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Forum Recap: Myer Horowitz

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The Presidential race got heated (again), so we gave it its own article. Check it out here: Presidential questions become personal at Myer Horowitz forum

Guess who’s back

Making his first appearance at an election forum one week after the start of the campaign period, Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidate and engineering student Chen Liang explained that he was running to inject new ideas into the conversation.

Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidate Chen Liang

“I know my ideas are really radical and they may not be feasible,” he said. “But I’ve never been part of any Students’ Union facilitations, so I am not confined by the barriers of the status quo.”

Liang also talked about his platform, which includes eliminating student fees by 2022, as well as replacing Deweys with a brewpub where students can get hands-on experience.

Robyn Paches, who is running for re-election as Vice-President (Operations and Finance), repeated his message of bringing students back to campus, and how the Students’ Union functions as a non-profit that provides services and employment opportunities for students.

Paches also highlighted his plan for the Myer Horowitz theatre renovations and how his platform point is not running on renovating the theater itself.

“I’m running on a promise, a promise to conduct thorough student consultation, to ensure that the final theatre project meets student needs perfectly,” Paches said.

The VP (Operations and Finance) candidates received two questions from Jordan Simao, former Vice-President (Student Life). He first asked them about conflict of interest bylaws, as well as which of the Class B fees were most important in their opinion, and when that schedule was last updated.

Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidate Robyn Paches

Paches answered that Class B fees are any dedicated fee unit (DFU), and chose a category of fees that went benefit marginalized groups, such as the Landing’s DFU or the student refugee fund, as the most important.

Liang responded by saying the question was directed at him because of his co-op placement in Calgary, which he noted was within the 15,000 km rule stated in the bylaw. Liang also said he’d be willing to drop his co-op if elected.

Jordan then asked how both candidates would keep Students’ Union businesses afloat despite the upcoming minimum wage hike in the province. They agreed that boosting profitability was the answer, and not cuts to staff or services. Paches reiterated his plan to boost the prosperity of Students’ Union businesses which is to build partnerships with student groups to have their events at RATT or Dewey’s instead of off campus.

Protests and provincial budgets

Questions from the floor for Vice-President (External) candidates focused on what their specific approaches in office would look like.

Candidates were asked how they would navigate a proposed increase in differential tuition for professional programs including Law and Nursing.

Candidate Arts councillor Reed Larsen said he tries to never enter a negotiation with the mindset that an increase in cost for students is acceptable. He added that he would be willing to lead a protest on the issue.

“Whether a (proposed) increase is for professional or any other faculty, it is not okay to increase costs for students,” he said.

Vice-President (Exeternal) candidate Ankur Pandey

Candidate and Red Deer correctional peace officer Ankur Pandey said a student is a student whether they are domestic or international, enrolled in a professional faculty or not.

“I truly believe there should be a balance among students,” he said.

James Thibaudeau, vice-president external of the Education Students’ Association, said he recognizes that costs have to rise at some point.  He said he supports tuition increases to protect university services.

“If prices were to go up, I would be in support of that,” he said.  “Of course, I would explore all other options before that.”

Vice-President (External) candidate Lisa Zhang

Lisa Zhang explained how she would look for student consultation before making decisions or starting advocacy. She said she would consult with students who would be directly affected by the increase.

“I would seek student consultation, see if they were okay with it,” she said. “Then I would look to see what are some of the things we could address before protesting.”

Another audience member asked the candidates what they would work on within their first 30 days of office if elected.

Pandey said he would get financial aid for students within the first 24 hours of being in office.

“If elected, this would be a positive change for all students,” he said.

Vice-President (External) candidate James Thibadeau

Thibaudeau stressed his desire to advocate for more mental health funding. He stated that the new provincial budget will be available mid-April. The budget, however, is actually coming out on March 16. He also said the University of Alberta’s current funding model expires on July 31.

“We will be working closely (with the province) immediately,” he said. “There is a very strict time limit to get these negotiations and funding in place.”

The first thing Zhang said she would put her focus on is student employability. She said she would work toward increasing opportunities for students and also suggested creating a new online database with potential job opportunities for students who could post their qualifications directly for employers to see, similar to LinkedIn.

“This would help save time for students,” she said.

Vice-President (External) candidate Reed Larsen

Larsen said he wants to gain a better understanding of who he would be representing. He promised to meet with representatives from the Faculty of Native Studies, Campus Saint-Jean, and the International student community.

“I would want to make sure that their voices are brought alongside mine when we start to go make those budget asks,” he said.

Sample Sizes

The VP (Academic) candidates Shane Scott, a Students’ Union researcher, and Banana the Hamster addressed audience questions about current campus issues.

Vice-President (Academic) candidate Banana the Hamster

Candidates were first asked a question about data used for advocacy. Regarding the recent Bachelor of Arts degree renewal, an audience member mentioned that this year’s VP (Academic) Marina Banister’ stance on the renewal was to support the results gathered from consultations conducted by student group Organization of Alberta Students in Speech (OASIS); as a result, the data indicating that students wanted more flexibility in BA degree requirements was based on information gathered from a pool of approximately 800 students.

However, the Faculty of Arts conducted its own research and included results from approximately 2,000 students. The two data sets contradicted each other: OASIS indicated that students wanted more flexibility and were in favour of removing many of the current requirements, while the university found that students wanted to keep existing requirements in place. Given that one data pool had the students’ official approval while the other included more individual student voices, candidates was questioned on whether they would support either the students’ side of the data or the university’s if faced with a large discrepancy in results.

Vice-President (Academic) candidate Shane Scott

In response, Scott said that he would “overwhelmingly” support the student-based side of the data, looking to OASIS results over the university’s findings.

“A large discrepancy shows that as an advocate on behalf of the student voice, we need to side with the students and that 800-person pool,” Scott said. “I’m prepared, if elected, to stand up against the university and ensure that we are taking seriously the recommendations of students and the work that groups like OASIS are doing.”

Scott was also asked if he felt he didn’t have to campaign as hard as candidates in other races on specific points such as mental health, given that his only competition is a hamster. Banana said she felt Scott had actually “not campaigned hard enough.” Scott, in turn, acknowledged that while he felt he did have a “bit easier” of a campaign compared to races with more competition, he adressed issues like mental health as thoroughly as if he faced a human competitor in his campaign.

“Indigenous accessories” and residence services relationships

At this forum, the Vice-President (Student Life) candidates attempted to demonstrate the uniqueness of their individual platforms.

Vice-President (Student Life) candidate Ilya Ushakov

During opening statements, the candidates, for the most part, recited platform points they’d brought up at previous forums. Rabib Alam, former president of HUB Mall’s residence association, focused on mental health during his address, citing his experiences regarding culture shock and mental health issues.

Ilya Ushakov, a former Lister resident assistant, discussed the importance of community connection in seeking help. He promised better mental health training for student association executives and Residence Services employees.

Arts councillor Kyle Monda asked students to compare his platform to his opponents’. He said he was the only Student Life candidate who mentions indigenous students in his platform and promises “concrete initiatives … that (he) knows are realistic.”

Vice-President (Student Life) candidate Kyle Monda

But Monda was later criticized during question period by a student for his emphasis on indigenous students in his platform. The questioner directly cited Monda while contextualizing a question for the Presidential candidates, telling him that “marginalized students are not accessories for (his) platform.”

One student asked the candidates about their relationship to Residence Services and how they could develop it to best advocate for students. Ushakov cited his experience as a Resident Assitant and his brief time as vice-president of the Lister Hall Students’ Association. In regards to working with Residence Services, he said that “when issues come up that we need to take a strong stance against, we should do so respectfully.”

Vice-President (Student Life) candidate Rabib Alam

Alam discussed his experience as the president of HUB Mall’s residence association. He said his experience at the negotiating tables with Residence Services around residence association fee collection gives him insight into their motivations.

“Residence Services does not hate students,” Alam said. “They have a reason for (acting the way they do).”

If elected, Monda said he would want his relationship with Residence Services to be collegial, making sure that advocacy does not break down into personal attacks against Residence Services.

Say something nice

The Myer Horowitz Forum asked for the strengths and weaknesses of the Board of Governors Representative candidates.

Board of Governors Representative candidate Mike Sandare

When asked by an audience member to say how their opponent is better than them, Mike Sandare, current Vice-President (External) was commended by Armand Birk for his student group experience. Sandare said Birk, former president of the Résidence Saint-Jean residence association, has a more personal relationship with a variety of different student groups on campus.

“My campaign platform is about experience, just as much as it is about inclusion,” Sandare said. “I think the BoG Rep should have a plan and a vision, and those are things that I can bring to this position.”

Board of Governors Representative candidate Armand Birk

Birk said he would try to connect with students more if elected to sit on the Board of Governors.

“One of the biggest problems I see year after year is candidates come up and say, ‘We want to involve students more and we want to make sure voices are heard,’” he said. “And every year they get their endorsement on Facebook. But once elections are over, we don’t hear from them until it’s time for elections again.”

 

Direct jabs

The “Yes” side of the Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG) plebiscite started their introductory speech by tackling the “No” side’s arguments directly.

APIRG “Yes” side manager Laura Kruse

“The ‘No’ side has presented blatantly incorrect information such as stating that (Students’ Union) executives earn $42,000, that APIRG is the highest dedicated fee unit, and that we spend 85 per cent of our budget on overhead,” said “Yes” campaign manager Laura Kruse.

Kruse also commented on the “No” side’s repeated lack of suggestions when asked for how to improve APIRG.

“Despite their untrustworthy or perhaps just ill-prepared campaigning,” Kruse said. “I will congratulate them on their intellectual honesty on stating they have no opinion on how to support diverse spaces on campus.”

Representative from the “No” side Alexander Rodd responded in his introduction by asking the audience, “Who the fuck is APIRG?” Several loud boos were returned from the audience. Rodd then argued that APIRG talks more about fighting oppression than taking substantive action.

APIRG “No” side manager Alex Rodd

“Telling people these things over and over is really APIRG’s greatest success in the last 15 years,” Rodd said. “They talk a lot, except for actually informing students about the opportunity to opt out.”

Following Rodd’s introduction, Chief Returning Officer Donald Ademaj reminded members of the audience to refrain from talking while candidates are speaking.

Both representatives of the plebiscite received two questions from the audience. The first question asked if APIRG would consider restructuring if the “Yes” side wins. While Rodd said he would be glad to see them do so, Kruse said that APIRG’s overhead is low for the organization and that both direct grants and programming make up a significant part of the budget.

The second question came from a former Students’ Union councillor who explained that a few years ago, an Israeli student complained about an Israeli Apartheid Week speaker making anti-Semitic in an APIRG-supported event. The questioner asked if APIRG is properly reviewing groups and events in the funding process.

Kruse said she shared their concerns and that APIRG takes student feedback seriously. She also said APIRG will make public statements to apologize if something like that were to happen in the future.

“APIRG stands for anti-oppression, it doesn’t take concrete political stance in any one way, except against bigotry and hatred,” Kruse said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable and we do not stand for anti-Semitic comments whatsoever. So I do apologize for the fact that APIRG was involved in that harm coming to students.”

Rodd’s response to the same question was brief.

“I’ll just say that as a student of Jewish ancestry, it’s also a significant issue to me,” he said.

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