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Notes from Council: Resignation, “no” to climate strike, and Aboriginal Student Council

From resignation, a historic first for student groups, to no SU executives at the upcoming climate strike, here is the recap of September 10's Students' Council meeting

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

Robyn Paches resigns as speaker of Students’ Council

At Students’ Council on September 10, Robyn Paches announced he will be resigning from his position as speaker to work for Studentcare, the Students’ Union (SU) current health and dental plan provider.

Paches’ new position will make the SU his client, and in order to avoid possible conflicts of interests, he decided to step down as speaker. 

“I have made the tough decision to resign as chair of Students’ Council,”  Paches said. “Even though… I don’t hold any decision making power, I want to avoid all perceptions that there is a conflict of interest and make sure my relationship with my client is as straightforward as possible,” Paches said.

Paches will remain speaker for the next Council meeting and will facilitate an election for a new speaker on October 8. 

“I’m sad to go,” Paches said. “I’ve really enjoyed my short time here and I wish I could’ve stayed.”

A campus first: ASC becomes an SRA

Council voted unanimously with one abstention to make Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) a student representative association (SRA). 

Council approved making ASC an SRA, a title usually given to groups such as faculty, campus, or residence associations. Becoming an SRA allows groups to provide services, advocate for students it represents, and make some decisions for its members without the approval of the Students’ Union. 

Though the motion passed, ASC president Katherine Belcourt found the process to be frustrating. While introducing the motion, Belcourt mentioned since the motion was added late last meeting, it was not voted upon despite Council finishing 30 minutes early.

“We came here and there wasn’t any compensation made,” Belcourt said. “I was here for the entire meeting, even with my daughter who was really upset. I went out of my way and I’m continuing to go out of my way to come to these spaces so I can advocate from my community and it’s not being reciprocated.”

Additionally, Belcourt mentioned that their SU representative, president Akanksha Bhatnagar, was inconsistent with her communication, hadn’t been attending their meetings, and was late in reviewing their SRA application. During debate, Bhatnagar apologized for the lack of communication. 

“A lot of what you said deserves an apology from me,” Bhatnagar said. “I’m sorry if you feel as if I haven’t been connecting. Going forward I’m going to do better in whatever capacity that I can.”

Bhatnagar also announced that she would be voting in favour of the motion, not only because of its importance for Aboriginal students, but also because turning the ASC into an SRA would make history.

“This is unprecedented across the country in terms of giving official authority to a student represent outside of a faculty [or residence association],” she said. “This is the first time it has ever happened for a student group and I urge that Council does take that relationship seriously and you are voting yes with the intention that this is a constant relationship to build.”

SU executives will not attend upcoming climate strike

The Students’ Union executive team disclosed they will not be attending the upcoming Edmonton Climate Strike in order to remain non-partisan.

Up for debate since August 27, councillors have been asking executives if they were planning to support and attend the Edmonton faction of the Global Climate Strike. SU president Akanksha Bhatnagar said the executive team will not endorse the strike, as the organization must balance representing all students, not just those participating in the strike.

“It is our mandate to represent 32,000 undergrad students at the U of A,” Bhatnagar said. “If we look publicly to the government that we currently have and the external climate we have to navigate ourselves within, we are doing our best to balance all requests as equally as we possibly can. A lot of our advocacy is multifaceted and comes from a lot of different places and we have to make pragmatic choices all the time.”

Arts councillor Juan Vargas Alba pointed out that various universities are mobilizing across Canada despite possible political consequences. 

“We know repercussions exist, we’re just as smart as you are,” Vargas Alba said. “Aren’t we also capable of mobilizing students even though those fears exist?” 

In response, Bhatnagar reminded council that they cannot force students to participate in the strike.  

“I do wish was that there was a little bit of patience in the fact that we have to act as equal partners to all parties. We are a non-partisan organization, we have to balance a lot of requests,” Bhatnagar said. “As the SU president, I cannot force students to do something they don’t inherently believe in.”

The executive team, however, believes that interested student groups should attend the strike should and the SU will help them find the resources they need such as room booking.

“Full power to the folks that have the privilege to do things like the climate strike and full power to the people who have the privilege to engage in these discussions every day even though it’s difficult,” Bhatnagar said.

Khadra Ahmed

Khadra is the Gateway's 2019-20 Staff Reporter, dedicated to providing intersectional news coverage on campus. She's a biology major and a women's and gender studies minor so if you want to talk about embryology, the development of medical perception or the intersections between both, she's your gal.

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