter when I am SSMU President. The things that matter when being president [are the opinions] of my constituents,” said Ayukawa.
Johnson outlined how he would go about interacting with students through social media. “[The fact that] I would like to engage with students is something that I have reiterated [… with] micro-blogging and hopefully individual Twitters, things that students can [use to] reach out to me.”
“How would you address situations in executive meetings where you have to make decisions that, from a legal standpoint, will act as a corporation and not as a student union?” asked a participant.
“If you want this position […] it’s not easy. It’s not going to get easier and easier for the next person that does this job. […] It’s just the nature of this position. It is a business and it needs to be successful for it to be there,” said Johnson.
The VP External debate between Amina Moustaqim-Barrette and Enbal Singer showed the platform divide between the two candidates. Moustaqim-Barrette is focused on political campaigns, while Singer plans to further unite the McGill community with surrounding neighbourhoods, and work with the municipal government.
Both candidates expressed concern toward the outcome of the upcoming election and potential problems SSMU will face with a PQ majority.
Singer said that she hoped to work more closely with the municipal government, insisting, “I think that a lot of students don’t realize that municipal governments can act as a sort of a buffer for provincial legislation that could potentially impact the city.”
In contrast, Moustaqim-Barrette stated that she wanted to align McGill with other Montreal universities in a coalition, saying that she has “been in contact with Concordia, UQAM, and UdeM and they’re all willing and wanting to work with us on these issues.”
The issue of French language skills was brought up in the context of communicating with Montreal and Quebec universities. While Moustaqim-Barrette is bilingual, she pointed to Singer’s lack of bilingualism as a potential problem.
VP Finance and Operations
Kathleen Bradley is running unopposed for VP Finance and Operations. Bradley has experience as the Head Chef of The Nest, the student-run café, and spoke on her vision for the future of the café. “[The Nest] was always meant to be a physical space for community engagement and right now we’ve only been able to really realize the food service aspect of it,” said Bradley.
When asked about the financial impact of SSMU’s new lease for the Shatner building, Bradley told the audience, “We’re definitely going to have to incur a lot of energy expenses, which we’ve been planning for the last two years. Both [the VP Finance and Operations] this year and last year have been planning for the uncertainty of the lease negotiations, and have been budgeting fairly conservatively.”
J. Daniel Chaim is running unopposed for VP Internal. When asked for his strategies to better engage students, Chaim responded with his plan to implement a SSMU calendar that could contain “SSMU events, faculty events, groups events, and I’ll keep in constant contact with VPs to keep it updated.”
He also expressed that “a lot of people don’t use social media as much as we think they do […] finding more mediums is another thing I’d like to research and work on.”
Despite briefly stating concerns about equity in his platform, Chaim failed to address equity in an substantive manner or give any concrete suggestions to reform Frosh.
VP Clubs & Services
Stefan Fong, the incumbent candidate for the VP Clubs & Services position, and Sandhya Sabapathy, discussed issues such as funding for clubs, accomplishments, and plans for improvement.
Fong pointed to Activities Night, where the space was expanded to better accommodate all clubs and services who wanted to participate, as one of his accomplishments over the past year.
As part of her platform, Sabapathy brought up ‘Clubpedia’, an idea originally pushed by former VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper, which would function as a Wikipedia for all the clubs and services available at McGill. This project, according to Sabapathy, would cut down on the learning curve and help smoothen the transition between club executives.
The two candidates also discussed the transparency of funding for clubs and services. Sabapathy pointed to a lack of understanding among clubs, along with a lack of transparency, and asserted that they both created confusion. To combat this, Sabapathy suggested laying out a full plan by the beginning of the year and holding information sessions.
The timing of applications and approvals was the major barrier to transparency in Fong’s eyes. “I want to change the clubs timeline [for funding] so that clubs can apply a lot sooner, and get answers sooner about when they’re getting their money.”
VP University Affairs
The VP University Affairs position is also uncontested. During the debate, the sole candidate, Claire Stewart-Kanigan, answered questions related to equity, mental health, and academic policy.
Joey Shea, the outgoing VP University Affairs, asked Stewart-Kanigan several questions regarding academic policy – the largest part of the portfolio – as well as the new mental health policy that was established this year.
Stewart-Kanigan spoke to the importance of implementing the Academic Assessment Policy, saying, “We do have a really great […] policy that exists in the university. For example, the academic policy promoting student mental health by not allowing profs to have exams [...] worth over 75 per cent – making sure that these kind of policies are actually adhered to will make a big difference in the day-to-day lives of students.”
Regarding the to-be-formed mental health committee, she said, “I think the mental health committee is going to provide a very excellent forum for bringing groups across campus together to discuss issues that are important to them [...] having that body to consult with on a regular basis as well as having [the new mental health coordinator].”
Stewart-Kanigan also said that, regarding this year’s tensions with SSMU’s Equity Policy, she said that she would have taken the opportunity to discuss equity in a more productive manner, especially with the potential for revisions to the policy.
“I think that connecting students with the research that’s already going on with the equity policy as soon as possible would have been a good step.”