News  SSMU debates draw minimal turnout

Most executive candidates run unopposed, allowing them to avoid giving concrete promises

SSMU executive candidates kept it casual as they to spoke to a half-empty room of mostly SSMU councillors, executive incumbents, and student newspaper editors at the executive debates last night.

Four of the six positions were acclaimed – VPs External, University Affairs, Finance & Operations, and Clubs & Services – and, notably, the last three of the acclaimed candidates and VP Internal candidate Brendan Sullivan have come up the ranks from Queer McGill.

SSMU President hopeful Marshall Peters sat cross-legged on a table throughout his debate, choosing not to discuss his qualifications or read from a prepared speech. Peters’s comments focused mostly on a desire to interact face-to-face with students, and his view of the role of president as a figurehead.

Peters used his allotted question to ask his fellow candidate, Ivan Neilsen, whether he feared death, rather than to get more information about his platform.

Dressed in a crisp shirt and tie, Nielsen spoke in French for half his opening statement and highlighted his background as a Quebecker. He was mainly concerned with ancillary fees, the University’s attempts to push SSMU events off campus, and francophone issues.

Sullivan and Alex Brown, running against each other for VP Internal, have long backgrounds organising events – in Queer McGill and SSMU, respectively – and said they hoped to increase the accessibility of future SSMU activities. While funding was a mutual concern, Sullivan thought evaluating events and cutting down financial flops like SnoAP would be best, while Brown thought it was more important to find sponsorship for events beyond Frosh.

Acclaimed VP Finance & Operations José Diaz mentioned his work on two SSMU service executives, and his involvement on various SSMU financial committees, including the Financial Ethics Review Committee. He discussed his intentions to create a business plan for student-run food services to replace their corporate counterparts in Shatner’s cafeteria when their leases expire in 2011. Diaz also gave a nod to the two most difficult projects in his porfolio: Haven Books and Gerts.

“I’m not intending on having them break even. It is ideal, but unrealistic,” Diaz said.

Diaz suggested placing Haven online and expanding its inventory beyond textbooks – so students would return after the first few weeks of each term.

Acclaimed VP External and current Arts Representative Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan said he hopes to tackle problems surrounding the international tuition defreeze, and continue the work of his incumbent, Devin Alfaro, to create a new provincial student association. He felt SSMU might fare better in such an organization rather than in the Fédération étudiant universitaire du Québec or the Canadian Federation of Students because it would be free and organized on a volunteer basis.

Acclaimed VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley acknowledged that while her background has been mainly in student activism – as Queer McGill’s political action coordinator and a Culture Shock coordinator – she said she would put that aside to work as a go-between with the University.

“I think it’s really important to not go in with an ‘us vs. them’ attitude,” she said of her role as a future VP. “I think it’s really important to develop a very professional rapport with [the University].”

Acclaimed VP Clubs & Services candidate Sarah Olle mentioned her experience at Queer McGill and work on club executives. Though she was vague on her future plans as a SSMU VP, she said she would focus on greater communication with clubs. Olle targeted the PGSS in her closing remarks – notably their failure to negotiate a new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with SSMU.

“A lack of an MoA prevents PGSS members from being a part of our harmonious society. In doing so, the PGSS has erected between upper and lower campus a barrier of segregation, an iron curtain of separation, a wall between the student lives of our brothers and sisters,” she said. “This needs to change. Tonight, I say to the PGSS, this must end. PGSS, I say to you, tear down this wall.”

The only other SSMU elections without acclamations are for Science Senator, for which four students are competing. As well, because no one from Education or Religious Studies filed a nomination, those two seats were reallocated to the largest faculties in descending order, namely Arts and Science, giving three senators to Arts – the only faculty to normally have more than one – two to Science, and one each to Engineering, Management, Music, Law, Medicine, and Dentistry.

The debates for student senators will take place Monday at 5 p.m. in the Clubs Lounge on the fourth floor of the Shatner Building.