By Sean Willett, August 2 2017 —
The Students’ Union is stepping up its advocacy efforts in advance of Calgary’s upcoming municipal election. With students and non-students alike going to the polls in October, the SU wants to inform candidates about issues affecting those that live, work and study at the University of Calgary.
The SU’s political advocacy is handled by president Branden Cave and vice-president external Shubir Shaikh and primarily focuses on provincial and federal politics. However, Shaikh said that this municipal election will be critical for the SU’s lobbying efforts. With several incumbent councillors not running for re-election, the SU has an opportunity to advance one of its long-standing advocacy issues — secondary suite reform.
“Last summer we saw reform around legal secondary suites almost pass council. It was short by only a couple of votes,” Shaikh said. “So this election is important because there are a few incumbents that are not running. We feel that if we can talk to every candidate and make sure that student issues are being voiced to all the candidates and they make them election issues then hopefully we can see some results for all of our issues, but especially secondary suites.”
Reform around secondary suites — self-contained housing units within single-family homes — has been an SU advocacy issue for over a decade. Currently, Calgary homeowners that apply to build a legal secondary suite are approved or denied on a case-by-case basis by city council. The SU argues that this lengthy approval process has resulted in the creation of “tens of thousands” of illegal secondary suites throughout the city and that a more streamlined legalization process would help address this problem.
But secondary suites are not the only issue on the SU’s agenda this election. The union is also advocating for the implementation of a tribunal system to handle bylaw violations. This would keep minor violations out of provincial courts, which Shaikh said could help students deal with things like transit tickets.
“Right now if a student forgets their UPass they get a ticket from Calgary Transit,” he said. “We don’t think it’s fair because, for example, if a driver forgets their driver’s license they have 24 hours to produce the driver’s license to the police. Why can’t a student do the same if they forget their UPass, which is on their UCID and is non-transferable?”
Shaikh believes that a tribunal system would help handle appeals like this while also simplifying the process for students.
“It makes it a lot easier for students so they don’t have to navigate the complex system of the provincial courts,” Shaikh explained. “It takes time away for the students and it would be more efficient for the government. They shouldn’t be dealing with simple bylaw infractions like this.”
Along with these recommendations, the SU is advocating for increased transit service to suburban communities. They have also called for the creation of a bylaw that would make multi-ward advanced polling stations mandatory on post-secondary campuses.
To advance these issues, the SU has reached out to all declared mayoral and city council candidates to request face-to-face meetings. SU representatives have met with around 25 candidates so far and Shaikh plans to keep pushing for meetings as the election draws nearer.
“So far the response has been really positive from the candidates,” Shaikh said. “Every single candidate that replied to us said they would like to meet with us. We understand that some candidates aren’t in full campaign mode yet, so when summer is over and election season kicks in hopefully they’ll get back to us.”
Shaikh said that he feels encouraged by the candidates the SU has already met with.
“All of the issues that we’ve highlighted were received positively by the candidates we’ve met,” he said. “They have different ways of going about it but they all agree with our priorities.”
However, this advocacy means little if students don’t actually vote. In an effort to make students a cohesive voting bloc in this election, the SU is planning several student engagement initiatives.
The largest of these will be a campus “Get Out The Vote” campaign. This initiative will feature competitions between residence buildings, clubs and students that task contenders with signing up other students to pledge to vote.
The SU will also host a mayoral forum in partnership with the U of C and the Graduate Students’ Association and a multi-ward meet-and-greet in collaboration with the GSA. Both events will take place at the U of C and are intended to allow students to interact directly with mayoral and city council candidates.
The U of C is located within Ward 7 for the upcoming election, but Shaikh believes engagement with candidates from all areas of the city will be beneficial to students.
“We are of course focusing on Ward 7,” he said. “But with that being said, the U of C is a commuter campus, with students coming from all over the city. So we are engaging with candidates all over the city.”
Shaikh said that the SU will continue its increased focus on municipal advocacy after the election is over. SU representatives plan to meet with winning candidates to review student issues after election and intend to schedule regular meetings with city council members. Shaikh also mentioned plans for a letter-writing campaign focusing on the SU’s main election advocacy points.
“Half the battle is the election, the other half is working with who is elected,” Shaikh said. “I’m looking forward to highlighting these issues after the election.”