By James Falls, March 1 2019 —
Three candidates running for the vice-president external position in the 2019 Students’ Union general election answered questions on Feb. 27 in a MacHall forum that became increasingly more unconventional for an SU election forum as it proceeded.
Austin Caron, Sadiya Nazir and Anayat Sidhu answered questions from current SU president Sagar Grewal and audience members.
Late into the forum, Caron faced a series of questions from audience members related to his past. When asked about his record of leadership impeachments from various student clubs, Caron refused to answer the question.
“I don’t know how to respond to that because very little is true. I have no response and I will not answer,” he said.
Caron had a similar response when asked about a quote found on his Instagram account — “How do you lower the difficulty setting on Tinder?” — and how that relates to his platform on sexual violence awareness.
“That was made in jest. I’m unsure how it relates so I won’t entertain [the question],” he said.
Incumbent vice-president external Anayat Sidhu left the forum after 45 minutes. She said she was on a lunch break and was only permitted to speak in the time allotted to her by the SU. Most of Sidhu’s answers during the forum were also cut short by Grewal for going over the time limit.
When asked by an audience member whether they would advocate for free tuition if elected, all candidates decisively said they would not. Sidhu said she believed that grants were better than universal free tuition. Caron said, “No.” Nazir said it was “not feasible given the tax burden Albertans would incur.”
The remainder of the forum struck a more ordinary tone by SU forum standards.
Grewal asked the candidates what role they plan to play on the three lobbying groups the SU works with for each level of government.
Caron said he wants to focus on the internal revenue and governance committee at the federal level, ongoing advocacy for tuition freezes at the provincial level and expanding transit access and secondary suite options at the municipal level.
Sidhu said she would prioritize working on the national advocacy committee at the federal level, working with fellow university delegates on shared priorities at the provincial level and exploring electronic transit payment options and a tribunal board for students facing transit tickets at the municipal level.
Nazir said her priorities included a repayment assistance program at the federal level. At the provincial level, Nazir highlighted ensuring affordability and accessibility are taken into account, while at the municipal level she said she would advocate for an appeals process for students facing transit tickets.
The candidates were also asked what municipal issue championed by the current SU they believed is most important or what different issue they would want to focus on.
Caron said there should be a greater emphasis on sources of stress, saying, “The greatest failure of council is not taking mental health initiatives seriously.” Sidhu said she believed the SU succeeded in “showing the importance of a students’ union” through its collaboration with other unions in the province, adding that she opposed policy in Ontario that make students’ union fees optional. Nazir said she would like to see a greater focus on an appeal process for students’ transit tickets.
When asked for their opinions on making SU fees optional, both Nazir and Sidhu disagreed with the idea. Nazir added that since “over 90 per cent of SU revenue is generated through businesses in MacHall,” it won’t be affected as much. According to the SU’s audited financials, about 62 per cent of SU revenue is generated through MacHall.
Sidhu said that governments shouldn’t meddle in student union fees and “that all parties need to understand the services and programs an SU provides.” Caron took the question as an opportunity to introduce a new platform point. He proposed a sliding scale for fees, where students who wish to pay more can, while receiving “a generous tax benefit for donating more.”
Voting days for the 2019 SU General Election are March 5–7. Students can vote through their my.ucalgary.ca page or at in-person voting booths. View all candidates’ platforms here.