June 29 2018 —
The current Students’ Union executive team is incomplete. Following the resignation of then vice-president external elect Puncham Judge in late April, the position was brought to the SU’s Nominations Committee to recommend the appointment of a current Students’ Legislative Council member to the position for the interim until a fall byelection.
Out of four faculty representatives who applied, no one was selected for recommendation. That means the position will remain vacant until mid-October, leaving the job empty for about six months. That’s half of this entire session of SLC.
This is concerning, to say the least.
As students’ representative to all levels of government, the VP external has a crucial role in promoting student concerns and interests to decision-makers. Actions taken by the government, be it regarding tuition regulation, student employment grants, education loans and bursaries or even public transportation, have tangible effects on the livelihoods of students. Though we likely optimistically overestimate the influence of high-level student advocacy, it’s an important job.
The role has heightened importance this year due to both provincial and federal elections taking place in 2019. Creating personal connections with current government officials, staffers and candidates can greatly improve lobbying efforts, which takes time and persistence. Having no one in the role and splitting up the portfolio between four already-busy executives will not achieve this.
Going into election season — particularly the Alberta election to be held before May 31 — the role has priorities in mobilizing the student vote through ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaigns and promoting student concerns to candidates by making them election issues. There will still be time, but not having an executive who can exclusively dedicate their efforts towards this until October is worrisome, especially in terms of building those relationships with candidates.
Admittedly, leaving the position vacant is arguably better than appointing a candidate Nominations Committee believes is unqualified. However, this again emphasizes the inadequate SU rules and policies that govern position vacancies. Under the Union Bylaw, vacancies in any of the vice-president positions can only be filled by a current SLC member until a byelection is conducted, with confirmation by a supermajority of votes from SLC if a faculty representative is recommended. If the vacancy occurs after the nomination deadline of the fall byelection, the appointment stands for the duration of the session.
If the pool of eligible executive appointees is too small to find a suitable recommendation, as has occurred, allowing students not currently on SLC to apply could remedy this. The SLC confirmation vote still gives nominations some semblance of legitimacy, regardless of whether the person was previously elected as a faculty representative or not. Either way, you’d still be putting someone in a role that they were not specifically elected to fulfil.
Ultimately, allowing students to directly participate in selecting the five executive positions is ideal, regardless of when a vacancy occurs. An election legitimizes the position’s role and mandate, fosters accountability to all students and provides a forum for debate of what current priorities for student advocacy should be. Byelections are expensive, but this cost would be somewhat offset by not paying the position’s salary during the vacancy. Additionally, the importance of having students directly vote to select SU executives warrants a contingency budget for such possible byelections.
Having the position become vacant in the summer is tough and would almost certainly result in dismal voter turnout should an election be held. Filling the position in the summer via election would also limit the pool of potential candidates from those who don’t already have plans, be it other employment or classes. But any turnout is more legitimate than the current executive nomination procedure and rubber-stamping confirmation of SLC and would allow the job to be quickly continued by someone dedicated to the role.
Regardless, having an executive position unfilled for six months out of the year is disconcerting. In a tumultuous political landscape, having this position be the one that advocates to the government makes it even more troublesome. At this point, let’s hope that the candidates for the fall byelection are competent, motivated and have a passion for promoting students’ interests — and that the winner is a schmoozing aficionado who can effectively lobby politicians in their limited time.
And if you feel particularly unsatisfied, disaffected or otherwise hyped about student advocacy, why not run yourself?
— Derek Baker, Gauntlet Editorial Board