News | Unofficial “No” campaign comes under fire

Student mobilization criticized for hypocrisy in VP Internal by-election

On November 11, Céleste Pagniello’s withdrawal from the race for the position of Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP Internal left Alexei Simakov as the sole candidate running for the position. The same day, two students set up a Facebook event titled “Vote(z) NO in the VP Internal by-elections.”

Ben van der Ger, a U2 Environment and Economics student and one of the two official organizers of the event, told The Daily that the event is “definitely not [an] ‘anyone but Simakov’ [movement]. The point is that the student body doesn’t need to accept a candidate that is less than what they feel is the best, and less than what they feel properly represents them.”

Evan Berry, a U3 Geography student and the other co-organizer of the event, added, “We think it’s necessary to empower the student body to vote ‘no’ if they didn’t know that was an option for them.”

The event description cites Simakov’s “inability to understand the demands of the VP Internal portfolio” as a main reason for opposing his election. Van der Ger added that Simakov’s self-professed inexperience with social equity and unwillingness to take up the responsibility makes him unfit for the role.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because we care about our campus, and we care about student politics.”

Berry and van der Ger have come under scrutiny for being roommates with SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim. When asked about a possible conflict of interest, Berry responded that they “have been transparent about the fact that we are [Ibrahim’s] roommates.” He added, “We are running this campaign without an association with [Ibrahim].”

“This is not coming from roommates of [Ibrahim], this is coming from constituents of SSMU who do not feel adequately represented by Alexei Simakov,” Berry continued. “The reason why we’re doing this is because we care about our campus, and we care about student politics.”

Berry and van der Ger have repeatedly denounced the personal attacks that are rife in current and past SSMU election campaigns. They told The Daily that they have tried to run a transparent mobilization free from “dirty tactics,” going so far as to publicly condemn as well as personally speak with members of the page who they felt were making ad hominem attacks on Simakov.

In a statement posted on Reddit on November 11, Simakov denounced the hypocrisy of the “No” event’s effort to steer away from personal attacks. “I find it interesting that the exact same people who last year were rabidly attacking me on everything from my financial status to my ethnicity all of a sudden feel that it’s now unacceptable to discuss the integrity of candidates running for positions of leadership,” said Simakov in the statement.

“SSMU elections should not be a shitty episode of Jerry Springer.”

Simakov further expressed suspicion at the motives of the organizers, saying, “I’m starting to believe that [their] only desire is to just use authority, not to accomplish anything, but as an end in itself.”
“SSMU elections should not be a shitty episode of Jerry Springer,” Berry told The Daily. “The last three years have been loaded with shady campaign tactics, with personal attacks – not just by the candidates, but by their supporters, who should know better – and have become a personal mudslinging battle that benefits no one.”

“We also need to remember that as much as we disagree with his politics and his platform and his qualifications for the role, [Simakov also] deserves respect, personal space, and high levels of mental health,” said Berry.

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