While there were hints of fire at the Lister forum, the presidential candidates finally cast off their gloves at the first SUBStage forum.
Candidates were grilled over a wide swath of their portfolios, including advocating around international student tuition, voluntary student union fees, and connecting students to the SU.
In regards to international student tuition, both candidates had relatively solid answers. Bourgeois talked about pushing for amendments to Bill 19 to better include international student tuition, while Bhatnagar wishes to push freezing international student tuition. These are certainly the strong stances that need to be taken, but given a possible government change come the spring, getting either of these initiatives through could prove extremely difficult.
In response to the possibility of optional student fees, Bhatnagar stated that the SU will need to talk directly with MLAs to deter them from supporting such a policy. She also stated that a reallocation of funds come at a loss in revenue from optional student fees will help prevent the death of the SU and its services. Save them from certain death, perhaps, but from being severely damaged? Absolutely not.
Bourgeois’ focuses lied on continuing marketing the importance of the SU to students by highlighting the services it offers, as well as uniting with SUs from across Alberta to oppose such policy. It’s the same old rhetoric we’ve been hearing for a year, and I’m disappointed to hear nothing else added to these basic points.
I was disappointed, however, when both candidates noted their plans to help students recognize the value of the SU was simply targeted marketing. Students do need to recognize the services the SU provides them and find the value in those structural offerings; however, they also need to see that their SU candidates aren’t wanna-be career politicians. A perception shift around the SU executives needs to be tackled, and marketing can only do so much in that regard.
Beyond the typical bread and butter of the presidential portfolio, the candidates are both offering unique policies in their platforms. Bourgeois stated his number-one goal is to create an office of restorative practices, a holistic office that would do the job of a sexual assault coordinator, plus more varied services. This is an initiative that seems to be following up on Bourgeois’ vice-president (student life) platform to get a sexual assault coordinator on campus, and I can only hope is an initiative that university administration is willing to take on.
Bhatnagar’s stated number-one goal is to push equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives to help make the SU more representative of the students it works for. This is also an admirable goal, and something that while often spoke about in great importance in the university context, often fails to be implemented.
At this forum, both candidates proved the strength of their platforms and rhetoric. But these forums, ultimately, might not be the deciding factor in this race. Bhatnagar’s insane marketing and outreach have outclassed Andre every step of the way, and the reality is that her name is simply more out there than his is. We’ll have to see what strides Bourgeois makes further down the campaign trail to see if he can pull ahead.