Hopeful Candidates Call for Change

LUSU election underway as most candidates gather at The Outpost for debate

Sam Mathers, News Editor

With voting already underway, the 2018-2019 LUSU Executive and Board Election Debate was held on Friday at the Outpost. Students heard from candidates running for President, Vice President Operations and Finance, Vice President Advocacy, Vice President Orillia, and the Board of Directors. Common themes throughout the debate were the need for more transparency and accountability within the student union, food insecurity among students, and unity between the Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses.

Notably, current President Leah Ching and current Vice President Operations and Finance Farhan Yousaf, who are both running for re-election, were not in attendance. Both emailed statements to be read to the audience by the Chief Returning Officer and Deputy Returning Officer. Yousaf cited “prior commitments” and invited students to visit his office. Ching cited a midterm and invited students to connect with her on her Facebook page. She credited students who were attending the debate to “have [their] voices heard, question [their] candidates and be involved in [their] student union election.”

The absences did not go unnoticed by those in attendance or by those running for Board of Directors. Richard Mullin Cote, who is running for the Board of Directors on a platform of transparency and accountability, commended the current Vice President Advocacy Lindsay Kelley for being the only sitting member of the executive to attend the debate. Tannis Kastern, who served on the Board of Directors last year would like to see transparency within the Student Union, calling for the requirement of executives to be in the office for 40 hours a week. Kastern was critical of the current administration, saying: “I do believe that we have many strengths at LUSU and I do believe we have many weaknesses – today I’ve seen obvious weaknesses without two executives that were not here…we all know as students that we’ve had to rearrange exams and meetings and so forth and our time, this date has been set in print for awhile and I do believe that arrangements could have been made so that we could have had our executives here that are running.”

Seeking re-election for a second term as President, 4th year Political Science student, Leah Ching, launched the first Mental Health Outreach Week on the Thunder Bay campus this year and has worked at developing wi-fi equipped study spaces in addition to planning for a new Multipurpose Athletics facility. Students will also see Booster Juice on campus and wi-fi in the Ryan building. If re-elected, Ching plans to “invest in campus development, empower student leaders and entrepreneurs,” particularly international and racialized students and “give back to students.” If elected for a second term, Ching promises that LUSU collected student fees and food prices at The Study and The Outpost will not increase.

Running against Ching is Jessica Kearney, LUSU’s current Vice President Orillia. At the debate, Kearney spoke of her constitutional duty to have a presence on both campuses. If elected, her goal is to have a “united student body across both campuses while also recognizing the unique features of each campus.” Kearney spoke of the precedent that has been set by the executives in Orillia, who often stay late and regularly attend campus events – something she plans to continue if she moves to Thunder Bay. Promising to regularly visit the Orillia campus, Kearney says she will ensure that all voices in both Thunder Bay and Orillia are “acknowledged, and heard, and represented.” When asked what can be done to strengthen the communication and the relationship between the Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses, Kearney said: “we need to have the executives that are in Thunder Bay and the executives that are in Orillia to be going to the other campuses, this is part of the mandate of all executives … It’s been a disappointment for the Orillia students to not be able to interact with the Thunder Bay executives and vice versa.”

Farhan Yousaf is running for re-election as Vice President Operations and Finance. In his statement read to the audience, he said “during my two years, we have made some important improvements to student life on campus and I would like to continue working on that.” In his past year as VP Finance, student fees were kept the same and more funding was given to students than had been in previous years. Yousaf spoke of creating new student bursaries that would benefit all students and provide new student spaces in both Thunder Bay and Orillia. His goal is to continue giving back to students.

Rob Strachan, who currently runs the LUSU Food Bank, is running against Yousaf for Vice President Operations and Finance. He spoke to the massive amount of food insecurity on campus, and hopes to develop a free lunch program every day for students. He also hopes to create more student jobs, partnering with community agencies, “to get students field specific skills.” Strachan also hopes to increase student support, such as free or discounted on-campus first-aid certification for nursing students. He also intends to look into “investing student fees into renewable energy such as solar panels,” which would bring a 10% return on the investment. When asked where the funding for daily free lunches would come from, Strachan suggested several different models, which included: the shuffling around of already existing student fees, taking money from existing investments or surplus assets, in addition to community donations. According to Strachan, the Food Bank received $5,000 in donations last year. He stressed that the “last thing that [he] would want to do is increase student fees to pay for free lunch when they’re already having trouble making ends meet.”

Lindsay Kelly, current Vice President Advocacy was the only sitting member of the executive that was present at the debate, something that did not go unnoticed by those in attendance or to those running for a seat on the Board of Directors. Running for re-election, Kelly spoke of the moment that they knew they wanted to be involved in student politics—when they realized during Lobby Week that “the government doesn’t really understand what we’re doing here, and they don’t really understand what we need.” Kelly spoke about international students, co-op students, students with families and working students who are studying “in a system that is set up for them to fail.” Kelly’s dream is a barrier free education for all students, regardless of background. They hope to see better policies and growth, particularly in relation to food insecurity and mental health – like the inclusion of mental health days into syllabi.

Running against Kelly, is Stephen Powell-Chambers, who is “doing this because students need someone to stick up for them…I’m that kind of person that won’t stand up for injustices toward students.” He spoke of the importance of inclusivity and embracing other cultures, as well as dealing with the problem of food insecurity, especially among first year students.
Both candidates were asked about the lack of gender neutral washrooms on campus and what they would do, if elected, to create safer spaces. Before speaking of the work that still needs to be done, Kelly stated that “there is one in the LUSU office that is open to absolutely anybody who wants to use it – it says ‘staff only’ but that’s a lie.” Kelly stressed the importance of making washrooms accessible not only for transgender and non-binary individuals, but also individuals who need to use a change table, as well as the importance of having conversations with security staff to ensure that these spaces remain safe. Powell-Chambers spoke to his disappointment that the need for gender neutral washrooms is even an issue today, saying “bathrooms should not be inaccessible to people. These bathrooms should be available to anyone, anytime.”

Running for Vice President Orillia are Theresa VandeBurgt and Cody Avery. VandeBurgt sat on Orillia’s Board of Directors last year, and has been the President of Orillia’s Mental Health Outreach Team for the past two. She plans to continue to advocate for mental health awareness on both campuses and within the community as well as for better transit accessibility on both campuses – something that is a major issue, particularly in Orillia. Avery is in his third year of the criminology program and is currently a LUSU staff person, working as Events Commissioner. He has had the opportunity to work with faculty, administration, staff, and students, and is excited to bring new ideas to the student union, stating: “the reason for being up here is pretty simple, I want to have a more engaged student body.”
Timothy Thompson, Mathew Nowak, Victoria Mechis, Jake Penton and Konnor J. Davidson are running for a seat on the Board of Directors as members of the Reform Alliance, whose principals are based on transparency, accountability, and student engagement.

Others at the debate hoping for a seat were Joseph Carew, a third-year Indigenous learning student who hopes to focus on realistic change, Josh Pogue, who believes in the transparency and accountability of the student union, Prabhjot Singh Ahuja, who wants to make the student union accessible, Lauren Kaus, who would like to bridge the gap between white students, Indigenous students, and international students, as well as focus on mental health issues and food insecurity. Harleen Bhullar, who has been involved in many different clubs and organizations on campus and served on the Board of Directors last year, Shahroze (Shezzy) Arshad who has been involved with LUSU in many capacities over the last four years and also served on the Board of Directors last year, and James Barsby, who hopes to drastically improve the accessibility services on campus.

Also running for a seat on the Board of Directors is Basil Patrick, Feras Battah, an Electrical student who has been involved with LUSU for almost three years, Annah Malik, who is passionate about mental health, giving back to students, campus development, more food options on campus, as well as keeping LUSU transparent and accountable, and Victoria Erickson, who also served on the Board of Directors last year, and is passionate about equal opportunity for students.

Regardless of where you stand, get informed and exercise your right to vote. Your voice matters. Voting will be open until February 7th and can be done online at http://lusu.ca/vote/.