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Election Dissection 2017: President

This is part one of a feature series about three Students’ Union experts’ analyses on who should and will win each race of the 2017 election, based on platforms, Q&As, and campaign performance. Opinions expressed do not reflect those of The Gateway.

The panel:

Justis Allard was the Agriculture, Life, and Environmental Sciences councillor for 2014-15 and 2015-16. He’s now graduated and working in the real world, but he was willing to lend us his Students’ Union experience for an afternoon to discuss candidates.

Kieran Chrysler was The Gateway’s Managing Editor in 2015-16 and Arts Editor in 2014-15. Now graduating with a degree from the Alberta School of Business, Chrysler returned to The Gateway to give her take on this year’s election and share her wisdom after living through two years of elections newsrooms.

Jordan Simao has been a highly-involved member of the Campus Saint-Jean community as president of the French campus’ residence association, and councillor on Association des universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean. He ran for Vice-President (Student Life) last year, and has returned to the elections scene this year as an active commentator.


With the Presidential race, the Election Dissection panelists agreed with the Bernie-Hillary analogy that’s been made this year: Bashir Mohamed representing the anti-establishment role, and Marina Banister representing the establishment.

Banister, a fifth-year Political Science student, was this year’s Vice-President (Academic) and has been involved on all levels of student governance at the University of Alberta. Mohamed was studying in Somalia last semester, and has had previous experience in governance on Students’ Council and from working as an ombudsman for the university.

“As Vice-President (Academic), and as a student on campus, Marina has shown her leadership,” Simao said. “It’s established … This is where Marina is the establishment candidate and Bashir is the anti-establishment.”

All panelists agreed the race has been close, with each candidate offering students something very different. As Allard put it, Banister was a “politician,” while Mohamed was “not playing the (politics) game.”

“I don’t want to call Marina status quo because she’s not status quo,” Allard said. “But she’s very slow change, she’s very (geared) towards relationship building. And she comes from a line of student politics that goes back 10 years.”

He added that she shouldn’t be punished for her path through governance, but that it makes things interesting when contrasted with Mohamed, who has taken more of an activist approach to governance.

“I’m honestly so torn,” Allard said. “When you look at platform point by platform point, it doesn’t get much easier … Marina could be a great leader. But we end up talking about how Bashir could be an amazing leader.”

Track records

Simao acknowledged Banister’s work in the Students’ Union as a councillor in 2013-14 and as this year’s Vice-President (Academic). In the past year, Banister has worked to strengthen the legitimacy of departmental associations, and helped start the Biological Sciences departmental association. She also created a bylaw allowing faculty associations to advocate outside of Students’ Union policy.

Simao contrasted this with Mohamed’s work in the union as an Arts councillor in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The panelist pointed out that when Mohamed tried to change things in Students’ Council in his second term, he grew impatient with the bureaucracy and quit. Mohamed had opposed motions to increase the athletics fee after its plebiscite failed, as well as a policy change that allowed the Students’ Union to oppose tuition increases above Consumer Price Index (by abandoning opposition to tuition increases in general).

“The change I desire is not possible from my position as a Student’s Union councillor,” Mohamed wrote in his 2014 resignation letter. “The change I desire lays outside of boardrooms and coffee tables. The change I desire is with the everyday student at the University of Alberta.”

Assessing each candidates’ histories, Allard said Banister’s consistency would give the Students’ Union something that could be expected.

“Everyone knows what a Marina presidency would look like,” he said. “She’s shown what a Vice-Presidency looks like, she’s shown what it looks like on so many levels, it’s easy to extrapolate.”

As for Mohamed, Allard couldn’t say.

“I don’t know what Bashir looks like managing Students’ Council, or sitting on policy committee,” Allard said. “I’m just not as familiar with his leadership style. I think it’s really up to him to really rise to the legacy of carrying years of Students’ Union presidents.”

Student rights, student discipline

Panelists looked over Banister’s platform points of advocating to reduce tuition with Council of Alberta University students and regulating mandatory non-instructional fees,

One thing the panelists all liked from Banister’s platform was her idea to implement a charter of student rights — a platform point that will continue the idea of current Vice-President (Student Life) Francesca Ghossein. Simao called the goal a “no-brainer.”

“(Banister’s) shown its effectiveness, she’s shown a plan to implement it, and she’s shown a need,” Simao said. “To me, a charter of student rights counters the Student Code of Behaviour and can only serve to better both documents.”

Even if the plan was potentially long-term, Simao added it could cause the Code to be looked at more carefully, and improve the rights of university residents who aren’t protected under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Allard interjected that the rest of Banister’s platform wasn’t very ambitious — which makes sense, he said, given her understanding of the role as a manager and supporter of the Vice-Presidents.

“When it comes down to it … she’s going to be a better manager, she’s going to better run Students’ Council, and she’s going to take incremental positive steps,” Allard said.

One of Banister’s platform points Simao was critical of was implementing Students’ Union responsibility over student group administration. Working with the Dean of Students to move student group administration to the Students’ Union had been tried before, and it doesn’t work, he said.

Allard figured Banister would achieve more of her platform because of her humbler set of goals. But, he said Mohamed would inject new ideas into the Students’ Union.

“(Mohamed’s) giving a voice to students that wouldn’t often have a voice,” Allard said. “Whereas the voice that Marina’s trying to speak to will still be there in some respect in future years.”

International issues

Mohamed’s platform points include advocating for lowering tuition, regulating the differential fee international students pay on top of base tuition, and looking into childcare on campus. Like with Banister’s charter of student rights, Simao commended Mohamed’s demonstration of a need for decreasing tuition and increasing accessibility — but wasn’t sold on the strategy.

Chrysler said Mohamed’s proposals for “so many big changes” stuck out to her because of his previous displeasure with the slowness of the process. The reality of working in any stream of governance is slow, Chrysler said.

“It is a little shaky for me there,” she added.

Allard, however, maintained that Mohamed’s focus on international students wouldn’t go away, and could offer new directions for Students’ Union advocacy.

“(Mohamed’s) been talking about (international students) for four years,” Allard said. “I think the problem with that is kind of uncharted territory. The Students’ Union has taken some steps to advocate for international students, but they’ve always been pretty silent. They’ve never really gone to bat and that’s because the U of A’s Students’ Union is not very political, and they very rarely go against the university on anything except tuition. Electing Bashir is electing someone who will raise that issue.”

It would come down to how the questionable platform points of each candidate would improve the student experience, Allard said — regarding international students, Mohamed showed the most in-depth knowledge and promise for change.

Banister’s platform, meanwhile, says she aims to works with the International Students’ Association to determine specific mental health needs in the community, as well as promote inclusion in governance.

On Campus Saint-Jean

Concerns with Campus Saint-Jean, with a population of 800 (which includes a residence population of less than 100), were brought up by Simao. The residence lacks a residence coordinator to supervise its residence assistants, labs are suffering from deferred maintenance, and student groups aren’t speaking in French. Simao said he appreciated Mohammed’s platform points of translating bylaws into French and holding office hours at Campus Saint-Jean, but it “missed the mark” in terms of needs.

Chrysler then pointed out Banister’s platform had no mention of the Campus Saint-Jean.

“While I critique Bashir for missing the mark on CSJ stuff, he tried,” Simao said. “Marina didn’t put anything in.”

Final Verdict

Allard: What swung it for me — and I think Marina’s great, she’s a great leader, she should have her turn in this office, she’s earned it — but Bashir recently has been involved in a lot of higher-profile media-centered events and I think he’s handled himself very well. I don’t know who will win, but I think Bashir should win because he’s a unique voice, and when he’s gone that voice will be gone.

Chrysler: I think Bashir should win. The biggest thing for me is the tuition point. I think because the current government has turned over, and there are all these opportunities that are going to be very short-lived, it might be time for Bashir to come in and just shake things up.

Simao: When it comes down to who (Bashir) is as a governance professional, and how he’s going to act in advocacy, the onus is on him to convince students that his idea isn’t just against the establishment, his idea is good. That’s why Marina should and will win.

 

Will Win

Marina Banister — two votes

Undecided — one vote

Should Win

Marina Banister — one vote

Bashir Mohamed — two votes

Correction: A March 6, 2017 version of this article had Jordan Simao stating “The Students’ Union will never discipline student groups, and will never be able to afford an insurance policy large enough to cover the liability of 400 student groups, that’s enough to bankrupt us.” Alix Kemp, SU media adviser, informed us that “The Students’ Union’s existing insurance policy does in fact cover the majority of the more than 400 student groups on campus who are registered with the Students’ Union. The only student groups not covered by our policy are those that are incorporated (such as the Ski Club), which are required to provide their own insurance coverage.” We’ve since removed the quote. 

Correction: A March 7 version of this article stated that Mohamed resigned from Students’ Council in his 2013-14 term. He resigned in the first semester of his 2014-15 term and the article has since been edited to reflect this.

3 Comments

  1. It’s disheartening to see that the modus operandi of influential student organizations in this province is to try to negotiate with politicians who don’t give a shit about them. It’s hard to believe that students advocating for these issues that affect the provincial budget have any say at the table unless they force the government into certain positions. The way to lower tuition is to demonstrate rather than advocate. It might be that lighting the flame under people’s asses in this province is very difficult and students here just don’t protest, but we’re finding ourselves in a situation where domestic tuition is on the brink of affordability for people who pay their own way, and it’s likely that a conservative government will get elected in 2019. International tuition is a whole other set of issues that neither universities nor the government have taken seriously.

    What’s at stake is a path towards an Americanized tuition system. The university would love it if tuition was higher, and simply enough, student leaders playing by the rules are bound to lose. CAUS’ current system of negotiation works well with a government that’s willing to listen, but it’s ill-equipped to have substantial influence on budget slashers. How much has tuition increased since CAUS has been around?

    The trajectory of the development of student organizations in this province, unfortunately, is to negotiate to stall tuition rates, but it can’t ultimately stop them from going in the direction Turpin or the PCs want them to go in. What’s at least more likely to stop them is fostering a culture that encourages students blocking traffic and causing civil unrest.

    We have to do something now. Bashir at least seems to offer a fighting chance. What you have at the U of A is a population of pissed off international students and pissed off people who live in residence. Stoke that fire and change on our own terms is a possibility. If Bashir can’t actually accomplish anything and it doesn’t work out, then next year he’ll be replaced by some line-toeing candidate. The system at the U of A is set up so that’ll just happen.

    And if CAUS is to genuinely serve students, they’ll do what it takes to make tuition affordable, not what’s easy or what’ll cause less headaches.

  2. Hi Shifrah,

    It is great to see that this election has generated interest beyond our campus. Reading your comments, I am a little disappointed since they do not critique my points but rather label them as unrealistic and ‘unsafe.’ In addition, there seems to be the suggestion that I am not experienced for this position or understand the role of CAUS.

    Let me be clear, the role in politics is for people to propose their ideas to solve pressing issues. Politics should not be about doing what is ‘safe’ or ‘realistic.’ Just this past year, New Brunswick and Ontario did what i’m suggesting by implementing subsidized tuition for low and middle income students. This would have not happened if they thought it was unrealistic.

    In terms of ‘not understanding how it works.’ I have been involved in the SU just as long as any candidate. In addition, I am the only candidate which has worked in the university and has worked inside the legislature as staff to a Minister. I find it disingenuous to suggest that I don’t know what i’m doing.

    I do understand how CAUS works and have talked in depth to former executives and staff about the role of the organization. Ultimately, the priorities shift every year and it falls on us to have those difficult policy discussions. Attempting to do what is ‘safe’ and ‘realistic’ does not allow this and is ultimately a disservice for students.

    In addition, I am also deeply confused as to why a current CAUS executive would interfere in an election. It seems odd and unprofessional. In addition, the fact that your criticism does not touch on my platform is disturbing.

    Unfortunately, this has been a common theme in the campaign and I hope that we can make this a campaign about ideas rather than keeping with the status quo.

    For students reading this, I encourage you to read my platform in order to see my plan.
    http://www.bashirmohamed.com/vote

  3. As someone who is currently working with the Council of Alberta University Students, and will be doing another term under them and in an executive position from another university, I would ask that not only the authors of this article, but everyone else who has read it, to really evaluate why one candidate’s goals are realistic and safe over the others. While it is admirable that Bashir has creative ideas and a passion for timely change, his platform, especially around Tuition, would be working in direct opposition to years of relationship building and ground work by CAUS, the body primarily responsible for advocating broad based change to government. CAUS does not support increases or to maintain loopholes, but we work within the realms of current reality, which include collaboration and researched criticism of the government, when appropriate. It frightens me to think that an overzealous, unprepared candidate can take the vote because his platform seems more “interesting”. He’s not anti-establishment, he just doesn’t understand how this works.

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