Students munched on burgers and chicken fingers with little regard for the UTMSU All-Candidates Debate on Wednesday afternoon at the Blind Duck Pub. UTM Engage and independent candidate Thomas Kristan took the stage without microphones and unsuccessfully attempted to grab the attention of the bustling pub.
The debate is a forum for candidates to explain their platform points and for students to ask questions. About eight students (including three covering this story for The Medium) sat in the first row of tables in front of the stage to listen to the candidates and participate in the debate.
UTM Engage, led by current VP Campus Life Chris Thompson, is the only slate running for election to fill six paid executive positions at the local student union. Running independently for a second consecutive year is Thomas Kristan, who is vying for the position of VP Equity.
Candidates moved their chairs closer to the edge of the stage to better hear the questions over the noisy lunch rush at the pub. Instead of a debate, the event turned into one-on-one discussions with particular candidates.
Despite the poor turnout, the debate lasted an hour with attendees demanding answers and explanations of platform points.
OHIP for international students
VP External candidate Grace Guo emphasized her desire to advocate for the inclusion of international students under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. Several students brought up the topic at the debate.
An attendee asked why international students should receive OHIP coverage from the tax dollars of families that have contributed for many years.
Guo stated that international students are a part of the community and in any case should receive free provincial healthcare because they pay HST and income tax if they are employed. The Ontario Health Premium, which partially funds the province’s healthcare budget, is a portion of income tax. As full-time students, international students file income tax returns.
International students were covered under OHIP until the service was cut in the 1990s in response to the province’s fiscal crisis. Since then, the government of Ontario has continued to run a deficit and announced last month that it will be pursuing austerity measures to alleviate the problem over the next five years.
The Erindale Part-time Undergraduate Students reorganized this year and will soon undergo negotiations with Mississauga Transit to approve a part-time U-Pass. In 2007, EPUS disbanded and UTMSU created a seventh executive position for VP Part-time Affairs to ensure that part-time students are represented on campus, even though the union is funded only by full-time students.
With EPUS having been re-established this year, UTM Engage was asked why they will be preserving the position of VP Part-time, allocating a salary to the position and a budget to the Ministry of Part-time Affairs, when that money could be used to provide services for full-time students.
Part-time students pay membership fees not to UTMSU but to the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, which manages the part-time students of all three campuses.
Both VP Part-time candidate Sabiha Sumra and presidential candidate Chris Thompson sidestepped the question and stated that UTMSU will continue to provide guidance for EPUS and that it needs to maintain the salaried executive position and funding for the ministry.
A student posed a question to the two VP Equity candidates—independent Thomas Kristan and UTM Engage’s Yasmine Youssef—about the steps they would take to make the campus more accessible, in particular at the North Building.
Youssef stated that she wants to advocate for an elevator, gender-neutral washrooms, and a wheelchair ramp to the cafeteria.
Kristan stated that he will provide student insight on the renovations planned for the North Building. Earlier in the year, Kristan took part in a challenge to navigate campus in a wheelchair. He stated that the Student Centre is also difficult to access.
Much like last year, the minutes of the Board of Directors meetings were rarely posted online. The monthly minutes from first semester were posted on the UTMSU website in December and subsequently were removed just before the election period.
The minutes provide students with information on the services, programs, and events to which UTMSU plans to allocate its funds.
When Thompson, current VP Campus Life, was asked why the minutes were removed from the website before elections, Chief Returning Officer Babatumi Sodade—the person responsible for overseeing the elections—intervened and stated that the issue was not included on Thompson’s platform and he should not have to discuss the matter.
VP Internal candidate Raymond Noronha promised, similiarly to promises made in previous years, that the minutes will be updated regularly and asserted that transparency is a priority.
Deregulated tuition fees
A student commented that while Guo’s platform includes initiatives to advocate for OSAP reform and OHIP for international students, it leaves out many students that pay high deregulated tuition fees in programs such as commerce and CCIT.
Guo stated that deregulated fees are a recent change and that she will look into the matter. The student corrected Guo: CCIT was deregulated in 2002.
Students can vote at the polls next week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in North, Davis, IB, and CCT.