Thomas Kristan: I was a Division III director for the UTM Students’ Union. I went to the meetings both here and downtown, so I was responsible for representing UTM students at the downtown campus as well. After that I wasn’t re-elected, but I was involved in a lot of union campaigns, such as Drop Fees. I was also an active member on the Accessibility Committee. Outside of the union I’ve been involved in other things, such as assisting students transition from high school to university. I feel that if I’m elected I can concentrate on helping students a lot more, because it’s a job, experience, and having fun all at the same time.
After that experience, what inspired you to run for the VP Equity position and contribute to the union?
On the one hand, I don’t think that it should just be the incumbent slate that’s made up of UTMSU’s re-running vice-presidents, associates, and close friends. There should also be someone with a different view, because it’s like I tell people: I’m not there to necessarily be a “no” man and vote against everything they say. I think there needs to be somebody who’s not entirely assimilated into the student union. There needs to be an outside voice that can bring up issues [with] a motion that’s being considered. I noticed that you either had people from the union who were entirely for a motion and didn’t really acknowledge issues for the motion [or] then you would have people who would take up the issue and be completely against it. I tried to go back and forth and I think that’s one of the reasons I felt so out of place. I didn’t have a niche with pro-union members or the guys that are there to raise a fuss over everything. I feel that I can give a non-biased view on issues.
This is your second consecutive year running as an independent candidate. After losing last year, why did you decide to run again?
Running the campaign was difficult because, similar to this year, people say that they support me but at the same time they don’t think that it’s possible to beat the incumbent team. As a result, I don’t have any volunteers. I have to do everything myself out of my own pocket with a very small budget. It has been difficult, but I felt like it was possible to win last year and I remember seeing the results and saying, well, that’s not too bad considering the budget and the amount of work I was able to put in versus everyone else on the entire team directing all of their efforts against me because I was the only competing executive candidate. This year, I think that I have the opportunity to do it again. Hopefully students remember me.
How are you funding your campaign?
It’s all out of my own pocket. Each candidate can spend $400 dollars, so I’m against a team that has a budget of thousands of dollars all printing off the same flyer. The odds are really against me because everyone is seeing my opponent on a team flyer.
You list points on your platform that are similar to those of UTM Engage, along with some new proposals. Why do you think those issues are important for students to know about?
One of the important differences that I try and show people is that if you get a card from my opponent Yasmine, it shows all the points that the team wants to do—but they’re not specifically related to the VP Equity portfolio. The thing is, when I present a flyer to somebody and they ask why I haven’t proposed some of the more popular things, like the drop credit, I don’t think those are issues that the VP Equity specifically should focus on. As the VP Equity candidate, I want to focus on equity-related issues, such as accessibility, fighting discrimination—that sort of thing. I was able to tie in international tuition fees because I think that’s a form of discrimination.
Several things that I put on there might seem small, like putting an elevator in one building. But Roy Iverson Hall doesn’t have an elevator, just stairs. If someone is assigned a room [there] who uses a wheelchair, or even if there is someone who is temporarily disabled, such as if they break their leg, what will they do? There are a lot of small things and then things that match, because I think that if there’s a good idea, you should go with that.
You participated in the All-Candidates Debate and you saw the poor turnout. What do you think that says about the quality of UTMSU elections and student apathy?
I think it mirrors the kind of attitude I get from students when I try to campaign. There’s a lot of annoyance. I could also see some people at the back of the pub that would either laugh or would have this annoyed look, like, “Why are these people disturbing me during my lunch?” Unfortunately, I think that students have developed this idea that you just can’t beat the union team. It is quite unfortunate, and I hope that by me running two years in a row it shows that it’s not true—that there are people that are willing to run as independents and not as a team.
UTMSU has a strong body of volunteers. Why do you think more of those volunteers don’t run for a position or attend the debate?
Probably because many of them were out campaigning. I can’t say that for sure, but I noticed that many of them were out campaigning for executive candidates and they were wearing their yellow shirts.
Why do you refer to UTM Engage as the “incumbent” and “union” slate?
I know that my language in this interview will probably get me into trouble with some people and they’ll say this isn’t true. Unfortunately, I think that’s the way it is because every year we see that there’s one team made up of previous members of the administration of the student union. Sometimes it’s executives that run again, sometimes it’s board members that were very close to the VP associates. I seem to notice that if you go through this list of people, most of them are associates. It really looks more like a chain of succession. It’s hard to see them as anything else. I don’t see them as independent candidates with their own points. Many times you’ll see that their points mirror the previous administration. Equity officers, drop credit, food options—many times they say the same thing, and it’s hard to distinguish them. If you go and listen to them when they talk, they say, “We were responsible for delivering you this.” How can they say that and then at the same time say they’re not the incumbent team?
As I said earlier, it’s true that some individual members campaigned for certain goals, but when you work as a team and the whole team takes collective responsibility when they didn’t all necessarily get involved in those campaigns, I think that they’re trying to get it both ways. They’re trying to say that they’re not necessarily a continuation of the previous union, but at the same time, look at the things we did for you.
What do you think of the politicization of the student union and taking activist stances against the government?
I feel strongly about this. You’ll notice that when they lobby against tuition fees it’s collecting petitions and protesting, so it’s not something they can actually promise.
It takes a lot of negotiation with the administration and political parties. I think we need to have more focus on student services and things that the student union can promise. Events focus on outside issues. Over the years there have been many things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the conflict in Sri Lanka. I’ve always supported the student union in getting the word out as a part of social advocacy, but I think it’s very one-sided. You’ll notice that these campaigns are generally left-wing—and I’m left-wing myself, so I’m not attacking it—but the events themselves are very pro-Palestinian. You have things like Israeli Apartheid Week. It might be run by the downtown student union, but there are definitely members here that take part in it. There were a lot of Jewish students that felt uncomfortable about Israeli Apartheid Week. Political one-sidedness needs to stop.
[Editor’s Note: UTM Engage was invited to take part in an all-candidates discussion but declined the opportunity.]