CampusElections 2020Opinion

Bite the Ballot: President

How should the student body vote, and how will they?

The president is the main spokesperson for the Students’ Union. They oversee the vice-presidents as well as the SU’s strategy, operations, and employees. As president, they have a seat on the Board of Governors and General Faculties Council, and will advocate for students with the university administration and all levels of government.

The presidential race is the most contested position on the SU executive this year, and rightfully so. This position not only leads the rest of the executive, but also serves as its public face. The presidential role has also been asked frightfully few questions this year at forums.

It will be a hard vote this year, because two of the candidates have extremely similar platforms. Joel Agarwal and Luke Statt agree on how to solve many issues, but is that a good thing? Yiming Chen, on the other hand, has a few novel ideas, but hasn’t properly addressed many aspects of the presidential portfolio.

So what are the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate?

Helen Zhang

Joel Agarwal

Joel Agarwal, who served as this year’s vice-president (academic), seems to be continuing down the same path of advocacy he has been walking. In his platform and at forums he has put a heavy emphasis on Open Educational Resources (OERs) and mental health, in much the same way he did as vice-president (academic). In fact, his presidential campaign has felt almost like a rehash of his vice-president (academic) campaign. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you, and it’s only natural to continue initiatives you’ve already begun, but the static nature of some of his previous goals leads me to wonder if he can advocate the way he wants to as president.

Agarwal also refuses to criticize the previous institution, even to better serve students, which is a problem. When the presidential candidates were asked what they would change from the current president, Akanksha Bhatnagar’s time in office, he gave an evasive answer, and said that he thinks she did a wonderful job. While it might be true that she did a good job, even the very best of presidents cannot catch everything. He did admit, however, at later forums that SU protests and advocacy do require improvements in organizing and connecting with the grassroots.

Something Agarwal did well during forums was include multiple student voices in his answers, no matter the question. He seemed to always include Indigenous, international, and multicultural students in his responses, especially surrounding mental health.

Regardless of his forum performance or platform, Agarwal does seem to be passionate about the presidential role, and that’s something we should value in a candidate. His willingness to parse through situations and come up with solutions is admirable, but his hesitance in criticizing the institution leaves me to wonder if he would stand up to a hostile government and represent students in his full capacity.

Helen Zhang

Luke Statt

Luke Statt, who served as the vice-president (operations and finance) this year, suffers from many of the same problems as Agarwal. Most of his campaigning has been focused on economic endeavours. Again, it’s only natural that a person would want to continue their advocacy from the previous year, but focusing so specifically on one aspect of governance can be really limiting in a leadership position like president. Statt’s platform, while comprehensive, mostly includes financial measures, such as partnerships with business, work experience opportunities, and financial stability. However, he does also prominently feature advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, which is nice to see.

Statt also faced a similar problem to Agarwal when asked what he would alter about the current presidency; he said that he thinks Bhatnagar has done a wonderful job, but he would have responded faster to the budget announcements in the fall. It’s almost comical that this, too, revolves around funding, but at least it was something tangible. 

Statt did well at forums in that he consistently performed, always had an answer ready, and was willing to admit that the Students’ Union might need to do better. Usually, his preparation and answers involved finance, but I trust that he has his numbers properly in order, and he always came with statistics to support his claims.

Statt is perhaps the most passionate of the presidential candidates. Not only does he perform well at forums, but every statement and claim he makes feels genuine. I believe him when he says he wants to do well for the university, even if his methods might be a little too orthodox.

Helen Zhang

Yiming Chen

Yiming Chen is the wild card candidate. She announced her campaign later than the other candidates, openly criticized the SU during elections, and really went out and did the damn thing as an international student. No matter how sparse her responses were at forums or how few concrete plans she laid out, I couldn’t help but love seeing her at the podium. Something about defiance against the institution and breaking the presidential mould almost makes me want to get behind her campaign, regardless of its contents.

However, Chen did bring very little to the table in terms of actual plans. At the time of writing, she doesn’t have a platform published, and many of her presidential goals are more conceptual than anything. However, she did give the most solid answer to the question of what she would do differently than the sitting president, saying that she would focus more on centring student voices. But, again, she used this to parrot her favourite campaign point: a feedback system.

Chen spoke many times about a feedback system she would like to implement for students at nearly every forum, which is a good idea. She said that students should be heard first, rather than the leaders who normally make the decisions. 

Chen did have the most nuanced perspective on how to treat international students, and this is likely due to her personal experience as an international student. Chen proposed more open communication between the International Students’ Association and the SU, which might help alleviate the fear and apprehension international students face when they want to have their voices heard.

I believe Chen is a passionate candidate, and that certainly she would do well in certain aspects of the presidential role. However, given the lack of information we have about her in general, I think she would do better to revamp her platform and run again next year.

Who will win, and who should win?

When I’m presented with all the facts, it’s difficult to say who will win. However, given his avid support base and consistently good performance at forums, I believe Luke Statt will take home the gold this election season.

I also believe that Luke Statt should win. He has the most passion, and the most fire out of any of the candidates. His knowledge around numbers will assist him in advocating to the government, and his love for the SU will ensure he steers it in a good direction this year. I’m voting for Statt, and so should you.

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

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