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Current Students’ Union vice-president external acclaims presidency for 2015–16

By Chris Adams and Kate Jacobson, February 26 2015 —

Next year’s Students’ Union already has its leader. For the first time in decades, the University of Calgary’s SU president is acclaimed.

Having served as vice-president external and arts representative, Levi Nilson is no stranger to campus politics. He oversaw a wide-scale advocacy effort fighting market modifiers in 2014, a task that took up the majority of his time. Nilson’s efforts, while admirable, largely failed with the government’s approval of all three U of C modifier proposals.

With another year of budget cuts, potential program rollbacks and tuition uncertainty ahead, Nilson’s in for a tough year. We talked to the acclaimed president about his role next year, what he brings to the table as president and what his campaign would have looked like if he had to run one this year.

The Gauntlet: How does it feel to be acclaimed as SU president?

Levi Nilson: To be honest, super weird. It’s nice to know that I can just continue working in my current role and not have to take this time off to campaign. That means I can keep going on the Get Out the Vote campaign, I’m writing a policy for the Canadian Alliance of Students’ Associations and kind of keep doing the day to day.

At the same time, this is my first time not running in an election in a couple years and I’m the first acclaimed president in decades. It’s kind of uncharted territory. I kind of wish I could have ran a campaign, but it’s nice for my physical and mental well-being.

The democratic legitimacy of me just being acclaimed and not having to run a yes/no is questionable. It’s just weird.

Next year’s president at the University of Alberta and Mount Royal are also acclaiming their positions. You’ve worked closely with them in CAUS this year. How’s that relationship going to play out?

I’ve been working with Erik Queenan [from Mount Royal] and Navneet  Khinda [from U of A] quite a bit, especially on the market modifier file because Mount Royal and U of A are both a part of CAUS. To be honest, we’ve all been pretty high profile this year, which may have contributed to us being acclaimed. We have been running pretty aggressive campaigns not only in the media, but on campuses. We did the first protest that CAUS has done in five years. We put up a pretty stiff opposition and people really saw that.

What do you expect will take up most of your time as president?

Budget cuts for sure. That’s going to [take up] the end of my term as vice-president external and going into my term as president. It’s so unknown at this point. It’s so hard to tell what we’re going to do. But we’re basically going to be putting all projects aside to deal with the ramifications of what’s coming down the pipe.

How would you rate your performance as vice-president external?

It’s hard to rate myself, but I do wish that I would have done more outreach to the community and involved not just university students. I think we did a good job of involving U of C students and getting our message out in the media and to the administrators that were doing the consultation, however hollow that word is now. But I really wish that we would have reached out to families, get them to say ‘how is this going to affect my child who’s going into the engineering program.’ I know politicians listen to families more than they do university students.

With the short timelines, we released some government documents telling people that it happened and then it was just negotiation after negotiation after consultation. Hindsight’s 20/20.

What about the MacHall lease negotiations?

Basically if there isn’t a deal done by the end of this term, it’s going to be me doing the end of the negotiations. It’s taken three years. We’re pretty close to a deal, but I don’t know if they’re just waiting [SU president] Jarett and [vice-president operations and finance] Adam out. I know that’s what happens year to year. They’re kind of just jerking us around, generally.

They don’t really want to have a very detailed agreement. We want something that’s detailed because we obviously have trust issues with everything that’s happened over the last little while. For us to get a fair deal that really spells out the rules and responsibilities that each of us would play in the building has been tough. That’s going to be the biggest thing other than budget cuts that I’m going to be dealing with.

Do you think administration’s waiting for a weaker operations and finance?

I think they’re just waiting for a weaker exec. It’s going to have to be SLC that signs a deal. I think they would love for weak executives to come in and sign a deal that isn’t good for students and then be done with it. I know Jarett and Adam have been pretty tough on them so far this year and now they’re kind of pushing it down the line.

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