Students First has been called the incumbent slate for the support they get from the current UTMSU president. Delphino Cassar

The UTMSU All Candidates Forum was held last Thursday in the Student Centre. The debate took place in the Board Room while students celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the Blind Duck Pub below.

The All Candidates Forum gives students the opportunity to pose important questions to executive candidates. The state UTM Students First and the independent candidate Thomas Kristan responded to questions about their campaign platforms, as well as concerns regarding low participation in this year’s elections.

The slate UTM Students First, dressed in yellow t-shirts, promoted topics such as transparency, lobbying the administration, and equity. The slate, led by Gilbert Cassar, presidential candidate and current VP Internal, want to negotiate a Student Centre expansion with the administration, increase club funding, introduce a 1.0 drop credit, and lobby for a bottled water free campus.

Kristan, the independent VP University Affairs candidate, discussed his desire to make UTMSU more accountable, encourage environmental efforts, increase accessibility on campus, and efficiently approach negotiations with the administration. As a past member of the Erindale College Council, UTMSU Board of Directors, and founder of the Accessibility Committee, Kristan believes that he possesses the experience and qualifications to be a UTMSU executive.

Kristan, the opponent of Dan Dicenzo from Students First, admits that he hasn’t been as involved in UTMSU in the past year as his opponent. Regardless, he feels that his passion for student issues and his past commitment to matters concerning campus accessibility make him the ideal candidate for VP University Affairs. Kristan wants to foster a good relationship with the administration to pursue student interests.

“I can’t say that I’ve done as much as my opponent has,” Kristan said. “But with regards to the year before when I was involved in the student union, I took steps to increase accessibility, because I myself am an accessibility student and I felt the union needed more representation. I also worked on various campaigns and fundraising for different groups. Should I get elected, I’ll focus my efforts on UTM.”

Dan Dicenzo, the VP UA candidate on Students First, also discussed efforts to lobby the administration for longer library hours, implement the 1.0 drop credit, and continue the bottled water free campaign.

“We want to get students involved in it, aware of it, and have students voice their opinions,” said Dicenzo. “We’re working for the students to make their experience at UTM better. I believe that this team can achieve these goals.”

The majority of questions were received by e-mail and read to the candidates, the first regarding available study space on campus. Cassar explained that the union would take the necessary steps to lobby the administration to provide more study space. He said that this includes striking a committee with the administration and, if necessary, creating a petition to demonstrate student solidarity. Negan Alim, VP Internal candidate,  emphasized longer library hours and providing study areas in an expanded Student Centre.

When asked about the lack of negotiation undertaken this year regarding the student centre expansion, Cassar insisted that student surveys have been completed and that UTMSU has provided the administration with necessary documentation. Cassar also stated that UTMSU will meet with the planning committee in the near future. This planning committee, which was put on hold in 2009 when negotiations between UTMSU and the administration failed, cannot be re-struck until a space proposal is submitted to the administration. The current UTMSU submitted an expansion report to the administration at the beginning of March, but it lacked a space proposal.

Negotiations originally failed because an agreement was not reached on food services. The university wanted Chartwells, the company that provides food vendors at UTM, to have a monopoly in the expanded Student Centre. As a compromise, Cassar wants to propose an expansion of the student-run Blind Duck Pub to provide greater food diversity for students.

“We will never put core, fundamental student issues on hold,” Cassar said, referring to the failed negotiations of the past. “An example is the U-Pass. Mississauga Transit was not eager to continue the program, and it took serious lobbying efforts with the city. There will be no compromising when it comes to core student interests, and that’s a promise.”

The incoming executives will have to take the project to the Erindale College Council. This year, UTMSU attempted to utilize the student members of the ECC to pursue a campaign against parking fee increases. Cassar expressed his desire not only to stress responsibility among student representative on the ECC, but to reform the council’s structure. Students First want to achieve an even balance between student, faculty, and administrative representatives on the council to increase student presence.

Kristan also stressed the importance of student representation on the ECC, emphasizing the necessity of educating elected ECC members of the issues and their responsibilities.

“It’s important that members make an informed decision,” Kristan said. “We also have to make sure that there is greater cooperation between the students elected to ECC and the student union. We need to work together to best represent students. It would be a good idea to hold a meeting with UTMSU and all the ECC members.”

In particular, Alim’s platform includes increased transparency by posting biweekly financial statements online. An important resource to hold UTMSU accountable is the monthly Board of Directors package, which includes meeting minutes from the various committees that discuss student services, events, and budget. This year, board meeting minutes from September through to February were not posted online until one week before the election period. When asked for an explanation, Cassar said that even though he isn’t sure of the details, he knows that there have been problems with the UTMSU website. According to Cassar, the web designer has been preoccupied with personal matters and couldn’t address the issues with the website to post minutes regularly.

“Transparency is very important,” Alim said. “I will ensure that the website is running smoothly so there are no future problems.”

Kristan proposed bringing in a temporary web designer to rectify the issue in a timely manner.

Candidates were asked to respond to the criticisms surrounding student union elections. UTMSU elections, much like those of other student unions, have been criticized as unfair and biased, deterring opposition candidates. Students First, dubbed by critics as the incumbent slate, includes two current executives: VP Internal Gilbert Cassar and VP External Munib Sajjad. Both Cassar and Vickita Bhatt, the current president, sat as members of the Elections and Referenda Committee, the body responsible for enforcing election rules and procedures. Cassar, who was involved in the hiring of the Chief Returning Officer, recently left the ERC to run as a presidential candidate. Bhatt also dropped out of the ERC to support Students First. The two vacant positions were filled by Marium Chowdhury, VP Part-time, and Grayce Yuen, VP University Affairs, who has worked closely with Dicenzo as his associate.

“Every candidate in the elections, whether they run on a team or independently, is held accountable by students. I don’t think that students are being less investigative because there’s a team running,” Cassar said. “It was responsible of myself and the president to step down from the ERC.”

Kristan expressed his own concerns with the electoral system, pointing out the advantages of running as a team.

“It’s up to the students to run for election,” Kristan said. “On the other hand, I do think there are flaws in the system, because while students are free to run independently, it slants the vote in favour of teams. I would like to see the team system abolished, so that way it’s based on the individual candidates that are running. When someone is attached to a team, they gain the recognition attached to it.”

Polling stations open this week. Students can vote on March 22–24 in the North Building, CCIT, and the Davis Building.