Following the resignation of Lola Baraldi as VP Internal of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), a by-election was called to fill the position for the rest of the year. Campaigning began on November 5, and will run until November 15, with the voting period occurring from November 11 to 15. The debate will take place at 6:30 p.m. on November 11. The McGill Daily interviewed the two candidates running for election, Céleste Pagniello and Alexei Simakov.
The McGill Daily (MD): Why are you running for VP Internal?
Alexei Simakov (AS): I’ve been very passionate about McGill and being involved in McGill in various functions. Since my first year, [I’ve been involved in actions] against strike manifestations, and every year since then, I’ve tried to contribute in some small way.
I can, I think, make a meaningful contribution. When I first ran [for SSMU president] last year, that was obviously much more chaotic. […] During that experience and afterward, I’ve learned a lot about McGill, a lot about the student body. I’ve learned a lot about what people are thinking about SSMU [and] how they’re thinking about SSMU. I want to apply that experience to McGill in an executive capacity.
MD: What kind of experience will you bring to this role?
AS: I’ve worked, for example, in [the Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC)] in first year, that was during the strike manifestation. I’ve worked on various referendum questions; a lot of them were anti-BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel].
[…] I’ve filed a couple of [Judicial Board cases] against SSMU. I’ve been involved with, for example, the ongoing internal [regulations] review process. That’s something I’m excited to contribute, whether or not I’m successful in the election.
“I’ve been involved with, for example, the ongoing internal [regulations] review process. That’s something I’m excited to contribute, whether or not I’m successful in the election.”
MD: What do you think is the most important thing about the position?
AS: One of the things I’m talking [about] on my platform […] is the yearbook, [which] is definitely financially unsustainable right now. We need to [ask] a lot of difficult questions as to whether we want to continue that tradition – which I think is important. It’s going to probably include a student fee. […] If we don’t do that, will the student body be comfortable with cancelling the project? […] I’m usually enthusiastic about saying we should do this, I’m not reserved about that, but I think it’s definitely one of those situations where the student body needs to be able to decide that kind of question.
Beyond that, SSMU’s going through a period of reform right now. […] I think people from across all political opinions at McGill can agree that SSMU’s facing a lot of structural challenges that go [beyond simply] political divisions. […] I think the VP Internal would be able to contribute […] by communicating what those challenges are and how we can solve them.
MD: What do you hope to improve on in your position compared to last year, or what Lola Baraldi did?
AS: I think [last year’s VP Internal] Daniel Chaim has done a fairly good job in doing his role. I think that the position has inherently been more like functional and administrative than something like the president’s portfolio. [Given that I’d have only one third of a term] it would be inherently difficult for anyone to be able to complete a full portfolio project, which would take me usually more than a year.
I think more important for me would be to lay the foundation for what the next year’s incoming executive would do. I don’t think this is necessarily selling myself short.
I think more important for me would be to lay the foundation for what the next year’s incoming executive would do. I don’t think this is necessarily selling myself short. […] This is realistic within the timeframe and the exceptional circumstances.
MD: How will you promote some of the bilingualism initiatives started by the previous VPs Internal?
AS: I think bilingualism [is something] that we have to maintain a focus on – make sure we don’t slide back, make sure we don’t forget our focus on bilingualism. […] In my experience, and I’m very open to seeing otherwise [… the McGill community] hasn’t been very vocal about [a lack of bilingualism]. […] It would be a matter of engaging with students who are bilingual and who are involved with making sure that their French is well-promoted on campus – listening to their voices.
MD: SSMU is undergoing a lot of trouble. Considering that, how would you help mitigate these problems?
AS: We have to be conscious of the fact that […] a lot of these [financial] challenges are [… due to] broader shifts in the national [and] provincial administrative relationships. […] The fact that McGill’s getting less money means that Student Services are getting less money, which means SSMU is taking on more responsibilities for itself.
I think I speak enthusiastically for being financially responsible, to make sure we use [the] limited resources we have to do more important projects. One of my strengths would be that I can more comfortably make the cuts that need to be made, if that’s the situation we’re forced into.
“The reality for SSMU is that any student government is inherently going to be overrepresented by students who are politically engaged.”
MD: Do you see SSMU as a political actor and how will your view impact your role as VP Internal?
AS: I mean they’re already very political. I don’t think it’s so much an opinion, I think they’re consciously, openly, institutionally oriented a lot toward political activism. And this is something I kind of learned last year. […] One of the pitches I made was that we need to stop this political radicalism, we need to stop this far-left kind of anarchy. […] What I’ve learned since then [is that] it’s not a matter of stopping those kinds of political spirits, it’s a matter of balancing them out.
MD: Given the wide variety of views in the student body, how should SSMU mitigate the tension between leadership and representation?
AS: The reality for SSMU is that any student government is inherently going to be overrepresented by students who are politically engaged. And those in [campus politics] are naturally those who are more on the left. That’s not necessarily a problem, that’s the reality of politics.
It’s like saying that Montreal’s cold. We’re not complaining about that. We shouldn’t try making it warmer, we should try to adapt.
You just have to ask the question, how can we amplify the voices of students that are affected by SSMU’s ideas but aren’t engaged in SSMU’s ideas. One of the things I didn’t like about the opposition last year was that they kept talking about consultation and listening to student voices. And the processes they were suggesting would simply be coming to SSMU and contributing your voice. But that’s, again, the same people over and over.
One of the things I’m suggesting is actually having formal engagements with Faculty associations, including Engineering and Science. There [are] obviously Science and Engineering [representatives] that come to SSMU, but they’re still very underrepresented and their voice can’t be as heard. […] We’ve seen [this] with the climate change motion.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more information about Alexei Simakov’s platform, visit his Facebook event page.