This year’s SSMU executive was characterized by a lack of ambition and an unwillingness to tackle divisive issues. Apart from their basic roles, executives failed to undertake any significant projects or truly engage with political issues. SSMU is, in many ways, no different than it was a year ago. Many of the problems our union faces, such as lease negotiations, persist to this day.
As President, Josh Redel took the lead of SSMU following a highly politicized year with the intentions of keeping his executive, and the student body, undivided. This was shown in the successful integration of different faculties with the SEAMLESS conference and better integration during Orientation Week. However, this improved integration came at the expense of SSMU’s political role, which was minor throughout the year, sometimes even failing to support student groups and causes.
This semester, in lease negotiations, as well as in Board of Governors and Senate, Redel adopted a stronger line – yet perhaps not strong enough. His role as a liaison could have benefited from better communication with the student body, so as to better elucidate the state of the budget and lease negotiations.
As with most past presidents, he tackled the recurring issue of poor attendance at SSMU GAs. Redel focused on technical solutions like clickers, which, although well-intended, were not enough to engage students and increase attendance.
Within his portfolio, Redel implemented some sustainability initiatives like the green GA. Redel also developed accountability measures in the Human Resources department, which have been useful given the lack of commitment by some members of the executive.
VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper was by far the most politically active member of the executive team. Cooper was a strong advocate for student groups and an ardent supporter of student rights. She consistently brought forward motions at GAs, and her knowledge of issues outside of her portfolio made for an invaluable contribution to Council sessions.
Although she started the year slowly, Cooper launched a new informational website, Clubpedia, and has been working on an online club management portal, Club Hub. She also spearheaded the space campaigns, one of the most notable efforts undertaken by SSMU this semester.
Throughout the year, VP Finances and Operations JP Briggs communicated poorly with students and student media, making it difficult to keep him accountable. Briggs contributed little to Council meetings, and his term was marked by a general disinterest in student issues.
According to the executive attendance report, Briggs consistently came in late to the SSMU office at 11 a.m., missed meetings, and was often late to other events. This lack of commitment was particularly troublesome, as the society faces financial uncertainty from the lease negotiations, and a projected deficit of $211,320.
Even though a two-year plan for a student-run cafe was created by last year’s SSMU executive, with the goal of opening in Fall 2013, no concrete steps have been taken, and the project’s time frame has expanded considerably.
As VP Internal, Michael Szpedja did the bulk of his work over the summer overseeing the restructuring of Orientation Week. Following this effort, however, Szpejda seemed to have lost momentum and his work mostly went unnoticed. Like Briggs, Szpedja did not adequately communicate with student media, and rarely spoke up at Council meetings. He also failed to engage students through the weekly listserv, which was demonstrated by SSMU’s feeble advertising efforts to events such as the poorly attended GAs.
Szpejda could have undertaken initiatives to communicate more with other portfolios, and to implement the SSMU Equity Policy so as to prevent the mixed reviews on Frosh and incidents like blackface at 4Floors.
The portfolio of VP External is traditionally the most politically charged of the executive, but Robin Reid-Fraser’s political action failed to live up to expectations. The first Introduction to Quebec Week in January was undermined by miscommunication. Many events were cancelled, and the ones that weren’t were plagued with low attendance.
Reid-Fraser also failed to create an open line of communication between TaCEQ and the student body, making it difficult for SSMU and TaCEQ to establish a productive relationship. This was Reid-Fraser’s biggest failure, and she was often criticized for it by councillors.
However, Reid-Fraser cannot be blamed entirely for TaCEQ’s disappointment. The group itself has been characterized by disorganization and inefficiency.
The creation of two Community Ambassador positions for the Milton-Parc community was also one of Reid-Fraser’s initiatives. Although the initiative is too new to see many tangible results, the position is a step in the right direction.
Throughout her term as VP University Affairs, Dinel has not been a particularly strong voice in negotiating with McGill, whom Dinel characterized as sometimes being “a brick wall.” Although some initiatives are more invisible to the general student body, Dinel has lacked any real impact on student-administration relations.
Dinel, along with Redel, is responsible for handling a third year of lease negotiations with McGill for the Shatner building. Despite numerous progress updates, the negotiations seem set to roll over for a fourth consecutive year with the new executive.
One of her biggest accomplishments this year was the creation of a minor in the North American Indigenous Studies program.
Dinel, as the executive in charge of the Equity Policy, saw an important failure with the incident at 4Floors, where a student wore blackface. This semester, Dinel has been working with the VP Internal and VP Clubs & Services to shift the focus of the Equity Policy for next year from dealing with complaints to implementing preventative measures.