Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SU Elections: President 2013

Hey there!

As someone who hasn't been a U of A undergrad for a while, there's really no reason you should actually be interested in what I have to say about the SU race for president. And yet here you are. 

Some of what I have to say here will be repeated in The Gateway's election dissection, but since I did that I've had more time to go over the platforms. And here is what I think:

Anthony Goertz
I fundamentally do not understand what Anthony is trying to do here. In a letter to The Gateway, he mentioned that he is not taking the campaign seriously, and that he is instead running because "the system is allowing [him] to make posters" he doesn't have to pay for. What? I guess he's protesting the fact that any ol' student can run for an election and print posters (the horror....) by wasting students' money printing posters (that haven't been plastered all over campus as far as I can tell).

Saadiq Sumar
I've known Saadiq for about two years now, though I'd known of him for a bit longer than that. He took up the glorious position of Engineering Students' Councillor after I graduated (tiny size 7.5 shoes to fill, there), and after a year of that became the VP Student Life for 2012-2013. Before that his bio says he was involved extensively with Lister.

His website is honestly a bit rough. I know that shouldn't be a focal point, but it contains two pages - one of which is a platform that is long enough that the major points aren't on the first screen you see. His platform itself is organized under three categories:

Protecting Students
His first point here is "accessible and affordable education" which is such a cliche it's not even worth really mentioning. If his best approach to this is showing members of the board the plight of the student, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he doesn't get any further than any predecessor. He also mentions reducing rent increases, which he then admits is something he's already doing. It's also something he has to do under policy. Fighting the mandatory meal plan seems like a good idea, but it's hard to support a mandatory PAW center fee and a mandatory U-Pass, and oppose something else that's mandatory when the reasons for its mandatoriness (ok, maybe that's not a real word) are fundamentally the same.

And lastly, as a member of an executive that has a) liberally used extensive in camera debates on motions that are supposed to protect students, and b) proposed bylaw changes that restricted advocacy efforts of non-Council elected student representatives, I have to question where this sudden urge for student representative empowerment comes from.

Health Initiatives
Here's some more tangible promises. For instance, expanding the campus health week. That's a good idea. I can get behind that. Programming options during reading week is also completely reasonable. Increasing the number of pet therapy days is potentially just a pretty flashy promise, but it's not without its merits (But llamas? Really?), and can probably be fairly easily achieved. Finally renewing the health and dental plan seems is great too.

Though none of these are perhaps revolutionary, they're all solid ideas, they are likely to have some tangible benefits, and it's likely that they can all be accomplished through a term.

I sort of don't understand his first point, which is about the SUB food court waste audit. The bins in the food court are absolutely beautifully labeled as it is, so I imagine there would be a large sense of diminishing returns in actively having volunteers out there educating people. Otherwise, sifting through the trash sounds like a rotten idea (pun). If there's money to be saved then I suppose it's not a bad idea, but simply auditing something just to get a report doesn't seem like the most efficient way to increase sustainability.

The other two points, gender neutral washrooms and a sexual minority and gender diversity service, seem like things that are so perfectly suited to the planned SUB basement renovation that I wonder why they're not already part of the renovation plans. Seriously - why propose demolishing and reconstructing existing washrooms when you could have incorporated them into the renovations you've been a part of planning for the last year? This is literally the perfect opportunity to arrange for the most accessible washrooms the world has ever seen, and without the constraints of existing walls you could easily arrange them in a format that everybody is comfortable with. While we're at it, if you want to add a new service, toss that in the mix for reno plans too.

Horse With a Gun
Horse With a Gun is the funniest joke campaign since Soundwave.

Petros Kusmu
This is now the fourth year I've known Petros. Our friendship could have a Bachelor's degree by now, if only it had applied itself and not skipped all those Sociology classes. In the time I've known him he's done three tours of Students' Council, and most recently this year was the VP External for the SU.

If I was a bit harsh on Saadiq's website, then I have to tear Petros's to bits. It's a facebook page. It's not only just a facebook page, but it's a facebook page with last year's platform still on it. It's a facebook page where, whenever he updates a status or responds to a comment, his platform sinks lower and lower down the page and becomes harder and harder to find.

Once you finally find his platform, it's in the form of a gigantic pdf. It is also broadly organized under three general categories:

Ensuring Stability
Right off the bat Petros mentions that he wants to work with the SU General Manager. Thank goodness - it would be really awkward otherwise. Joking aside, he wants to have open and constant communication with stakeholders during the SUB renovation project. Fascinatingly enough, he mentions that the renovations are a good time for gender neutral washrooms and a sexual minority center. This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that this is likely to happen anyway and isn't really much of a promise for either candidate...

Then he mentions continuing to assist advocacy efforts of residence students. And then he mentions continuing to advocate against MNIFs. I guess not deviating from current advocacy efforts is lovely, but making a campaign promise out of continuing to do the same is really not all that clever. Really this should be assumed until he proposes something new - otherwise any candidate could just list their job description as a platform and have a massive one.

Exploring New Ideas
Petros wants to conduct a feasibility study on creating a service that would assist students in entrepreneurial pursuits. Feasibility studies unfortunately sound like a bit of a cop-out - you write a report, and regardless of if anything comes of it you can still count it as a victory. Also, doesn't the U of A already do something like this?

Similarly, "re-evaluating ways to better support student groups" falls under a similar category of possible cop-out, and continuing to have CASA advocate for anything is, by definition, not a new idea.

Ignoring the language of 'beginning a dialogue', exploring the idea of block courses is at least a new and tangible promise. It could be interesting to see where this goes - having taken a one-week course over the summer at the U of A before (oh wait, that sometimes already happens?), I can see the value in offering new education options to students. This would need to be a long-term project, but it will be cool to see if anything comes out of it. Also, it's something different between Petros and Saadiq, which is nice to see.

Improving the Culture within the Students' Union
"Seeking feedback from past and current Councillors on ways to improve Students' Council." Though Petros has admittedly made attempts while a councillor to change Students' Council (two particular student/councillor groups come to mind, for instance), it seems a bit weird that after 5 years he's still promising to fix council.

Expanding SUBtv and Infolink to Augustana and Campus Saint-Jean is a decent idea though. I'd be really interested in seeing where that goes.

Fundamentally my major problem with Petros's platform, though, is that the majority of his promises involve starting a consultation on something or continuing to act in a way the SU already does. While these are likely the best way of going about anything as SU president, the language comes across as so watered-down that it's tough to tell how much is actually new and creative.

What do I think will happen? I had that model thing from before, but it's still waiting for a few election campaign parameters (the most important being spending patterns in the campaign budget). I'll come back at you with a prediction when those get released!

Also, sorry if this comes across as mostly cynical. I have a great deal of respect for both significant candidates (and a healthy respect for Horse), and was honestly hoping for more creative and original platforms. They both have a few concrete promises in there, though, so I hope this was at least moderately helpful. Also, 1,562 words? Sorry about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you even seen the proposed blueprints for the SUB renovation? They're way ahead of where they were before and waht's posted on the site. Lots of space for meeting rooms and retail and cutting into space for everything else. Student groups lose a huge chunk of space but there's gigantic meeting rooms that are going to be sitting unused. You'd have to get them to give up retail space or meeting rooms (which they're demanding to keep because that will draw people in and they'll spend more money).