March 31st, 2014

Commentary | March 13th, 2014
The Daily's SSMU endorsements
2013-14 executive summaries and endorsements

To profile the candidates for the six spots of the 2014-15 SSMU executive, The Daily spoke to each of the 11 candidates about their relevant experiences, their goals for the position, and how they envision SSMU’s position in relation to the rest of Quebec. The interviews have been condensed and paraphrased to give an overview of each candidate.

President

The SSMU President is the only undergraduate representative on the Board of Governors, is a member of Senate, and coordinates negotiations with the administration. The President also oversees Elections SSMU, coordinates the SSMU handbook, and assists with the Human Resources in the SSMU office, among other tasks.

Courtney Ayukawa

Ayukawa has been active on campus in the past year, both as a member of the sustainability community at McGill and as an Arts and Science representative to SSMU. Additional experience cited by Ayukawa includes her role as a floor fellow for the past two years in the McGill residence system, which is one of the reasons behind her commitment to engage with first-year students.

Ayukawa’s platform is based on goals of sustainability, communication, and community at McGill. She notes that she would be interested in holding discussion forums at the university in order to gain feedback on important and timely issues, as well as to create an opportunity for communities of support to be built on campus. Additionally, Ayukawa aims to centralize the mental health, equity, and sustainability policies into a single SSMU executive’s portfolio. She also notes a desire to enhance communication between SSMU and students, hoping to change up the listservs in order to encourage greater participation in projects at McGill.

Ayukawa has proven to be a strong force on campus, not only as one of the leading forces behind ECOLE, which seeks to create an off-campus sustainability hub, but also as a member of the greater McGill community. While her background as a floor fellow is not directly relatable to political experiences, it does display a dedication to the McGill community, an understanding of active listening, and engagement with students on a one-to-one basis.

Aaron Friedland

Of all the presidential candidates, Friedland has the least experience with SSMU, instead drawing on his present position as a floor fellow for relevant experience. In his capacity as a floor fellow, Friedland has facilitated Rez Project, a series of volunteer-run workshops that focus on educating students living in residence on topics of sexual assault, gender, and sexuality. He also has some HR experience outside of campus, such as his work for the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank, where he coordinated interns.

The disconnect between students and SSMU is a particular focus, with Friedland proposing initiatives that would increase transparency, such as a blog and more communication between student societies. Friedland has suggested having SSMU executives participate in leading Rez Project, a move that he said would not only connect the executive to floor fellows and first years, thereby increasing engagement, but would also train executives in the language and issues presented by the workshop. Friedland also showed an interest in communicating with other student executives at universities in Montreal and potentially hosting collaborative events.

Other than his focus on the disconnect between students and the Society, Friedland has identified few other problems, and has not proposed many concrete solutions. In addition, he lacks the experience of student politics or of the internal bureaucracy of SSMU possessed by the other candidates.

Austin Johnson

Johnson is one of the least politically visible of the presidential candidates. He has worked as a SSMU employee for the past four years, with the past two of those years spent working under the Presidential portfolio in Human Resources. Before that, he was involved with the yearbook and in graphic design. Johnson has also been involved in other campus activities such as serving on residence council, working as orientation staff for Arts Frosh and SSMU Frosh, and as a tour guide.

Johnson’s platform largely focuses on increasing student involvement in SSMU, specifically with proposals such as changing SSMU’s use of social media and holding office hours. He also wants to work toward restoring McGill’s institutional reputation, and improving the Human Resources Portfolio. While these are worthwhile goals, they show little initiative or ambition in terms of making real changes at SSMU. Furthermore, in his interview, Johnson showed little interest in expanding SSMU’s reach in the outside world, instead shifting that responsibility to other portfolios within the executive.

This lack of clear initiative and ambition comes with a pronounced emphasis on the status quo on Johnson’s part. His interview answers revealed an attitude quite conciliatory to the administration and he seems to have little interest in expanding the political strength of Council or the presidential portfolio. While his experience with SSMU is certainly commendable, the sudden jump from behind-the-scenes to an overtly political role, especially one as important as the presidential role, necessitates that Johnson be both more forthright and ambitious.

Tariq Khan

Khan has experience with SSMU both as a councillor, holding the position of Engineering Undergraduate Society councillor in the 2011-12 academic year, and as an Interest Group Coordinator this year. Khan himself noted that this unique experience of being a part of SSMU Council during such a politically active year makes him especially suited for the job, since he has experienced the decision-making power that SSMU can have on campus. While he has not occupied a similar Council position since that year, his institutional memory of the problems that SSMU has faced in the past gives him an interesting advantage.

Khan’s platform is founded on accountability and communication, judging from his interactions with the press. Khan has pointed to the lack of accountability that exists within SSMU currently, and if elected, aims to create an accountability and leadership commission independent of SSMU staff or politicians. Khan also hopes to promote bilingualism at McGill, in order to create greater ties with the Montreal community and other Quebec universities.

While Khan has been occupying a less visible role on campus in comparison to some of the other candidates, he nonetheless presents a great deal of experience working with the McGill community. Khan’s ideas about outreach and accountability are especially strong and, in a year that has seen major monetary miscalculations, such as the $21,000 Frosh loss, accountability of the executive is a major issue. Additionally, his understanding that communication with SSMU is a two-way street is admirable, as he seems to understand that executives need to extend their presence outside of the SSMU building.

Endorsement: Courtney Ayukawa, with reservations

The Daily endorses a “Yes” vote with reservations for Ayukawa due to her substantial experience both within SSMU and with groups on campus. She has experience with SSMU both bureaucratically and as a politician.

Having worked outside of SSMU and having actively built relationships with groups on campus gives Ayukawa a significant advantage over the other candidates. As a floor fellow, Ayukawa has worked to create and maintain safer spaces for students. Her involvement in ECOLE as a cofounder is especially important, as the project demonstrates her initiative and ability to liaise between the administration and other campus bodies.

Her platform’s focus on sustainability is commendable, especially considering the loss of the Sustainability Coordinator position this year. In particular, her understanding of and attention to equity, and to the intersections between equity, sustainability, and mental health, is sorely needed at SSMU.

However, a substantial amount of the president’s portfolio involves dealing with the administration, and the president occupies one of only two student voting seats on the Board of Governors. Ayukawa needs to take a hard line in negotiations and advocate strongly for students, something that is not adequately reflected in her platform or experience. In addition, Ayukawa must seriously consider the concerns brought up by Khan about accountability in SSMU, and should consider implementing concrete measures to greatly increase transparency.

VP Clubs & Services

The VP Clubs & Services is tasked with representing, supporting, and coordinating all of SSMU’s clubs and services. As the manager of the Shatner building, they are responsible for booking rooms for groups and for coordinating with staff, such as the Interest Group Coordinator and Activities Night staff.

Stefan Fong

In an unusual move, Fong is running for the position for a second year in a row, explaining, “I have the knowledge to make change but I don’t have the time [this year].” With experience in all aspects of the job accumulated over the past year, Fong will bring a significant amount of institutional memory and momentum to the position.

Fong pledged to improve on his current day-to-day performance by being more responsive to emails, holding more office hours, and increasing the involvement of club representatives to better serve the needs of clubs. One long-term project Fong discussed this year is the development of an online club management portal, which would streamline the “old and concretized” club structure that is currently in place, making it easier for both clubs and future VP Clubs & Services executives.

The institutional memory Fong will bring with him to the position next year will be invaluable for an organization that often has none. Fong’s intimate and first-hand knowledge of all aspects of the portfolio will allow the implementation of larger, more long-term projects.

Sandhya Sabapathy

Much of Sabapathy’s experience comes from her involvement with clubs at McGill; she is currently president of three clubs, and is an active member in others. In addition, she has experience coordinating with services such as Midnight Kitchen, and has volunteered with events off-campus. Sabapathy also is familiar with the portfolio, as she has worked with both last year’s and this year’s VP Clubs & Services, as well as this year’s Interest Group Coordinator, through her executive positions in several clubs.

Sabapathy has greatly emphasized the importance of the accessibility of the VP Clubs & Services role, and has proposed concrete solutions such as creating a ‘club council’ that would bring together club leaders to voice common concerns and having more face-to-face conversations with members of clubs and services. Her platform also focuses on optimizing space in SSMU regarding room booking conflicts and unused spaces. Sabapathy spoke to the difficulties of conflicts between recurring and special events, as well as the difficulties facing clubs that want to organize workshops that exceed the current ten-hour room booking limit.

Although Sabapathy expressed an interest in events outside of McGill, she did not propose any concrete initiatives to better link the campus and the Montreal community. Sabapathy’s emphasis on a more personable approach to the job is commendable, but she seems to lack awareness of the significant time constraints of the job’s administrative tasks, such as building management.

Endorsement: Stefan Fong

The Clubs & Services position has the most direct impact on students, and an intimate familiarity with the portfolio is required. The Daily endorses Stefan Fong, as the importance of his direct experience as this year’s VP Clubs & Services cannot be overstated. Fong shows a great enthusiasm for the role and has quietly and consistently done a good job this year. The high turnover rate of the executive is a problem that often cuts off long-term projects and wastes a great deal of time on training. Fong’s candidacy will ensure a smooth transition that will allow him to manage his duties more efficiently than this past year, while also beginning to implement more ambitious plans, such as the online club management portal.

VP External

The VP External represents the members of SSMU in the wider Montreal and Quebec community. They are in charge of keeping students aware of larger campaigns to improve post-secondary education and in communication with other institutions, maintain relations with McGill’s labour unions, and lobby relevant governments on behalf of SSMU.

Enbal Singer

Singer has a long history of campus politics. For the past year, she has worked as the Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) VP Internal. In addition, she held the position of Community Affairs Coordinator, which directly involves the VP External portfolio, at SSMU. She has also worked with the SSMU Interest Group Coordinator, as an off-campus fellow, and as VP Internal with the Political Science Students’ Association.

Singer’s platform appears to focus less on external affairs and more on building an internal McGill community. She hopes to run a bigger Intro to Quebec week, institutionalize support for first-year students living off-campus, rethink the Community Engagement Committee to focus more on Milton-Parc, promote education for students on their rights as tenants, and work toward making SSMU executive positions more accessible to international students. In terms of external initiatives, Singer wants to make Street Teams a bigger part of Frosh, work with and raise awareness about faculty associations, and build alliances with other universities – though she appears less focused on the latter point.

Singer has been less involved in campus or off-campus grassroots initiatives, though her experience with institutionalized campus politics is formidable. Regardless, her lack of involvement in on-the-ground movements speaks to her long history as a career politician.

Amina Moustaqim-Barrette

Moustaqim-Barrette has been working as SSMU’s Campaigns Coordinator for the past year and, as such, has experience and familiarity with the VP External portfolio. She has also been heavily involved in community organizing, such as working with Divest McGill, a group lobbying to divest University holdings from companies that profit from fossil fuels and tar sands. Moustaqim-Barrette is also fully bilingual, which can facilitate many aspects of the VP External’s role.

Moustaqim-Barrette’s platform focuses on making the External portfolio a more “consultative” position – increasing communication with McGill students through social media and other initiatives. With the impending end of TaCEQ, Moustaqim-Barrette also hopes to build an alliance with some of McGill’s geographically closest neighbours: Concordia, the Université de Montréal, and UQAM. She is also campaigning to build bike lanes on campus.

Her involvement in community organizing initiatives, such as Divest McGill, focus on direct action, which refreshing in the current protest-phobic campus environment.

Endorsement: Amina Moustaqim-Barrette

The Daily endorses Amina Moustaqim-Barrette for VP External. While Singer’s work in student politics has been commendable, and both of the candidates have experience with the External portfolio and the inner workings of SSMU, Moustaqim-Barrette’s platform is more focused on external initiatives and building alliances with other Quebec universities – a crucial priority in the wake of the fall of TaCEQ. Moustaqim-Barrette’s ability to fully communicate in French is also vital in this regard.

She has also been heavily involved in social justice initiatives such as Divest McGill. At a time when SSMU has grown increasingly apolitical, a renewed focus on SSMU’s political mandate is essential.

VP Finance & Operations

The VP Finance and Operations is in charge of allocating funds from SSMU’s operating budget, as well as the overall financial health of SSMU. They oversee and coordinate a number of funding committees and are responsible for the operations at Gerts and SSMU Mini-Courses, among other projects.

Kathleen Bradley

Before the student-run café’s implementation, Bradley participated in the Case Competition that set out to determine its future design, where her team placed second. Since then, Bradley has worked with last year’s SSMU president Josh Redel on the opening of the SRC in the SSMU building, where she currently works as the menu coordinator. Along with her work with the SRC, Bradley has worked under the VP Finance and Operations portfolio on the Operations Management Committee. In terms of financial experience, Bradley currently holds the position of Finance Coordinator for the McGill’s Farmers Market. Interested in sustainable food on campus, Bradley is also an Executive Director at Second Servings, a service that seeks to redistribute edible leftovers to non-profits across the city.

Bradley is driven to continue divesting from McGill’s slew of unethical investments, but wants to push this initiative further by emphasizing the importance of ethical investments. Bradley also hopes to bring the SRC into its next phase, where it will build into the cafeteria space beyond the lunch counter. Bradley recognizes the role of VP Finance and Operations as extending beyond allocating funds, to working with projects and strategizing for the longevity of student-supported initiatives.

Endorsement: Kathleen Bradley

Bradley has a decent amount of experience working in finance positions, primarily with McGill’s Farmers’ Market. She has worked under the VP Finance and Operations portfolio. Bradley has demonstrated a thorough understanding of her role as VP Finance and Operations in her platform and her active acknowledgment of the role as extending beyond finances and providing a voice on council. Despite the fact that Bradley demonstrates good initiative in certain sustainable food movements on campus, we hope to see her sustainable agenda result in concrete action if elected to council. Though the role is more insular to SSMU than others, Bradley needs to look beyond initiatives inside McGill’s campus to the broader Montreal community, particularly regards to relations with other Montreal universities.

VP Internal

VP Internal manages internal communication between the Society and its members and oversees the planning and management of campus events such as Orientation, 4Floors, and Movies in the Park. The VP Internal also manages the staff in the Internal portfolio.

 J. Daniel Chaim

J. Daniel Chaim has worked with various Orientation initiatives for a number of years. He has been working on coordinating Arts Orientation for the past two years as the sponsorship coordinator and the operations coordinator. He also has been working at Gerts for the past two years as a bartender, and has coordinated numerous events on campus.

Chaim’s priorities centre around engaging more with the Milton-Parc community and making Frosh leaders more accountable, though in an interview with The Daily, he was vague on the specifics of the latter goal. He is largely focused on improving Orientation Week and making Frosh more accessible and inclusive. He would also like to improve the SSMU listservs, seeing them as out-of-touch and in need of being more “customizable” and open. Furthermore, he wants to create a more accessible and easily customizable events calendar on the SSMU website.

Though Chaim has been involved in various campus initiatives, in his interview with The Daily, he spoke little to the political aspect of his role at SSMU, and while paying lip service to accessibility and equity, did not offer any significant, concrete moves to increase accessibility and equity in Frosh. The need to present clear goals in this position is important, as Frosh struggles with these issues every year. He also spoke little to the importance of SSMU’s links with the outside world aside from relations with the Milton-Parc community.

Endorsement: ‘No’ vote

The Daily endorses a ‘No’ vote for J. Daniel Chaim as VP Internal. Although he has adequate qualifications to carry out the tasks of Internal, Chaim’s platform contains little in the way of initiative: he has no concrete plans to improve the VP Internal portfolio. This lack of drive is worrying at a time when there must be significant reform in Frosh to improve accessibility. Chaim has said nothing on the topic of sexual harassment and assault – leading us to worry that he would fail to combat rape culture at Frosh. He appears to be more interested in maintaining the status quo, which we find deeply troubling.

VP University Affairs

The VP University Affairs (UA) maintains the relationship between SSMU and the McGill administration, and coordinates representation on Senate committees. The VP UA oversees the Equity Committee as well as various fund-awarding committees. They also chair Senate Caucus and oversee outreach on behalf of McGill services, and offices for SSMU.

Claire Stewart-Kanigan

Stewart-Kanigan has substantial experience working on student committees and University-level committees. Over the past two years, Stewart-Kanigan has served as an Arts Representative to SSMU, Arts Senator, VP External for Kanata, and has pushed countless initiatives through with regard to academic affairs. This year, along with working on the AUS Ethical Purchasing Policy, she played an integral role in building the Indigenous Studies minor at McGill. Stewart-Kanigan was involved in the development of AUS’s first Equity Policy and has sat on the Equity Committee. Outside of McGill, Stewart-Kanigan has written for media outlets such as the Media Co-op.

VP UA has a direct voice on Senate, and Stewart-Kanigan aims to bridge the gap between different levels of student government and Senate. She recognizes the barriers students and student-serving organizations face through the bureaucratic process, and aims to advocate for the student voice.

Endorsement: Claire Stewart-Kanigan

Stewart-Kanigan has been very vocal and consistently brings a strong voice to GAs, Council, and Senate. She is politically active with regard to social justice initiatives on campus, and has ensured the institutionalization of many of these initiatives, including most recently working on building the Indigenous Studies minor. Stewart-Kanigan has immense experience working within the administration and is well-versed in navigating bureaucracy. In addition to working with the current VP UA, Joey Shea, over the past year, Stewart-Kanigan has a clear platform to ensure the longevity of these projects, and given her multi-year track record, has the drive to succeed at it.

 

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