The candidates for 2017-2018 LUSU engage in discussion to address student concerns before polls open
By: Brady Coyle, Staff Writer
The day before the polls officially opened, Lakehead University Student Union candidates gathered in the Outpost for a formal debate.
Candidates for the positions of President, Vice President Operations & Finance (VPO), Vice President of Advocacy (VPA) and the Board of Directors had an opportunity to present their platforms and to sway the audience on why they were most fit for the position.
Each candidate was allowed an opening statement, to present their platform, and a closing statement. Between statements, candidates were asked questions submitted to the mediator prior to the debate. After questions from the mediator, the floor was open for students in attendance to ask questions. Both campuses were represented, as students from the Orillia campus watched the debate via Skype and asked the candidates questions.
Both candidates for President and VPO are running unopposed and simply require a vote of confidence during Election Week. This meant that for Leah Ching (presidential candidate) and Farhan Yousaf (VP Operations & Finance incumbent and candidate), the debate was a presentation of their platform and a Q&A with current students of both campuses.
Ching presented the points of her platform, which were focused on student engagement.
“This [platform] includes consulting students tirelessly through polls, surveys, and round table discussions so that we can develop a clear goal of what students want over the next year,” said Ching, during opening statements.
Yousaf was relaxed and confident during his statement, citing his accomplishments as VPO throughout the last year.
“We have done a clothing drive for international students, we started the first anti-racism committee and we have increased the refugee support for our SRP program,” said Yousaf.
Only two of the three VPA candidates attended the debate. While both were in agreement on many of the same principles (advocating for all students, putting aside personal views to be a representative for all student needs) priorities were different for each candidate.
Rob Strachan’s platform put a heavy emphasis on diligently investing student fees, in order to grow LUSU’s limited funding.
“I intend to invest student fees into solar energy,” said Strachan. “This is something that will give us an 8-10% return on our investment, rather than investing in a bank account and letting our money accumulate tiny bits of interest over the years. We can then reinvest this money into student services and clubs.”
Ben Steinmetz emphasized the need for transparency within LUSU, as well as a Union that works with and for the students.
“I want to promote accountability and transparency and make sure the students know what is going on within their union,” said Steinmetz, during his opening statement.
This was not the last we heard about transparency and accountability.
Significant to this year’s elections is the emergence of a political party within Lakehead students. The Reform Alliance, a party that is built around the principles of transparency and accountability, has four members from its party running in LUSU’s elections this year.
“Students are fed up,” said the Reform Alliance, on their Facebook page. “Their Union is failing them – it has become overly secretive, bureaucratic, scandal-ridden, and disconnected. We know that we can do better; we know it can be fixed. We are here because LUSU needs change. LUSU needs Reform.”
And the Alliance let this sentiment be known throughout the debate. All four members – Dawson Mihichuk, Mathew Nowak, Ben Steinmetz and Eric Melilo – emphasized a platform with a major focus on transparency and accountability amongst Lakehead Administration and LUSU.
The Board of Directors debate, which featured six candidates vying for positions, had three members of the Reform Alliance running.
“I founded the Reform Alliance because I talked to students and have heard the same concerns over and over and over again,” says Dawson Mihichuk, during opening statements. “What is LUSU? What is it doing? Why don’t I know what’s going on? Why is it so un-transparent and unaccountable?”
Tensions reached their peak during an exchange between Mihichuk, president of the Reform Alliance, and Tannis Kastern, an incumbent Board of Directors member.
After listening to many members of Reform Alliance press the issue of transparency and accountability, Kastern offered a response.
“We have a member at large seat on our boards and we send out communications every month inviting students to become involved in their governments,” said Kastern, during her opening statements. “The meetings are open, the minutes are available for anyone to go down to LUSU and see… I do believe it does work both ways… If I want to know something, I am going to go ask. I am not going to try and shift focus on whose fault it is that this [LUSU] isn’t transparent enough.”
To that point, Mihichuk responded with vigour: “Transparency and accountability are key aspects of the platform and yes, while certain LUSU meetings are open to the public, a great deal of information at board meetings takes place in camera. We pay dues to LUSU and we have a right to know where our money is going.”
This led to a heated exchange between Mihichuk and Kastern, before order was restored and the debate continued.
While this passionate argument highlighted the debate, the other candidates also brought significant issues to the table.
Eric Melillo and Mat Nowak, members of the Reform Alliance, promised to bring transparency and student engagement to LUSU. Harleen Bhullar brought the message of improving media relations and increasing student resources and job opportunities on campus. Shahroze Arshad promised to create more study spaces on campus, to help all students excel to their full academic potential.
The quorum for LUSU elections is 10% of the student body, which was not achieved during the VPA by-elections this past fall. While there were differing priorities amongst the candidates, almost all of them used their closing statement to urge students to vote during Election Week.
So, LU students, the ball is in your court. We have heard from the candidates, so now it is time to hear from the people.