Every year during reading week, the Gauntlet puts together a Students’ Union election supplement to inform students on who is running, what they plan to do if elected and who we think is best for the job.
We invite all executive candidates to our office for a five-minute platform pitch and a 10-minute question and answer session. Our panel of Gauntlet staff picks apart their platform and grills them on some of the key issues they will face if elected.
This year more than ever demonstrated the importance of a competent student government. The MacHall ownership dispute between the SU and administration put student issues at the forefront of campus debate. Rather than caving in, the SU stuck to their guns and fought the university tooth and nail. Had we chosen incompetent leaders during last year’s election, the outcome might have been very different.
We understand the SU election can be annoying. Posters cover every possible inch of wall space during the campaign period and costumed candidates come to your classes to beg for votes. It can seem juvenile, but that doesn’t mean the outcome isn’t important. The SU’s decisions affect the student body as a whole, and it’s crucial we elect capable officials with our best interests at heart. And you can’t properly judge a candidate on a goofy poster or 90-second classroom visit.
Once you’ve read our reviews, look for our panel’s endorsements. These are the candidates we feel would do the best job if elected, based on their interview, platform and previous experience. But don’t just take our word for it. Every candidate’s platform is on the SU website, and most candidates make themselves available during the campaign if you have any questions.
And of course, don’t forget to vote March 1-3. You can vote online through your student centre or in person via ballot boxes in MacHall.
The president is the leader of the Students’ Union. They have the most flexible portfolio, but they’re generally in charge of setting a direction for the organization. They also maintain official relations with the university, oversee the work of Students’ Legislative Council and vote on the Board of Governors. Look for an assured, pragmatic candidate who’s aware of the challenges facing the SU.
Nick Boots has some platform points that make him a feasible choice for Students’ Union president. However, most of his initiatives fall outside the SU’s jurisdiction and would be difficult to achieve.
Boots took a populist approach to his campaign, consulting with students and campus organizations for months before crafting his platform. While admirable, this strategy resulted in some impractical goals.
Boots wants to advocate for cheaper textbooks and parking discounts on evenings and weekends. But parking prices at the University of Calgary are determined by assessing other post-secondary institutions in Calgary and charging similar rates, and convincing the third party companies in charge of parking to decrease their prices would be a hard sell. Boots argued large data collection and shrewd negotiating could show these companies their prices lose customers. His plan for battling textbook costs would use a similar approach. But collecting statistics on a large scale is a huge time sink and — considering there’s no chance this will work — it’s a misplaced priority.
Although it’s in his online platform, Boots didn’t bring up the MacHall lease negotiations until prompted. When asked about it, Boots claimed he’d continue the fight for student control of the building, citing student investment into MacHall over the last several decades. But not bringing up the issue of his own accord is a red flag.
His catchiest ideas are a Bermuda Shorts Day-like homecoming party in September and a weeklong cultural fair to celebrate diversity on campus. He believes this party would give incoming students a chance to meet others before starting classes, decreasing loneliness later on. Regarding diversity week, Boots suggests ethnic student clubs could have booths to showcase their country’s food and culture. His conversations with Campus Security and current SU executives shows he understands the process behind planning these events.
One unique aspect of Boots’ platform is his focus on charity. During the campaign period, he wants to set up donation boxes around campus to donate old shoes and shoe-shining stations where students can donate $2 to the Calgary Drop-in Centre. It feels strategic, but using the SU election’s publicity to do some charitable good is a noble cause. It’s surprising other candidates aren’t doing anything similar.
Boot’s thorough consultation with his constituents and his strong personality make him a viable candidate for president. While most of his goals are impractical given the SU’s authority, give him your vote if you like his ideas and passion.
• U of C Conservative Association president
• Fifth-year finance student
Jordan Grant has a solid business resume, but this doesn’t change the fact that his platform is filled with some baffling, misguided ideas.
Grant’s platform focuses on attempting to turn the University of Calgary into an “entrepreneurial university.” He thinks by shifting the school’s focus towards small business and startups, the U of C can solve many — if not all — of its problems.
By building partnerships with venture capitalists and investment firms through unspecified means, Grant hopes to increase the funding and resources available to students wishing to start their own businesses. He claims this will not only help students find jobs, but also fix the economy, raise enrolment and cause university administration to be nicer to us.
Grant wasn’t able to provide details on what these partnerships would entail, or how he might go about making them while president of the Students’ Union. These plans also assume there is significant demand for startup funding at the U of C, and ignores any students that may be uninterested in that type of opportunity.
His strangest claim — that a focus on entrepreneurship would cause administration to respect students and stop their efforts to take control of MacHall — also showed a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between the SU and the U of C.
Grant didn’t mention the ongoing MacHall lease negotiations in his platform. He claims this is because the issue should be over by the time he takes office. This is a misinformed notion that demonstrates Grant’s lack of awareness on issues facing the SU.
Grant’s other main platform point is a plan to split the SU’s policy review committee into two separate committees — one to review past policy and one to develop future policy. He thinks too much policy is redundant, and believes keeping people who are drafting new policy separate from people who are examining old policy will somehow do something to solve this issue.
Grant has experience with the SU as a faculty representative, but this only makes his platform even more confusing. It’s hard to believe that a member of the Student Legislative Council could have such misguided priorities.
Grant’s ideas may appeal to some business-minded students, but his ignorance of key issues make him this year’s weakest candidate for president.
• SU Haskayne representative
• President and co-founder of Elysium Inc.
Stephan Guscott may not have a flashy campaign, but he has a complex understanding of the issues facing the Students’ Union. He is easily the most qualified candidate for president, coming across as level-headed and poised during his interview.
Guscott’s term as an SU executive means he understands the importance of MacHall ownership. Regardless of the mediation’s outcome, the issue likely won’t go away and next year’s president needs to be prepared to follow through. Having already been involved in major decisions regarding the dispute, Guscott would be able to spearhead those decisions in the coming year. Neither of the other presidential candidates mentioned MacHall and when asked about it, they had nowhere near Guscott’s understanding.
In addition to the pressing issue of MacHall ownership, Guscott wants to put a student representative on the university committee that recommends who should be appointed to the Board of Governors. Guscott says he wants students to hold the board accountable, something desperately needed in the wake of scandals like the Enbridge affair.
He also pledged to change the SU committee nominations processes in order to give students outside the SU the ability to sit on university committees.
These aren’t the catchiest or most popular ideas, but they are practical and well thought out. More student representation at the upper levels of decision-making would only be a good thing.
Guscott seems knowledgeable about the upcoming provincial Adult Learning Systems review, the inevitable end of the tuition freeze, student representation on faculty councils and increased residence fees. He hit the main issues the SU will face next year without prompting.
Guscott’s platform is about protecting students in the longterm. He would serve as a level-headed presence in negotiations over MacHall, and his plans to introduce more student voices on university committees would ensure student representation in the years to come.
After two terms with the SU, first as a kinesiology representative and then as vice-president academic, Guscott brings experience and a complex understanding of the boring but necessary aspects of student governance.
As drab and bureaucratic as his platform may sound, Guscott is qualified, professional and prepared to lead the SU next year.
• SU vice-president academic
• SU Faculty of Kinesiology representative 2014–15
Correction: The Gauntlet originally stated that Stephan Guscott wanted to put a student representative on the committee that appoints members to the Board of Governors. The committee in question only recommends appointments to the provincial government, who appoints all members. We apologize to our readers for these errors.
The vice-president external is the Students’ Union’s representative to municipal, provincial and federal governments. They are also the primary delegate for the many umbrella lobbying organizations the SU takes part in. Vote for the candidate you think can hold their own in a meeting with cabinet ministers and city councillors.
After losing by just one per cent last year, Tristan Bray returns to the fight for vice-president external with more confidence and a better platform.
Like the other candidates for the position, Bray suggested amending the province’s Post-Secondary Learning Act to eliminate the loophole that allows for faculty-specific fee hikes known as market modifiers, as well as loopholes allowing mandatory non-instructional fees to rise faster than the rate of inflation. He also sees the possibility for legislation mandating student representation on faculty councils, which is an interesting way to get around administration’s reluctance on that issue.
Bray plans to lobby the provincial government to amend post-secondary mental health funding from non-renewable lump funding to annual payouts based on the number of students in each school. It’s a large ask of a province facing a budget shortfall, but Bray argues the new government will be friendlier to these ideas than the Tories were.
With regards to student jobs, Bray wants to push the provincial government to increase the scope of the Student Temporary Employment Program, expanding eligibility to include recent grads and maintaining the program year-round. Though a lofty goal, this is an advantage for Bray, as neither of the other candidates mentioned student employment in their platforms.
He was also the only candidate to mention municipal issues. Bray briefly touched on the fee hikes to the UPass, and mentioned that he wanted to create an appeals process for students who forgot their UPass and were ticketed. While it’s an excellent idea, it’s unclear how receptive Calgary Transit would be to the concept.
Bray is the most politician-like of any candidate running for the position. While this mostly makes him confident and well-spoken, he can occasionally come across as smarmy.
His platform is ambitious and he’ll likely get bogged down on one or more of these issues if elected. But all of his platform points are solid. If he got only a handful of them done, it would still be a successful year for the Students’ Union.
• Former Liberal club president
• Faculty of Arts Students’ Association political science representative
Martin Cruz has the experience and qualifications to handle the vice-president external portfolio.
Cruz promised to expand the lobby-training program piloted by current vice-president Romy Garrido and prep students for committee involvement. He also wants to secure mental health funding and advocate for amending the post-secondary learning act to abolish market modifiers and mandatory non-instructional fee loopholes. These ideas come up every year, but they’re still good ones.
In his interview, Cruz demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of student lobbying, the upcoming review of Adult Learning Systems and organizations like the Council of Alberta University Students — key aspects of the portfolio.
His platform and interview were full of familiar buzzwords like “engagement,” “advocacy” and “transparency.” Despite this, Cruz has the knowledge and experience to follow through on at least some of his promises.
Cruz already has experience in student government and lobbying at the college level. His work as both the vice-president student life and president of the Red Deer College Students’ Association proves his passion for advocacy and student politics. Since transferring to the University of Calgary, Cruz has also been involved with the Faculty of Arts Students Association as their vice-president operations and finance.
The vice-president external needs to be poised and confident when lobbying administration and the government. Cruz is both of these things.
He spoke about developing advocacy priorities and strategies at the U of C and then bringing those to organizations like CAUS, instead of the other way around. This mentality of working from “the inside out,” as he called it, is a pragmatic approach to the portfolio. And his focus on students in the university community to help lobby external stakeholders is smart and well thought-out.
If elected, Cruz would do a fine job with the external portfolio, though his ideas are pretty standard stuff.
• Red Deer College Student’ Association president 2013–2014
• Faculty of Arts Students’ Association vice-president operations & finance
Along with securing provincial funding for mental health, Jen Tokarek wants to close tuition loopholes and regulate mandatory non-instructional fees. She also plans to host digital townhalls on social media where students can ask politicians questions. The final pillar in her platform is ensuring the University of Calgary continues to receive funding for mental health initiatives.
All candidates for vice-president external have affordability and mental health funding somewhere in their platform. Compared to her competitors, Tokarek provided relatively few details on how she plans to accomplish her goals. When pushed for specifics, Tokarek often fell back on buzzwords and didn’t demonstrate a thorough understanding of the issues.
In her interview and online platform, Tokarek states that all it takes to eliminate the market modifier loophole is a meeting between ministers. While this is technically true, it diminishes one of the biggest problems faced by students in recent years. If it’s so easy, how come it hasn’t been done yet? She also provided little information on how she would convince ministers to have that meeting. If she can’t, she doesn’t seem prepared for a fight.
Hosting digital townhalls is a decent idea. But getting students to participate will be difficult and those that do are likely to be politically informed students already involved on campus. It’s difficult to see what offering already engaged students another megaphone will accomplish. In a relatively short three-point platform, it seems like an odd priority.
When asked how she would like to see tuition regulated in Alberta, Tokarek said she favoured an inflation-tied cap on tuition. This is the most sensible option and she should get points for picking it.
Tokarek is the only external candidate who is currently a member of Students’ Legislative Council. Her experience as an arts faculty representative is a plus, but all three candidates have some experience that makes them a good fit for the position. Tokarek would likely do a fine job as vice-president external, but she brings few new ideas to the table and there are better options out there.
• Students’ Union arts faculty representative
• Vice-president fundraising Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club
Operations & Finance
The vice-president operations and finance manages Students’ Union’s finances and interacts with university administration regarding capital planning and development. The position also chairs the operations and finance committee.
Branden Cave’s interview was a relief. He is acclaimed as the vice-president operations and finance, and has the seriousness and knowledge to manage the portfolio in a contentious year.
Cave mentioned the struggle over MacHall’s ownership without being prompted, granting it a prominent place in his platform. He gave the issue the gravity it deserves, and was confident and articulate when defending student investment in the building.
The rest of his platform was comprised of smaller goals, like helping faculty representatives with their reporting at Students’ Legislative Council and using Students’ Union resources to help clubs draft sustainable policy and seek external sponsorship.
Cave also wants to publish the SU’s budget online, which has been attempted before with limited success. However, he did acknowledge the limitations of publishing the entire budget — third-party and confidentiality agreements — and seems prepared to back this generic platform point up with action.
One of his most interesting ideas is the creation of a Mental Health Fund similar to the Sustainability Fund. Students would access the fund by submitting a project proposal. While the project could have limited success, it’s an approach to mental health backed up with an actual idea and refreshingly few buzzwords.
Residence issues form a sizeable chunk of Cave’s platform. He wants to use the SU’s lobbying power to push for better meal plan options in the Dining Centre and ensure that fee hikes in residence don’t push it out of the reach of ordinary students. Cave acknowledged that neither of these issues are really in his portfolio, as the SU president is traditionally responsible for issues involving residence. His prioritization of residence was out of place in what was an otherwise focused platform.
Of all the executive candidates, Cave had one of the best grasps of what his position actually entails. He knew his portfolio and what initiatives would require collaboration with other SU executives.
Cave will be an excellent representative for students in negotiations with university administration, and a steady hand on the SU’s internal operations.
• Faculty of Arts Students’ Association vice-president communications 2014–2015
• Residence Students’ Association student representative 2013–14
The vice-president student life is in charge of events like Orientation Week, Frostbite and Bermuda Sports Day, as well as whatever wacky rooms the SU dreams up. Pick a candidate who understands all parts of their portfolio and is enthusiastic about campus life.
Zehra Buzreba has a fine-tuned grasp of social life at the University of Calgary. She understands the difficulty of meeting new people and the problems loneliness can lead to. She’s clearly enthusiastic about these issues, but her ideas lack precision.
Buzreba wants to reallocate Students’ Union events funding to host weekly events in the MacHall courtyard so students always have something to do. She says this idea, along with cleaning up the U of C’s poster boards, was inspired by her time at SAIT. It’s a decent idea, but logistics will be tricky and getting students to actually pay attention will be even trickier.
Buzreba has been involved with a large variety of clubs and organizations on campus. She was a host for NUTV, as well as a member of the Women in Leadership club and the Mustard Seed U of C. Buzreba said she feels like “more of an everyman” as a result. She thinks the SU needs to target students who need it most, not those who are already engaged. This is an excellent approach to the portfolio and all student life candidates should keep it in mind.
Boosting Dinos pride on campus is another of Buzreba’s main platform points. She said other post-secondary institutions in Calgary support their varsity teams more than the U of C. She plans to integrate Dinos swag into SU giveaways and prizes. Buzreba also wants to get Dinos players out promoting their own games. People have been trying to raise attendance levels at Dinos games for years, but outside of events like the Crowchild Classic and Kickoff, that effort has largely failed. There is little reason to believe Buzreba’s approach would be any more successful.
She also critiqued some of the gimmicky approaches to mental health issues on campus. Thankfully, this year’s student life candidates haven’t proposed any wacky rooms. At the same time, Buzreba’s solution of hosting more events doesn’t seem like it would help students all that much either.
Buzreba expertly diagnoses some of the U of C’s issues. Unfortunately, her cures could be better thought out, and she came across as nervous during the interview. If she hones some of her ideas and remains as enthusiastic, watch out for Buzreba next year.
• Assistant Director of Events for Alliances in Marketing
• Host for NUTV
Austin Campbell is an eager candidate for the position of vice-president student life, but his lack of experience and limited knowledge of his own platform points make him unprepared for the job.
Campbell’s platform focuses on implementing a start-of-year party called Community Unity, a partnership with American business Terracycle and the creation of faculty-specific social media communities.
Campbell hopes to have live music and art at the centre of his Community Unity event. Other candidates expressed similar ideas for back-to-school gatherings, but compared to his competitors, Campbell’s understanding of the logistics for such an event was sorely lacking.
He has some relevant event coordination experience, but didn’t have a concrete plan to ensure the success of Community Unity.
Campbell also wants the SU to partner with Terracycle to recycle commonly littered items like cigarette butts as a form of revenue. He says the initiative is important because one cigarette butt can contaminate eight litres of water. Campbell seemed enthusiastic and passionate about green initiatives, but was shaky on most of the details.
It’s a unique idea, but it’s hard to see how the economic benefits would be anything but marginal. The initiative is also not within the vice-president student life portfolio, something Campbell admitted himself.
He also plans to strengthen the campus’ sense of community with online spaces moderated by SU faculty representatives for students in each faculty to communicate with each other. Campbell says the project would launch in time for the fall semester and estimates that “at least half” of students would sign up.
The idea is dated and out of touch with currently-used social media communities on campus. He also mentioned wanting to start a “Humans of UCalgary” page, but was unaware that the page already exists and has over 1,500 likes.
Campbell cited mental health issues as the biggest issue facing students. It’s a valid answer, but surprising given he did not mention mental health initiatives during his platform pitch.
Campbell is definitely enthusiastic — he’s attended more Student Legislative Council meetings than any of the other candidates. A couple of his ideas are interesting but none are fleshed out enough to seem feasible. Compared to others running, Campbell is a poor candidate for vice-president student life.
• Assistant operations manager with non-profit BassBus Arts foundation
• Event manager for Grow Calgary Urban Farm
Graham Duff’s diverse platform and pride in the campus community makes him the ideal candidate for vice-president student life. His platform is well-balanced between fun events and student engagement.
Of all of the candidates, Duff’s platform is one of only two that includes building support for the Dinos. His focus on athletics represents an aspect of campus life several other candidates neglect. Duff hopes to connect students to the Dinos during Orientation Week by incorporating their brand into O-Week swag. Although it’s dubious whether this initiative will get more students out to Dinos games, it’s a good start.
Duff also wants to introduce MegaDen — an orientation week event that would combine the Den and the MacEwan concert space for the year’s first Thursden. When asked about the possible downsides, Duff was prepared for any pitfalls, including cleanup, damages and special events liquor licensing. He was clear on the details and prepared to discuss the logistics of hosting such a big event.
Duff hopes to build benches at the bus loop with a Quality Money grant and advocate for better food labelling services in MacHall to distinguish kosher and halal options from other food items. While the benches will likely be more difficult than he suspects, it’s an obvious and welcome solution.
Duff’s platform mentions undergoing a review of mental health services on campus. Although this doesn’t seem like much of a plan, it’s more realistic than providing buzzword solutions to mental health issues. Duff was realistic about the difficulties of appropriately improving mental health services on campus and had a plan that could improve mental health services in the long term.
Duff’s greatest strengths are his research and knowledge of the student life portfolio. His platform points are viable and thoroughly thought out.
• Former chair of the Dinos Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
• League Coordinator on the U of C Intramural Sport Council
Patrick Ma’s second shot at running for vice-president student life shows he learned from our criticism last year. Ma’s sophomore platform is more coherent and sensible than it was in 2015, though it lacks some of the passion and energy that used to set him apart.
While his goal to restructure club funding would be a welcome change, his plan to spotlight clubs in an email newsletter is irrelevant. And though his proposed Pizza Day sounds fun, Ma appears to have done little research on how this idea would actually be implemented or what its benefits are.
His ideas for supporting students are much stronger. Ma’s plan to increase networking opportunities for graduating students is just as smart as when he proposed it last year, and his proposed audit of physical accessibility on campus could result in dramatic quality-of-life improvements for physically disabled students at the U of C.
Ma’s goals surrounding mental health also feature some strong ideas. He wants to work with the SU Wellness Centre to find and address the biggest sources of stress for students. Doing so could be useful in developing a more comprehensive mental health strategy, but more specifics on the plan are needed. His idea for revamping destress kits is similarly lacking in detail.
Ma enlisted the help of former vice-president student life Jonah Ardiel in running his campaign this year, and it shows — for better and for worse. His platform is packed with sensible ways to improve the student experience, but the way Ma talked about them felt rehearsed. He recited much of his online platform word for word during the interview. Initiatives for non-club focused student engagement were also lacking, especially when compared to last year’s platform.
Ma only seemed genuinely excited about his proposed Pizza Day, which was also his least organized idea. If he wants to succeed in this position, he will have to learn to blend this enthusiasm with thoughtfulness.
However, these are small criticisms compared to last year. Ma has improved in almost every way, and is now a serious contender for vice-president student life.
• Current psychology department representative for the Faculty of Arts Students Association
• Co-creator of the Mental Health Alliance
The vice-president academic is responsible for all relevant academic matters, including liaising with faculty
representatives, promoting undergraduate research and increasing the quality of education and teaching.
Alicia Lunz is acclaimed as the vice-president academic. While she has some interesting ideas in her platform, they’ll need more thought if she wants to have a successful term.
Lunz’s priority is giving students the chance to evaluate their TAs midway through the semester. By standardizing the way TAs receive feedback, she wants less discrepancy in how they grade their students. This goal shows up almost every election, and Lunz doesn’t have any concrete ideas for making it a reality. She admitted it’s a difficult task, but stressed that it’s her biggest priority for the year.
She also wants to create volunteer-led seminars that teach students proper research techniques. Lunz says undergraduates might be discouraged from pursuing research because they may not learn how to do it properly in their courses. She wants graduate students with relevant experience to lead the seminars, but the demand for such seminars is debateable.
Her most polished platform point is expanding student representation on the Academic Appeals Committee. Lunz wants students on the committee to be better trained in order to properly evaluate appeals. Her predecessor, Stephan Guscott, already laid the groundwork for this, and Lunz seems ready to finish what he started.
With no need to exert energy campaigning this year, Lunz has a great opportunity to learn the ropes to the academic portfolio early. She’ll need the headstart to get some of her plans off the ground.
Lunz has been around campus for a long time, which gives her a solid perspective of the academic issues facing students. She was the SU nursing representative for two years, with some recent success in the role, securing her faculty the opportunity to attend the rural skills weekend in Brooks. Her committee experience with the SU will also be a big asset.
All in all, Lunz has the tools to be a successful vice-president academic.
• SU nursing representative 2014-2016
• Quality Money and Nominations committee member