Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SU Elections: VP External

Vice President External looks like a really fun job. Think about it: you get to fly across the province/country/hemisphere, you get to attend lobby conferences, sometimes you get to be on TV, and you get interviewed for pretty much everything when something happens on campus. Cool, right?

Next year's VP External will either have the fun of dealing immediately with a Linkprovincial election, or dealing with all the fall-out of a very recent provincial election, and will probably have their hands full with all sorts of juicy provincial politics. It promises to be a pretty cool year all-in-all for the next VP External!

Without further ado, here are this year's candidates for Vice President External:

Dorothy Roberts: Dorothy and I go all the way back to last year, when we were councillors together. She's been involved with the SU for quite a long time, and this last year worked as an external policy researcher for the organization. Her platform features Accessibility, Accountability, and Engagement.

Petros Kusmu: I've worked with Petros through Students' Council for three years now. In that time he has been involved extensively with the Bylaw and Policy Committees, chairing both, and has never been afraid of taking on his own initiatives. Petros's platform is hiding somewhere in cyberspace, but based on his SU supplement he promises Fighting Increasing Costs, Investment in Student Work Programs, and Engaging Students.

Adam Woods: Adam has been a student councillor for the last year, and in his first year of council bravely took on the task of chairing the Bylaw Committee. From what I gather he is also extensively involved in other groups on campus, including his fraternity (several greek letters of which I do not currently remember). Adam's platform planks call themselves Removal of LinkParental Income Consideration, Lobby Training, Residence Property Tax Removal, and Increase Scholarships and Grants.

Before I analyze, I would like to define two things:

Students' Union Political Policies: The Students' Union has a set of political policies. According to our Bylaws, these policies are directives to the executives "dictating on what issues Students’ Union advocacy efforts should be directed", and prohibit any executive from representing a divergent opinion as that of the Students' Union. These policies cover everything from deferred maintenance to quality instruction, and it's safe to say that any Vice President External will be advocating for the positions outlined in these policies.

Plagiarism: The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

A quick glance at the Students' Union Political Policies reveals the following:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Studentsʼ Union advocates for a financial aid system that does not consider parental income as a factor for loans;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Studentsʼ Union advocates that the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton remove the burden of municipal property taxes from residences

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Studentsʼ Union shall lobby the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta to increase the relative and absolute amounts of scholarships and bursaries that are awarded based on the studentsʼ financial need and/or involvement

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Students' Union shall lobby for a provincial regulation on mandatory non-instructional fees such that proposed new fees and increases for existing fees beyond their established price inflator be approved by a referendum of the students to whom the proposed fee would apply.

These are of course taken from various points throughout the document, and aren't meant to be interpreted as consecutive statements.

ALL THREE candidates currently advocate for all or some of these points. All three. The fact of the matter is that they simply do not have a choice to do so - if they are elected, this is what the Students' Union rules say they will advocate for. I sincerely doubt a single candidate has told potential voters this fact.

This appalls me. At the very least this is gross ignorance of the mechanics of political policies in the Students' Union (frightening seeing as they nearly have a collective 6 years on council), alternatively this is a misrepresentation of the imagination and lobbying gaps of the candidates. At the very worst this is an attempt to pass off ideas that the SU already pushes as ideas of the candidates, which is plagiarism.

Ignoring the platform promises covered in the above rant, all three candidates promise some form of advocacy training for other students on campus. I love this idea. The more skills that students can be taught on campus, the better the overall learning experience, and I'm thrilled that the Students' Union could be taking a leadership role in some of this. Because none of the candidates go into great detail about how to bring this about, I don't particularly think anyone stands out in how they make this promise, but I am fairly excited about the prospect.

Now that I've blasted through the aforementioned campaign promises, the pieces that remain are pretty decent too. Dorothy's ideas about advocating for undergraduate research opportunities is something I totally appreciate (and her expansion to appeal to government actually takes it a step further than its related policy - hooray), and Petros' ideas about student work opportunities seems well-intentioned, though I imagine quite difficult to bring about.
As for who what I think will happen, I think that Petros has had by far the largest presence on campus. Apart from being a part of and creating a large number of student groups, he's also conveniently had his face on Profile Magazines on stands all over campus for the last month. Because of this, I think Adam and Dorothy will have quite an uphill battle against them. I'm not convinced it will be a blow-out, though, and I'm looking forward to what the rest of the campaign is like between these three.

SU Elections: BoG Rep

The Post Secondary Learning Act of Alberta is a piece of provincial law that grants life to the University of Alberta and its Students' Union. As far as a legislation goes, this one is fundamental to all that goes on around our campus.

Sections 16-19 of the PSLA talk specifically about the Board of Governors at the University. It establishes in provincial law that the Students' Union is given two seats on the Board, for instance, and defines the authority of the board.

One particular sections reads as follows:

16 (5) The members of the board must act in the best interests of the university.

With that being said, let us discuss the Board of Governor's candidates for this year's election:

Rebecca Taylor: Unlike every other candidate in these elections, I have actually never met Rebecca. A quick background check, though, shows that she's been involved this year with the CBAS as External Communications Coordinator, and her website says she's been involved with the CBAS for a few years now. Her platform consists of Build Strong Relationships, Change Images, and Improve Advocacy.
Brent Kelly: I've known Brent for a year now, after he became an Arts councillor midway through a term. Having previously run as a councillor for the SUPA slate, I am not particularly surprised that his platform has a similar tone and message to Adi Rao's when it comes to advocacy. His platform features Advocacy, Accountability, and Action.

A good half of the two platforms are dreadfully similar. Both candidates want the Board to listen to student concerns, and both make sweeping promises to engage students in the decision-making processes. This promise comes up all the time, and this year it's wrapped up under fancy words like "implement student engagement methods" and "townhall-style meetings".


Where the candidates really appear to differ, though, is their approach to talking to the Board. The tone that Rebecca takes is one of forging relationships, being dependable, and taking into account the opinions of others. Brent's website, on the other hand starts with "It's time to send the Board of Governors a message" - suggesting a more hostile tone. Brent repeatedly mentions his unrelenting opposition to several previous Board decisions, and takes a tone that suggests he is unwilling to cooperate with the Board on certain issues.

In what appears to be a bit of a theme across some of this year's races, voters here are given a choice between outspoken, potentially uncompromising, and potentially hostile lobbying, and a measured approach to advocacy that involves compromises and reasoned discussion. Without explicitly saying which method I prefer, this appears to be a conscious decision that will have to be made by student voters about how they want the SU to represent students to the decision-makers both on and off campus.

Regardless of which candidate is picked, however, I believe their effectiveness will be severely limited by who is elected as president. As the president also gets a seat on the Board, having two advocacy styles that are similar and complement each other would be infinitely better than having two contrary approaches to dealing with the BoG. The only thing worse than having a loud, unrelenting, and upset (I use that word lightly) student voice on the BoG would be to have two differing opinions and approaches, but both telling the Board that they represent the opinions of students. That sort of confusion certainly cannot help any advocacy efforts, however well-intentioned. The SU does an impressive amount of preparation and briefing of its executives before they head into any external meetings, and the better coordinated the President and BoG rep are the better.

But what really drives me crazy is the approach to the Board where an individual is completely unwilling to even listen to the arguments of their opponents. Though it currently seems unlikely, it doesn't require too much imagination to picture a scenario where students are in favour of a small tuition increase, and having a board representative who is categorically opposed to any tuition increase suggests that they would be unwilling to listen to any students in favour of said increase as well as any other board members who may have a good reason for proposing one. It could also be argued that an increase to tuition at less than the rate of inflation is actually a decrease to the value paid for tuition, but a certain board candidate of ours would still be opposed to something like that.

Fundamentally, too, is that section of the PSLA I quoted earlier: a Governor of the University of Alberta must act in the best interests of the university. If the University needs to raise one dollar per student, otherwise some horrific catastrophe might occur, the Governors MUST act in the university's best interest. It's the law. Students fundamentally made a choice to come here, and are important, but the Board's responsibility is to ensure that the University itself does ok.

Summary of Promises:

Rebecca:2 X
1 X

Brent:2 X
1 X

What I think will happen
Fundamentally I'm not convinced either candidate has had a big enough profile on campus to make a very concrete prediction at this point - whoever wins may fundamentally come down to whoever comes across the best on one-to-one conversations, class talks, and (sadly) who's posters are prettiest. Having never met Rebecca, I can't even speculate on who would be better at one-to-one conversations. I'd hazard a guess that Rebecca will have a bit of an edge from being an executive on CBAS, though, and the people who were really paying attention to the Occupy protests may be polarized by Brent's platform (one way or another). Until I watch a few more forums, though, I'm going to hesitatingly suggest Rebecca is more likely to win. I'll make an edit after I get a chance to watch them go head-to-head, though!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SU Elections: President

Hey there,

Being the washed up old SU hack that I am, I figured it was important to inflict my opinions on the upcoming SU elections on any of you who are so brave as to actually read this. If you're still reading, thanks a lot!!

My plan over the next week or so is to write about every contested position to try to get my thoughts out there, and maybe (just maybe) have someone read something that I write. I'm going to start off with President today and work my way through the rest, and I hope these will be informative and maybe even slightly entertaining!

Before we begin, though, I'd like to mention that I won't be writing a post on the VPSL race as it's uncontested. That being said, Saadiq Sumar is a stand-up individual with support from all the right people, and you'd be lucky to have him as your Vice President.

Without further ado, onto the presidential candidates! (Yes, I am ignoring the joke candidate)

Colten Yamagishi: Having served as a councillor for several years and as vice president this year, I have known Mr. Yamagishi for a long time. In running for president, he is following a long tradition of Vice Presidents Student Life who have gone on to run for the presidential post. Colten's three promises are Revolutionize Communications, Restrict Backdoor Tuition, and Re-Ignite Past Promises. I'll get back to these in a second after I look at some of the other candidates.

Aditya Rao: I've known Adi for two years now, first as a councillor last year, and this year through his other many involvements on campus. From what I've seen, Adi is running alongside a group of similarly-minded individuals across several of the other platforms (whether intentional or not), all with an extensive social justice and advocacy focus. His platform promises he will Resist, Reform, and Engage.

Farid Iskandar
: I've also known Farid for two years, again as a councillor last year and then as a Vice President last year (sound familiar?). Farid's platform features Negotiating the phase-out of the CoSSS fee, Strengthening businesses, and Creating a Student Academic Centre.

All three candidates address fees, so I'll start with that. Congratulations - you don't like paying money! That'll hit a strong vibe with students! Colten and Adi would lobby the government to enforce a tuition cap, whereas Farid would actively try to get rid of the CoSSS fee. Both Adi and Colten also talk about the $40 installment fee and how much they dislike it - looks like Farid missed the bus on that one.

Believe it or not I proposed selling grocery items in SUBmart a long time ago, so I'm actually glad it's starting to catch on in promises. Otherwise, though, Farid's platform (so far) seems a bit thin - he hasn't promised lots apart from continuing to work on promises from two years ago, and the usual staples of "increasing resources" and "restructuring communication."

The most interesting feature of Colten's platform is re-igniting past promises (because, let's face it, communication revolution has been promised by everyone and will be promised forever). The only issue I have with this promise, though, is that none of these past promises have been 'dug up'. The fall reading week is something he's currently working on and has been a major focus of the SU for a while, and he would almost be negligent if he ignored it more so than a hero for continuing it. The PAW centre and powerplant are issues that all presidents will have to face (more so the VPOF, perhaps), and promising to deal with them sadly doesn't mean much more than saying he won't ignore them.

Adi, on the other hand, has more of an outlier of a platform. The Students' Union has spent a considerable amount of effort in being an efficient advocate on student issues, and has explicitly limited itself to these student issues in order to avoid diluting its message. Specifically, his idea of screening honorary degree candidates for human rights seems to be quite reactionary to what's going on on campus now. An elected Adi would likely bring about fundamental changes on how the SU does advocacy, and that's a choice that I suppose students will have to consider.

Summary of promises:

Farid5 X
1 X

Adi6 X
1 X

2 X

8 X
1 X

What I think will happen
I've heard a lot of people talk about how Colten and Farid, both being vice presidents, will split the vote and how this will make Adi win. These people do not understand our system. The only way vote splitting could even be a factor is if it results in anyone winning on a first round count, in which case 'un-splitting' the vote wouldn't have made a difference any way as that candidate would have received more than 50% of first-place votes.

I think all three candidates will run popular enough campaigns that nobody will win on the first round. However, I think that Colten and Farid's platforms, experience, and support bases are similar enough that they will have strong secondary votes for each other on their ballots.
Because of this, my best guess at what will happen is a fourth-round win for Colten, with Adi coming in second place. I say fourth-round because NoTA will get eliminated in the first round (I suspect NoTA will run a little lower than normal, perhaps only around the 5-8% mark), Big Notorious will be eliminated the second round, Farid will be eliminated on the third round, and his subsequent votes will transfer primarily to Colten.

The main reason that I think Colten will outlast Farid is exposure. We've recently come off a world-record dodgeball game, and successful events such as Antifreeze, giving the Student Life portfolio a good amount of press recently. Unfortunately for Farid, his major project (Get out the Vote) was postponed due to the Alberta elections occurring later than hoped, and his other major promises (such as MNIF restructuring) have simply been brushed aside by the powers that be. Farid hasn't had the opportunity to shine recently as much as Colten, and I suspect that will hurt him.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I'll be back soon with VPOF!