Final election debate highlights VPFA, President races

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The final debate of the 2017-18 Brock University Students’ Union election took place this past Monday in Isaac’s Bar and Grill. Candidates for the four executive positions got onstage to discuss the biggest issues facing students at Brock, as well as argue their platform points.

Vice-President, Student Services candidates Joyce Khouzam and Curtis Rohl kicked off the debate with a policy discussion focused mainly on BUSU clubs and O-Week. Both Rohl and Khouzam promised to deliver equal treatment of BUSU-affiliated clubs and fight for better shuttle services for students. Debate moderators gave Rohl and Khouzam a hypothetical of how to handle a cancellation of the big act for Frosh Week. Rohl promoted the idea of a contingency plan in his answer, while Khouzam said she would be transparent and honest with students. A question about how the new VPSS would get upper-year students involved in campus events led to an argument between Khouzam and Rohl about whether or not a hot-dog eating contest on campus would be appropriate. The hot-dog debate lasted about five minutes before moderators had the two wrap up with closing remarks.

Vice-President of External Affairs candidates Ja’miil Millar and Peter Henen followed. In their opening statements, Millar talked about her work as Advocacy Coordinator with BUSU and Henen plugged his efforts to fight for better food options for students (an issue he has been working on for several years). When asked whether BUSU was a leader for student unions across the country, neither candidate answered the question outright. Henen pointed to the model of the University of British Columbia’s Students’ Union, and Millar praised BUSU’s internal policy and efforts at progress. Towards the end of the debate, candidates reiterated past campaign promises, with Millar pledging to Indigenize Brock by giving voice to Indigenous students, and Henen tying in a potential football field at Brock to mental health awareness. Henen also brought up the issue of low voter turnout at numerous points during his time on stage, and questioned the wisdom of taking the Bus Pass to referendum twice (the last leading to students voting overwhelming to increase the transit fee).

The Vice President, Financial Affairs debate came next. The VPFA candidates have had the liveliest discussions of any of the four positions thus far and Monday’s debate did not disappoint. Of the four candidates, Bilal Khan and Mel Gencer had by far the most speaking time. Gencer and Khan verbally sparred for several moments, with Khan asking Gencer three times what he has done to advance his platform since last year’s elections. Gencer hit back by questioning the wisdom of Khan’s promise to “scream and shout” to Thorold City Council about the cancelled Winterberry Boulevard bus route. Both candidates accused the other of not keeping promises or engaging enough with students.

The other candidates did get chances to speak earlier in the debate. Gencer made a huge misstep when he criticized VPFA candidate Jordan Albanese for only having served on Brock Senate for three months. Albanese answered by stating he took a break due to his personal mental health, a statement that drew praise from fellow candidate Georgie Gagnon. All four spoke about the need to get the Winterberry bus route back for Brock students, but Gagnon was the only candidate to speak directly about student behaviour off-campus, including a party late last year that drew over 500 students to a single home. Gagnon stated she believed that the Niagara Regional Police should be pressured by BUSU to be tougher on issues of student housing.

After the VPFA candidates made their closing statements, the three candidates for President spoke to the audience about their plans. Aidan Hibma, current VPFA and President hopeful, had the most excited crowd response out of any candidate, and spoke about efforts to be more inclusive of international students and possibly introduce a tuition cap. Current VPEA Nadia Bathish echoed his remarks and talked about the importance of advocacy and lobbying the provincial government on issues of importance. All three candidates spoke about how more must be done to address the concerns of off-campus locations. Hibma floated the idea of creating a representative for the Marilyn I. Walker institute, and Alston Manhendran pledged to work with the city of St. Catharines on homeless issues.

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The Presidential debate got more interesting when candidates were invited to ask one another questions. Hibma asked Mahendran about past leadership experience, with Mahendran mentioning his experience working as an assistant to previous Presidents Faisal Hejazi and Patrick Foster.

Afterwards, Bathish questioned Mahendran on the wisdom of his platform plank promising free breakfasts for students every month. When Bathish asked where the money for the breakfasts would come from, Mahendran attacked both her and Hibma over allegedly using student money on new BUSU jackets. Mahendran kept up with this line of attack until the moderator interrupted and reprimanded Manhendran for a “personal attack”. In their closing remarks, all candidates thanked friends, students, supporters, and gave shout-outs to the Brock basketball teams.

Students will also have the opportunity to vote for Senate and two referendums, which ask the following questions:

  1. “Do you support the removal of the $1.50 per credit fee for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) effective May 1, 2018?”
  2. “Do you support a $3.97 increase to the Student Justice Centre fee (0.91 to $4.88) starting Spring 2018 as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding?”

Voting for the BUSU elections begin on February 13 at midnight and conclude Feb. 15 at 9:00 p.m., with the results to follow shortly after. Students will be sent an e-mail to their brocku.ca student account, which will include a link to a voting ballot.

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