The campaign period for the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections began last Monday. Running for the executive team are two independent candidates and the slate Students United. The Medium sat down with the candidates to ask them about their platform points and their goals for next year if elected.
Atif Abdullah, a third-year Computer Science student, and current VP External for UTMSU, is running for the uncontested position of President under the Students United slate. Abdullah’s main focus will be on fighting the prospective government changes to OSAP and the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) that will allow students to opt-out of most student-run groups, clubs and societies, including the UTMSU.
“Next year is a challenging year, and I want to make sure we’re supporting [clubs and societies] in every way possible as a students’ union,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah hopes to work with student unions across the province and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to lobby the government on various issues, including repealing the SCI and free and accessible post-secondary education both provincially and federally.
“Next year will be a challenging year for everyone” Abdullah continued. “Every service that is student-run is under threat. We want to make sure we’re working together to help us build the capacity to stand up to the cuts and show the people making these decisions without our consultation that these are actually in no way benefitting students. I can’t stress enough that, more than any given year, next year will be the year where all groups to work together and unify our voice with our memberships.”
Running for the position of VP External under the Students United slate is Kai NG, a third-year Political Science student. NG wants to lobby the federal government for an election campaign to increase student engagement. As well, NG hopes to provide greater levels of support to clubs and societies through the UTMSU.
“Clubs are the backbone of the students’ union,” said NG. “The students’ union can help clubs and societies not only financially, but by helping them promote their clubs more, host more events, allow more collaboration between clubs.”
NG also cited the need of eliminating AV costs for club and society events that are held in buildings other than the students’ union, stating that it would help clubs and societies save a significant amount of money from their overall budget.
VP University Affairs
Running unopposed for VP University Affairs is Miguel Cabral, a Language Studies student and a member of the Students United slate. If elected, Cabral will focus on bettering the mental health support given to students by advocating for “fair academic policies.” Some of his platform points include the elimination of subscription-based services like iClickers and Top Hat, as well as developing a consistent penalty for late essays and assignments across university programs.
“We want something that’s more fair, consistent and reasonable for students,” said Cabral.
Running for the contested position of VP Equity is Habon Ali, a fourth-year Biology and Environmental Science student on the Students United slate. Ali’s main platform points centre around challenging racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-indigeneity and all systems of oppression on campus.
“My main goal is to make the campus a safe space for all communities, and ensure that all populations find a safe space within UTM […] so they can do their best to learn.”
Ali plans to do this by having the UTMSU hold educational events, and by starting a dialogue with students. “The fact of the matter is we don’t live in a social vacuum, these things exist, we know they’re happening […] we can’t simply ignore them.”
Also running for VP Equity is Saarang Ahuja, a third-year Economics student and independent candidate. Ahuja’s main platform points center around increased awareness of services, from the accessibility centre to the UTMSU.
“What students don’t realize is that the accessibility centre accommodates for many things ranging from ADHD, to just having trouble managing your time. They will enrol you in their services and will help you get an extension on your assignments.”
Ahuja also spoke about the need for a more diverse range of food options on campus. “UTM calls itself an international, diverse community, but we don’t have the food options to reflect that.”
Running for VP Internal is Students United candidate Sara Malhotra, a third-year international student in Economics and Political Science. Malhotra’s campaign focuses mainly on fighting for an international student fee cap, and better social integration for international students on campus.
“International students contribute nearly $8 billion dollars to the provincial economy, yet we’re still paying unsubsidized fees as compared to domestic students,” said Malhotra. “International students have a harder time doing assignments, or adjusting to the culture, but they still pay higher fees for their education. We struggle a lot, and unfortunately our fees have been going up by disproportionate amounts every year.”
Opposing Malhotra is Luke Warren, a third-year Digital Enterprise Management (DEM) student and independent candidate. If elected, Warren will focus on fighting rising tuition costs and food insecurity, as well as advocate for fairer academic policies at UTM.
“I want a student’s university experience to be as great as mine was, and I really care about everyone,” said Warren. “I want to work hard so students don’t have to. I don’t want them to have to worry about tuition. I just want them to enjoy their time at the university.”
If elected, Warren hopes to unify students together and lobby the government to revert their OSAP and Student Choice Initiative decision. “There’s strength in numbers when we go to politicians and ask them for change. I want to protect student groups, and I want to protect students in financial need, especially international students.”
Warren also hopes to continue a dialogue with MPs and the administration to ensure a student perspective is involved in the decision-making process.
During an interview with The Medium, Warren criticized his opponent’s campaign for having too narrow of a focus, stating, “At the candidates forum, I asked [Malhotra] what the number one issue for her portfolio was, and she said it was the high rate of tuition for international students […] This job is something I’ve worked a lot on. I know what’s going on, and what it entails […] She’s an international student who saw an issue with international student fees and wanted to reduce them. For me, there’s so much more at stake. I do feel like, when I asked that question, it was a very political response. For VP Internal, our position has nothing to do with what the President or VP External are doing.”
Student Choice Initiative
While speaking to The Medium, Abdullah criticized the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
The initiative, which is planning to launch on September 1, 2019, will allow students to opt-out of fees which have been deemed “non-essential” by the Ontario government. Virtually all student-run services, such students’ unions and campus newspapers, will be made optional.
Abdullah argued that the opt-out option would make it hard for students to get involved on campus. Abdullah said that, if elected, his team would work with different levels of the provincial and municipal government to see how they can reverse the changes and highlight the importance of campus life.
“What started out as a promise of saving students’ money ended up being a way of defunding student-led and student-run services,” continued Abdullah. “We need to recognize that services on campus provide essential services and hubs for people to get involved on our campus. [Through clubs and societies] students can find a place where they belong.”
When asked how the team would cope with the flux in their budget next year if elected, Malhotra stated, “The budget is definitely going to take a hit next year, but we’ll be looking to keep all our cost-effective services and events that add to and make the UTMSU what it is.”
A main platform point for Students United involves expanding the Mississauga U-Pass to include Brampton. According to Abdullah, the union pushed for an expansion during first semester, but the price they were offered by the Brampton transit agency was “inaccessible.”
“The price that we were offered didn’t add up to the prices we calculated based on the figures we were provided by the university. There was an additional cost that accounted for profit in this program, but that’s not something we’re going to do. We won’t let transit agencies make a profit off students on our campus. We got the price, we weren’t happy with it, and we’ve continued to work on it. We’ve already started communicating with some of the new city councillors who have agreed that the price we had is inaccessible, and there could be better avenues to reduce it.”
Abdullah cited regional councillors Martin Medeiros and Gurpreet Dhillon as two of the UTMSU’s biggest supporters in Brampton for the U-Pass expansion. “We’re going to see how we can reduce the price and make sure it’s a cost-efficient service.”
Student Centre Services
Ali commented on the impact the SCI will have on the union’s food centre, stating, “We recognize that, in the face of cuts, we don’t know what it’ll look like. But we will look for external funding and sponsorships to ensure we keep this service that is vital to a lot of students up and running.” Approximately 120 to 150 students use the food centre per month.
When asked about the student centre expansion, Abdullah spoke about the need for it, citing lack of space for clubs, failing infrastructure, and limited space in the pub kitchen as reasons why the expansion is overdue.
On whether their slate will continue advocating for a student centre expansion, Abdullah said that it would not be a major priority for them. “With the issues we are going to be facing next year, we’re unsure if we will be able to make it a priority. We don’t want to promise something we can’t fully dedicate ourselves to and work towards. We’ll still be working on it, but it’s not one of our biggest priorities.”
On the UTMSU
Candidates also commented on what they thought the union could improve upon next year.
Warren mentioned the need for a diverse range of opinions on student issues, stating, “The UTMSU has good people working behind it. They have good intentions. However, you don’t make friends with your friends, you make friends with your enemies […] if there’s one thing I would change, it would be to make the students’ union for everyone, even for people who don’t like students’ unions […] There definitely has to be a lot more input [from students].”
Ali hopes to spearhead work that could be done on accessibility by ensuring closed-captioning during lectures, and establishing a more mandatory role for note-takers.
Malhotra aims to improve international student turnout by bringing them together onto one platform. A top priority for the VP Internal candidate would be to establish an international student commission where international students can come together, voice their concerns, see what they want to work on, and direct the UTMSU on what they should be doing for international students.”
“The students’ union takes its directives from its members, and international students are a big part of the union’s membership,” said Malhotra.
Miguel thought that the UTMSU could benefit by increasing transparency and awareness on what the UTMSU does among students.
Abdullah wanted to see the union engage with the membership more by engaging with the students on the ground, publicizing meetings and events, and seeing what students want the UTMSU to be doing for them.
“Students want to hear more about the work that we’re doing,” said Abdullah. “We need to do a better job at telling students exactly what we’re doing.
The voting period is from March 19 to March 21, and polling stations can be found in Davis, IB, Deerfield, Kaneff, CCT, MAM, and the North Building.