udents’ Union elections are a bewildering world for the average student to make sense of, and when faced with a whopping 20 candidates vying for six positions, this year’s voters are swamped with selection and craving guidance. That’s why The Gateway’s Election Dissection united three SU experts to cut through the clutter and bring you the inside scoop. News Editor Michelle Mark and Staff Reporter Andrea Ross chatted with the panel one week into campaigning to scrutinize each and every candidate, and conclude who will — and who should — represent you in 2014–15.
April Hudson is the former News Editor of The Gateway for the 2012–13 publishing year, and served as the Staff Reporter for 2011–2012. She knows the ins and outs of the Students’ Union all too well, and has scrupulously covered student politics and SU elections for the past several years.
Nikki Way is a self-described “non-hack hack” of the SU. A student in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences, Way has served on a number of SU committees and initiatives, such as the Sustainable Food Initiative. She’s also managed several campaigns for candidates in SU executive elections and Students’ Council elections throughout her undergrad.
Colten Yamagishi was last year’s SU President, and served as Vice-President (Student Life) the year before. A recent graduate of the University of Alberta’s School of Business, Yamagishi has taken a well-earned departure from campus life and student governance, but has still been following this year’s elections closely.
Panel impressed by number of women running, overwhelmed by amount of total candidates
Panellists launched into the discussion by acknowledging the highly competitive nature of this year’s election. Hudson said she was impressed to see an increased female presence in the race — there are six women running for executive positions, four of which are going for the Vice-President (Academic) race.
The total amount of candidates has also doubled from last year’s election, which Hudson said is a positive sign.
“I think that’s fantastic. In past years, it’s always been an issue that we don’t have very many people run and I think it’s better to have an overload of candidates than not enough,” she said.
But panellists were also wary of the idea that more is better. Way said the number of candidates meant she had trouble doing extensive research on each candidate’s platform because of the sheer amount. She speculated voters will find it overwhelming, but dismissed the issue as part the cyclical nature of SU elections.
“This just happens every once in a while,” she said, referring to the similarly large amount of candidates who ran alongside Yamagishi in 2012. “It gets to a point that I think the average student, if they want to be engaged, they can’t tell the candidates apart after a while.”
Yamagishi said having five candidates in the VP (Student Life) and VP (Academic) races “changes the dynamic” of voting. Candidates’ campaign materials and websites become all the more important in such highly contested races, he said.
“There’s a hotbed of issues this year that people are pulled towards running … I think we need to give credit to the current executive for inspiring people to run for these positions too,” he said.
Doge (joke candidate)
The panellists focused mostly on Adam Woods and William Lau, saying their established campus presence and experience make them instant frontrunners in the presidential race.
With Woods as the current VP (External) and Lau as VP (Student Life), the two candidates both faced scrutiny for their accomplishments throughout their terms, and praise for their leadership qualities.
Way and Hudson were critical of Lau’s advocacy experience, describing his platform as vague and full of buzzwords.
“It’s wishy-washy, there’s nothing in there, there’s no content. He’s running for President and there’s not even one thing that he says he’s going to do himself,” Way said. “What the fuck are you going to do?” She questioned his achievements as the current VP (Student Life) and said his campaign is superficial, despite his likeable personality.
Way said Woods and Mohamed often disagreed with one another during campaign forums, whereas Lau tended to agree with his opponents instead of pitching his own thoughts.
“Almost every idea (I’ve) heard from (Lau) was, ‘Oh, I agree,’” she said.
“Going into this year, we have some big issues. I don’t get any indication of how he’s going to deal with that.”
Yamagishi came to Lau’s defense, saying he can’t think of a presidential candidate who has run their campaign based on a specific new idea and actually accomplished it. He added that much of the position is “putting out fires” rather than working on new goals, and Lau does have solid credentials.
Yamagishi argued Lau and Woods are both strong candidates, but in different ways. He said students will ultimately have to decide whether they want an inward- or outward-looking SU next year.
“Do (students) want someone who has a focus more on student issues like mental health?” He said. “Or (Woods), who has a lot of strong knowledge about federal and provincial lobbying, about the government?”
Hudson argued the SU needs a strong president who can authoritatively advocate to the government as the university continues to deal with backlash from a slashed budget, and Lau hasn’t demonstrated those qualities.
Way agreed that Lau’s agreeable nature and reluctance to engage in criticism could hinder him from effective negotiations with the government.
Panellists lauded Woods’ experience in student governance and strong work ethic. His platform was praised for being the most thorough and poignant, but Yamagishi said he’s disappointed in Woods’ team for making negative comments at other executive hopefuls on Facebook for not having their platforms prepared quickly.
“This has been a dirty SU campaign for everyone on Facebook,” Hudson agreed.
Turning to Bashir Mohamed, Hudson immediately mentioned Mohamed’s arrest in 2012 for heckling former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney — an event Way said voters could hold against him.
“There’s a very polarizing effect about (Mohamed) in general. I know that there are some people who are very concerned about that because he is intense. But I respect that,” she said.
“In terms of the person who needs to put out fires, like (Yamagishi) was saying — he might start them.”
Yamagishi also focused on Mohamed’s passion for student governance, touting it as an important factor in leadership despite his relative lack of experience. He said Mohamed presents a great alternative option to the presidential frontrunners, but questioned whether a non-partisan position such as President is the right fit for him.
“I do think he is a bit young, I’ll definitely say that,” he said. “The worry I have about (Mohamed) is that I don’t know if he would always represent the majority. I have no question that the minority would be represented.”
Way and Hudson agreed that Mohamed has some fascinating ideas, such as campus childcare, but they’d like to see him progress through school and mature as a person before returning next year as a stronger candidate.
“He’s the most thorough person I’ve met in politics,” Way said. “But if you go in there and start banging your head against the wall from the start, you’re going to have a concussion before you get any work done.”
In terms of the joke candidate, Yamagishi and Way criticized Doge’s inauthenticity to the popular meme on which the character is based. Hudson agreed, saying nothing will ever beat 2013’s joke candidate Horse With a Gun.
Will win: William Lau — two votes, Adam Woods — one vote
Should win: Adam Woods — two votes, undecided — one vote
The amount of female candidates in the race earned the panel’s praise, but they quickly wrote off candidate Rebeka Plots as a non-contender for the race. The panellists expressed doubt over whether Plots has put any thought or research into her campaign.
“I don’t know who she is, and I have not seen one thing from her that makes sense,” Way said. “She doesn’t give answers half the time — ‘I don’t know this, but I’m going to learn about it.’ ”
Hudson agreed, saying it’s good to see new faces in the campaign, but Plots is far too inexperienced for such a demanding position.
Yamagishi commended Stephanie Gruhlke for her governance experience and having the courage to run, despite coming from a satellite campus. Gruhlke is from Augustana, and panellists were quick to note her devotion to always attending Students’ Council meetings despite the drive from Camrose.
Way said Gruhlke is smart and a good candidate, but she isn’t a top-three contender because her ideas aren’t new. But Yamagishi came to her defence, saying her personality could work well in a team environment.
“Usually President will go to war with OpsFi and (Student Life) will go to war with External, and the VP(A) is the one that’s like, ‘Everybody, let’s be logical,’ and I think she could be a pretty good balancing element,” he said.
Panellists praised Kathryn Orydzuk for her creativity, passion for student governance and wealth of experience. Her idea to implement mandatory rubrics set her apart from the others, and Way pointed out that Orydzuk’s current job as Student Governance Officer of Discover Governance is perhaps the best springboard into the VP (Academic) position.
But panellists were skeptical of her idea to convert the silent room in SUB into a textbook library, questioning its purpose, feasibility and why Orydzuk isn’t focusing on eBooks instead.
“I don’t understand the difference between that and the library,” Yamagishi said. “Is she just saying they’re going to buy a whole bunch of textbooks and put them in a room? ... You’d have to have so many textbooks. That’s expensive.”
Nisha Patel struck candidates as a strong, intelligent advocate, and a convincing and demanding speaker due to her debate team experience. But panellists questioned how in-touch Patel is with the student body and how much preparation she’s put into her campaign.
“I wasn’t really impressed with her response to her goals,” Hudson said, referring to Patel’s Gateway Q&A where she outlined her platform to work on mental health awareness, co-curricular support and the International Students’ Association. “It seems kind of uninspired to me.”
“We should mention that she’s running because she’s angry,” Yamagishi added, referring to a comment Patel made at the Residence forum in Lister Hall.
Panellists were wary of Fahim Rahman, calling him “extremely smart” and knowledgeable about the issues facing the Academic portfolio, but also quiet and poor at communicating his ideas — a huge detriment, since the VP (Academic) position is largely committee-oriented.
“When you’re on these committees and something comes up, so what — you have an opinion? You know the background? You need to be able to go in there and you need to convince people,” Way said, adding that she’s sat on committees with Rahman and he seldom speaks without being prompted.
Way said overall, the goals and duties of the VP (Academic) are fairly rigid, and the determining factor in the race is largely up to candidates’ personalities, not their platforms. Panellists agreed that Patel and Orydzuk are likely the strongest communicators of the bunch.
Will win: Kathryn Orydzuk — two votes, Fahim Rahman — one vote
Should win: Nisha Patel — two votes, Kathryn Orydzuk — one vote
Panellists were unanimous in their endorsement of Navneet Khinda, saying she completely eclipsed her opponents and could likely have swept up a win for President had she chosen to run for it instead of VP (External).
“She’s been in the hatchery for years,” Yamagishi said, laughing. “Navneet’s a powerhouse ... Her platform is fantastic. It has everything it needs. It’s forward-thinking, it’s visionary, it’s realistic and she has concrete examples that actually will get implemented.”
“I think everyone except Navneet is irrelevant in this race,” Hudson added. “I love her approach. She just knows everything so well.”
Thomas Dang’s approach to external relations worried the panellists, who criticized his vitriolic, protest-heavy ideas for government advocacy. Way said Dang is likely overestimating students’ willingness to engage in such activity.
“I think it’s the wrong approach for a VP (Ex),” Hudson said. “You can’t go to war with the government. You still have to be respectful of them, you still have to have some sort of working relationship with them.”
Yamagishi encouraged Hudson and Way not to dismiss Dylan Hanwell as a legitimate candidate, but all panellists agreed he isn’t ready and should have taken another year before running. They were also critical of his platform, questioning his approach to student employment and noting his failure to mention mandatory non-instructional fees.
“The fact that MNIFs aren’t even on his priority list is an issue for me,” Hudson said.
“You can’t move an internship program into an employment program,” Way added, referring to Hanwell’s idea to replace the axed Summer Temporary Employment Program with the Serving Communities Internship Program. “SCiP doesn’t even engage half the campus — SCiP is very much arts-focused.”
Will win: Navneet Khinda — three votes
Should win: Navneet Khinda — three votes
Vice-President (Student Life)
Panellists blasted Fabian Gonzalez, calling him the worst candidate in the entire election and adding that his platform, interview responses and performance in forums have been devoid of any concrete details or coherent plans. Way speculated that if he were elected, executives would be calling for his impeachment within months.
“He has nothing in his platform. There is absolutely nothing,” she said. “There are other candidates who didn’t prepare, but this guy is on a whole other level of, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ ”
Panellists also noted Gonzalez’s frequent interactions on the UAlberta Confessions Facebook page, worrying that students might recognize his name and vote for him based on his social media presence.
Insung Peak is too inexperienced for the VP (Student Life) position, panellists agreed, saying her ideas are too underdeveloped, but her passion and potential could make her a strong candidate in future years. Hudson and Yamagishi discussed her difficulty communicating her ideas, saying a language barrier could be a big problem since the portfolio is so verbally communicative by nature.
Panellists were underwhelmed by Parjanya Joshi, calling him out-of-touch and some of his platform points — such as tightening the smoking policy — irrelevant. They suggested he may not have a complex understanding of the issues behind creating and maintaining the International Students’ Association.
“Everyone thinks they have the solution, but they don’t know the intricacies,” Way said.
“I don’t know anything about him,” Yamagishi said. “I’m not impressed,” Hudson added.
Patrick Cajina came across as both passionate and thorough to the panellists, who found him an appealing candidate, but not a remarkable one. They were fairly confident in his potential to bring students across campus together, but confused about his idea for a Coke and Mentos explosion event.
“Not a big fan,” Way said. “It seems like a lot of money for nothing ... it’s not meaningful at all.”
“Is he trolling about that?” Yamagishi said
Nicholas Diaz impressed Way in particular, who described him as a personable, strong character, and lauded his proven dedication to the goals he’s campaigning on.
“He’s already been working on the issues he’s talking about. He’s already hand-in-hand with the Dean of Students for reinventing BearsDen, for a whole bunch of Health & Dental Plan stuff, for student services stuff. He’s there,” she said.
Hudson and Yamagishi agreed he seems passionate, but Yamagishi also pointed out that Diaz can be stubborn.
“The people I know who know him either really like him, or really hate him. It’s one or the other,” he said. “There are issues that come up that I can see him being not closed-minded, but maybe a bit inflexible.”
Will win: Patrick Cajina — two votes, Nicholas Diaz — one vote
Should win: Nicholas Diaz — three votes
Vice President (Operations & Finance)
Cory Hodgson struck the panel as a good candidate and a passionate, capable VP, but they agreed his lack of opponents has made him lazy throughout his campaign. Yamagishi said that’s worrisome since Hodgson has been actively involved with the SU, but hasn’t yet held any major leadership roles.
“I’m unimpressed,” Way said. “I just think he hasn’t put in a lot of effort, from what I’ve seen.”
But she added she’s confident in his ability to consider issues thoroughly, even despite his lacklustre campaign and ideas. Hudson, however, countered that the nature of the position requires a steady hand, not necessarily revolutionary ideas.
“The OpsFi portfolio needs stability more than anything,” Hudson said. “I’m okay with not seeing big ideas in this one.”
Will win: Cory Hodgson — three votes
Should win: Cory Hodgson — three votes
Board of Governors Representative
Sangram Hansra’s intelligence and charisma captivated the panellists, but they had reservations about his aggressive personality and how his presence would translate to the Board of Governors environment.
“He’s a complete asshole,” Hudson said.
“Yes, he’s an asshole, but he knows it,” Yamagishi agreed, laughing. He added Hansra has been in the SU longer than any other candidate this year, and knows the organization and the issues inside out.
Way and Hudson were interested by Hansra’s idea to enforce a sunshine list to disclose salaries of U of A employees making more than $200,000 a year, but Yamagishi said he thinks the unions would put their foot down.
“I personally don’t think they would want to see something like this,” he said. “I don’t see what they would gain from it, either, besides increased transparency.”
All panellists, however, were doubtful of Umer Farooq’s credentials and ideas. They agreed the BoG Rep position requires a strong character to be able to stand up to intimidating administrators and public members, and Farooq hasn’t adequately demonstrated that trait.
“BoG’s scary as shit,” Yamagishi said. “You have to be extremely conscious and able to think of things on your feet very quickly.”
He pointed out that the members on the board are often extremely wealthy, powerful and experienced at debating, and as a student representative, the only way to win arguments is to have expert knowledge, which Yamagishi said Farooq lacks.
“He’s not a strong speaker, he’s not able to articulate what he wants to say. That works against him,” Way added.
Will win: Sangram Hansra — three votes
Should win: Sangram Hansra — three votes
Athletics and Recreation Fee Plebiscite
Panellists were cynical of the plebiscite, which would see a $16.38 increase to the $64.92 Athletics and Recreation Fee, if passed. They questioned whether the fees students already pay are being used well, let alone effectively enough to merit an increase.
“I don’t think there’s been enough information, aside from what’s on paper, for students to make an informed vote,” Yamagishi said. He said he likes the idea of providing adequate funding to athletics, but noted students already pay four fees for athletics in general, and questioned whether the average student would reap any benefits from the hike.
“I wonder what the SU Council and the execs were doing on this, because I would have tried to ask for more.”
Will pass: yes — one vote, no — one vote, undecided — one vote
Should pass: no — three votes
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