October 5, 2017 —
The University of Calgary Students’ Union is holding a byelection next week. Students from the faculties of education and medicine will elect a representative to fill vacant positions and all students can vote for a student-at-large to sit on the senate.
The byelection’s purpose of democratically filling positions left vacant in their general election or because of resignations is necessary. However, there’s one vacant position within the SU that students won’t see on their ballots — the vice-president external job, which Shubir Shaikh stepped down from on Sept. 28. We wish him all the best.
Unfortunately, the resignation fell two weeks after the deadline in which vacant positions are eligible to be included in the ongoing byelection. That means that Shaikh’s replacement will be chosen by the SU’s nominations committee, which is comprised entirely of Students’ Legislative Council members. Also, applications are restricted to people who are currently sitting on SLC.
The last time that an SU executive left their position mid-term was three years ago, when Hana Kadri resigned as vice-president academic to run in provincial politics. However, that occurred late enough in the year that the incoming VP academic was able to step into the job early.
The departure of an SU executive is extremely uncommon. But for the cases where it does occur, a procedure should be in place to deal with late replacements that grants every student a role in deciding who takes over.
There are still seven months left in this term for current SU elected officials. This means that the person who serves as vice-president external will have the job for the majority of the year without being elected into the particular job. The VP external is the students’ advocate to various levels of government. This aspect of the position makes it all the more important that they are all chosen by students — not only members of SLC.
Yes, byelections are expensive. The current one will cost the SU just over $14,000, between paying election staff, technical requirements and allocating money for candidates. But the extra money is worthwhile to ensure that students can vote in a candidate that they want to represent them. Additional funds should be set aside in the budget in case such a rare instance occurs.
Even if a byelection was financially unfeasible, a few changes could be made to make the replacement of an executive more open. The SU’s nominations committee could be expanded to include students-at-large and the application process could welcome applications from all students, instead of just students who are currently sitting on SLC. While members of nominations committee will do their best to be unbiased in their selections, there’s always the potential for personal conflicts of interest when members of SLC are choosing among other members of SLC to fulfil a vacant role.
As with the case of Shaikh’s resignation, it’s always tough for a team to lose an integral member. The SU’s current procedure at least guarantees that a candidate familiar with the SU can promptly step into the role. But an election would better honour the democracy upon which students’ unions operate by allowing students to have a direct role in selecting a replacement.
Jason Herring, Gauntlet Editorial Board