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Louie Villanueva

SU president-elect talks campaign strategies, university administration and Batman

By Kate Jacobson, March 8 2016 —

Stephan Guscott will be the University of Calgary Students’ Union’s next president after handily winning this year’s election. We sat down with him to discuss his win and the year ahead.

The Gauntlet: You won the election with 48 per cent of the vote. Nick Boots received 28 per cent, and Jordan Grant won 24. What kind of numbers were you expecting?

Stephan Guscott: I was just expecting it to be a lot tighter. I thought my biggest competition was definitely Boots, but I know I talked to a lot of students who also talked about Grant’s campaign. I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it was. But three years in a row, I usually win by a pretty big margin. So I can officially say I’m not going to run in another SU election.

I’m actually ecstatic for that. In the past couple of weeks I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with my family. I live on my own, so I usually try to see my mom and dad once a week, as my dad lives in long-term care. But it was still a good time. I’m looking forward to spending some more time off on weekends now.

G: On U of C Confessions, there was a post that read: “I feel like the quality of a Student Union campaign is inversely-proportional to the quality of the candidate. The one guy with the shitty posters that are like ‘Hey I have a beard so uh how about Batman with a beard? Vote for me’ is the only one of the presidential candidates who ever sounds like he knows what he’s talking about at the actual debate thingies.” What are your thoughts on this?

Guscott: The original reason that I selected Batman is because I ride a motorcycle and I own a lot of motorcycle armour and the Batman theme has a very recognizable logo. My last name, you can’t use it for a pun. You can’t really do anything fun with it. And my first name is hard to spell, so it’s hard to communicate it to enough students to recognize it on the ballot.

My original plan was actually to build a Batmobile out of cardboard, but because of time restrictions that ended up not being as easy as expected. Although cardboard construction is a lot of fun, if you’ve never done it before.

I considered a lumberjack theme.  I was definitely considering doing a beard-themed campaign. The reason I picked Batman is so I could piggyback off the theme. It’s something everyone understands and identifies with. Most people know who Batman is and establishing a brand is not something I have a lot of experience with.

One thing I was extremely concerned about halfway through was that my theme was very gimmicky and not very serious, but my two competitors were running very serious campaigns. I tempered that by bringing out the third poster design, which I pulled out for the second week, which had me in more serious apparel.

G: This year was quite contentious between university administration and the Students’ Union over MacHall. How do you think that will play out?

Guscott: I think I definitely have an advantage, having been with the SU for the past two years, especially with MacHall. I’m familiar with a lot of things that have happened over the past two years, before they went public and all the processes that happened. So it’s more about filling in the details right now and where things have come from instead of just the high-level important things, in order to gain a full understanding of what’s happening.

G: Your predecessor, Levi Nilson, had a fairly confrontational relationship with administration. What do you anticipate your relationship with administration being like?

Guscott: I think it really depends on the university. While the university may not have believed it, I think Nilson was quite willing to be reasonable, or not as adversarial as they may have perceived him to be. He really does stand up for students, from my conversations with him.

I think it depends on whether or not the university will be reasonable in how they are discussing things like MacHall and student investment. Because if they aren’t being reasonable, then it’s expected that I would be adversarial, and I am entirely willing to do that. If there isn’t a deal that comes out of mediation, I am totally comfortable going just as hard as Nilson is.

G: Do you think the university is waiting for a weaker, less adversarial SU executive?

Guscott: I don’t know. They could be. But with the team of staff, and my experience working with them previously, I don’t think they should expect that this year.

G: What will be the differences between how you and Nilson handle the role?

Guscott: Nilson, he prioritizes his time based on things he is passionate about — usually government advocacy. I tend to focus more on academic things, based on my background. One thing he didn’t prioritize is advocating on academic issues as much, but you could also argue that’s because I was focusing on that entirely. That’s something I would focus on more this year.

He has a lot of background in political science and advocating to the government as the previous vice-president external, so that’s an area I have to focus more on improving. One of my strengths is my previous academic advocacy, and I want to continue that in my role as president.

G: Tristan Bray, Patrick Ma, Branden Cave and Alicia Lunz will be on the executive next year. What’s your assessment of the team you’ll be managing?

Guscott: I’m super excited for next year. I know that all the candidates that ran, including myself, put in a lot of effort. It was hard-fought wins all across the board. And for the candidates that were acclaimed, they are extremely excited. As a team, we’ll be different from this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We each have different strengths and we complement each other nicely.

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