By Melanie Woods, March 14 2017 —
Current Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance Branden Cave will serve as next year’s SU president after coming out on top in a tight three-candidate race. We sat down with Cave to discuss the campaign, next year and the best way to win over administration.
The Gauntlet: It was a tight race — you won 36 per cent of the vote, Graham Duff came in second with 33 per cent and Steeven Toor got 31 per cent. Did you feel any sort of a shift during the campaign? Was there a moment when you were like ‘hey, I might win this’?
Branden Cave: I hoped the whole time that I would win, but I there was never a moment where I was like ‘yup, this is in the bag, I got ‘er.’ It was more about, head down, keep going, talk to students, do whatever you can do and then just see how it goes. So that was my whole attitude for the whole two weeks — just head down, keep going.
G: Any particularly fun stories from the campaign?
C: One of the best moments was when I was walking in Murray Fraser Hall and it was about 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday or a Tuesday. There was a couple on the other side of the Tim Hortons. So I see them and think ‘oh, I’m going to go around to the other side to [campaign to] them, around this pillar in the middle.’ And just as I was about to go around the pillar, they just started making out. There’s no good way to retreat from that, you just kind of have to back up and then run as fast as you can. So that was one of the most memorable moments of the campaign.
G: This is technically your first SU campaign. You were acclaimed as vice-president operations and finance last year. Do you foresee any difference coming into the SU elected rather than by acclamation?
C: That was a thing I thought a lot about last year with being acclaimed. I had the opportunity to make a change last year — whether it was voted for or acclaimed, I had the ability to get in the sandbox and start working with it. So I think that this year, I do feel a bit more direction in what I’m doing. I do have a platform that students have gotten behind and they voted for. I feel a bit more of a sense of, not really responsibility, differing from last year, but more of a ‘this is what students want.’ And I know I can get it to them and use that when I talk to administration or implement programs in the SU.
G: What do you anticipate your big challenges being next year?
C: I think the big challenge is always — and it will be until it gets sorted — MacHall. It’s been a long year of working on building relationships as vice-president operations and finance and I’ve been working with [current SU president] Stephan Guscott on how we can find a solution that works well for students. And I think we’ve made a lot of progress but it has been a hard year with the results of the injunction decision. I mean, the first week of being in office as vice-president operations and finance, we went to court. I don’t think I ever expected to do that when I started here at university, but it’s been a good learning experience. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work with and talk to administration and I think that’ll be something we can kind of capitalize on next year. And as always, I hope that we can find a solution.
G: How do you see your relationship with administration next year?
C: I see it being very similar to what it’s been this year. The thing that I found most valuable in the years that I’ve spent on campus working for students is that you can get so much more done when you’re collaborating with somebody. When you’re able to find common ground, work together and be moving towards a solution, you can get so much more done. I’m 100 per cent sure that’s what students want. They want to see something get done. So that’s the attitude I’m going into this year with. The fighting is making sure they understand the perspective and understand what we need. The fight is getting everybody moving in the same direction.
G: You’ll be joined this year by four other executives. How do you see that team working together?
C: I think that team is going to be absolutely phenomenal. All four of my vice-presidents have experience in these kind of roles and are very competent in understanding the discourse of the roles they’re going into.
[Incoming vice-president student life] Hilary [Jahelka]’s worked with the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club before and has worked as a Community Advisor in residence — those are just two parts of the student life portfolio that she’s going to be able to pick up and run with. [Incoming vice-president academic] Tina Miller’s been focused on academics, she’s a very strong student, she’s been working with research and stuff at the science level, so I think she’s going to be able to just step into that position. [Incoming vice-president external] Shubir Shaikh’s worked with the Board of Governors [and he] has talked to governments, stuff like that. And again, with [incoming vice-president operations and finance] Ryan [Wallace], he’s been on operations and finance committee, he has a good understanding of the SU and how not-for-profits work. So I really think they’re going to do a phenomenal job this year.
G: Are you excited to step into more of a leadership role in Students’ Legislative Council?
C: I’m excited to lead a team. I’ve had the opportunity to be president of a club before. It’s an entirely different animal — the SU versus a club. I’m looking forward to going into that role, setting the direction and making sure that everybody has the resources and support they need to succeed.
G: Is there anything you’d do differently or change compared to Guscott?
C: Stephan and I actually had our first transition meeting [March 10] and one of the things I told him was I want to benefit from his hindsight now. Because he can look back as a president and see where he would change things [and] I can look back as a vice-president and understand what my vice-presidents need from me. I’m looking to make sure the summer is about them getting as much information as they need — the support, understanding the resources, what they’re capable of. I don’t think people understand what the capabilities are of a vice-president. We have a lot of influence on campus — administration wants to hear from us and that’s why it’s important that students get out and vote in the election. So that’s my focus — making sure they understand the breadth of what they can do.
G: We had fairly high voter turnout this year — 25.1 per cent, up from last year. Can you speak to that at all? Did you see any more engagement from students?
C: It’s funny, you get to the voting days and you start asking students ‘have you voted?’ Because the whole time leading up to voting days you’re going ‘hey, can I talk to you about my platform?’ But when it gets to Tuesday at 9:00 a.m., the question turns to ‘have you voted?’ And for some reason, every student we asked, except for maybe about 10 per cent of them said ‘yeah, we voted already.’ And whether they were telling the truth just to get me to leave them alone or whether they were actually getting out and voting, I think it is very promising. I felt that there was more engagement with this election. There weren’t any acclaimed positions in the executive. Unfortunately, we did have two vacancies, but I did feel students getting a little more engaged with this one.
G: Your campaign was all about “no bullshit” How do you feel you’ll be able to fulfill that? What bullshit will you get rid of?
C: It started with the campaign. I wanted to make sure it was a very vision-focused campaign. I said a lot during the election that I want the 75th SLC to be a turning point for the SU and for students. And I want to clear the bullshit that’s happening right now out of the way, so finding a solution to the MacHall dispute, trying new innovative ways to reach out to students through the Consultative Task Force and focusing so that in years to come it’s just the results that people are focused on, they don’t have to worry about clearing out some of the residue that’s left behind.