News  Secretary-general candidates present platforms

Saturnin Espoir Ntamba Ndandala and Yony Bresler to face off in PGSS by-election

Correction and update appended January 16, 2015.

On February 10, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its first hustings for the election of the interim secretary-general position following the resignation of Secretary-General Juan Camilo Pinto. The event featured only one of the two candidates, Saturnin Espoir Ntamba Ndandala, who delivered a short speech and answered questions from the audience of approximately thirty people. The other candidate, Yony Bresler, was out of town at a conference, but provided a short written statement read by Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Colby Briggs.

The statements provided by the candidates focused on similar ideas, notably the need for an experienced candidate, and the ability to quickly learn the intricacies of the PGSS governing system and its relationship with the university.

Bresler highlighted how his previous involvement with both PGSS and the McGill Graduate Association of Physics Students (MGAPS) allowed him to learn about “the various aspects of our student governance bodies, including procedures, activities, and ongoing issues.” Ntamba Ndandala, while noting that this was his first semester at McGill, pointed to his previous leadership roles as president of the student societies at the University of Cape Town, Sorbonne University in Paris, and the University of Toronto, as evidence of his “great expertise in leadership.”

On policies, both candidates’ platforms emphasized the need for greater transparency in PGSS. Bresler noted that, if elected, he would introduce “strict timelines for existing practices such as the release of minutes,” thereby giving PGSS members a quick and reliable source of information about the society’s activities and discussions.”

Most strikingly, the event highlighted the substantial contrasts between the candidates’ visions and leadership styles.

“As far as my goals if elected, I would be tempted to make bold and ambitious statements. However, given the short-term nature of the interim position […] my main goal would be to consolidate and assist in the activities of the current executive and Council officers,” wrote Bresler in his statement.

Ntamba Ndandala, on the other hand, enthusiastically outlined his plan to challenge the University on the issue of student funding, to create new fundraising events so that a minimum level of funding for every PhD student at McGill could be established, and to introduce a mandatory sexual harassment awareness plan where “new PhD and [post-graduate] students at McGill would be quizzed on the school’s sexual harassment and bullying policies.”

On PhD student funding, Ntamba Ndandala pointed to the growing problem of “students in some departments not getting sufficient funding.” He noted that other top universities in North America, namely Harvard and Stanford, provided individual funding for each PhD student to pursue independent research; he challenged McGill to provide a reason why it couldn’t do the same.

In response to these ideas, an audience member questioned Ntamba Ndandala’s ability to understand the “extremely complicated bureaucratic machines” of PGSS and McGill. Acknowledging this issue, the candidate clarified that his platform would extend beyond the interim, toward a second full term as secretary-general next year.

The voting period for this by-election runs from February 18 to 24.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Yony Bresler had previous experience with the Physiology Graduate Student Association (PGSA). In fact, he has experience with the McGill Graduate Association of Physics Students (MGAPS). The Daily regrets the error.

The article has also been updated to reflect the reason of Bresler’s absence at the hustings.