By Tina Shaygan, March 5 2018 —
The Gauntlet‘s second annual Students’ Union election debate was so lit, they had to evacuate the entire building.
A fire alarm interrupted an already fiery debate between Emma Hopper and Puncham Judge, the two candidates contending for the position of vice-president external, as they squared off in MacHall on March 1, answering questions from moderator Jason Herring as well as audience members. The two candidates had the opportunity to contest each other’s answers and criticize each other’s platform.
Starting with an outline of their platforms, Hopper said she is focused on a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaign for the 2019 elections, expansion of study permits for international students and affordability and accessibility of education. Judge said her priorities are improving transit during peak hours, legalization of secondary suites and tying tuition to the Consumer Price Index.
During the first round of questions, Hopper criticized Judge for her point on regulating tuition instead of legislating it because in the event of a change in government, tuition rates could again change. Judge responded that legislation is not “currently an option” and emphasized predictable tuition for international students.
Next, the candidates were questioned on what they think is the most effective method of advocacy. Hopper responded that she thinks it’s “context-based.”
“It depends on the issue and who we’re trying to advocate to,” Hopper said. “We need to be adaptable moving forward.”
Judge said that in her experiences, meeting one-on-one with politicians and building relationships is the most effective method for advocacy.
“We’ve built a lot of relationships and we’ve seen success because of this,” Judge said.
When asked how the candidates plan on engaging with the students they represent, Judge said she plans on improving social media availability. Hopper said she wants to host advocacy workshops for students as done by previous VP externals.
Judge criticized Hopper’s ideas regarding advocacy workshops, saying the workshops were phased out for a reason. 2015–16 VP external Romy Garrido hosted advocacy workshops and invited those who attended the SU’s annual leaders’ dinner.
“I want to see how Emma [Hopper] plans on getting money for programs that have already failed,” Judge said. “I want to put funding to programs we already have. I don’t believe or see why we should invest in programs that have already failed.”
“Students who are engaged on campus are already engaged. Romy [Garrido] slotted for 30 students and the 30 students that showed up were students who were already engaged on campus. I don’t see how your program is going to reach out to students who aren’t already engaged and don’t care about the work we do on issues,” Judge added.
Hopper responded that she believes the previously hosted advocacy workshops were actually quite successful.
“I don’t think it’s a dichotomy,” Hopper responded. “There is a third group who are involved with clubs but not necessarily involved with the SU and advocacy. We are just giving them tools to take advocacy to the next level. That’s who this program would be targeting.”
Judge responded that “students don’t care enough to show up” to Students’ Legislative Council meetings and she is not sure how Hopper would reach them.
“We don’t have students showing up to something we have every single Tuesday where we are providing students with information about what we’re currently working on,” Judge said. “If we already have something for students to come and learn and provide us with feedback and ask us questions, how do you plan on implementing a new program and getting those students that don’t even care enough to show up on Tuesday evenings?”
Moving on to the GOTV campaign for the Alberta 2019 election, Judge said she has not included a plan for GOTV on her platform as it does not fall within her term. Hopper criticized her approach, saying she plans on starting GOTV as early as September. The SU previously conducted GOTV campaigns for the 2015 provincial and federal elections, as well as the 2017 municipal election.
“This is going to be the biggest and most-intensive point for VP external,” Hopper said.
“I don’t see a positive effect of us starting so early,” Judge responded.
Prior to audience questions, candidates had a chance to provide closing statements. Judge said she wants to continue with the projects she has worked on during her term as VP external.
“I’m running for this position because I’m passionate about the things I’ve worked on and I want to see some progress,” Judge said.
Hopper emphasized her point of connecting with students.
”There is a lot that can be done [with the role] and we can connect it to students and that’s what I can do,” Hopper said.
Audience questions included how the candidates plan on engaging with students and how to best advocate on behalf of their constituents. Judge and Hopper criticized each other’s methods, with Judge emphasizing one-on-one meetings and Hopper emphasizing a variety of approaches.
“Protests can be successful. In-person meetings can be successful. Tweeting campaigns can be successful,” Hopper said.
About 35 students attended the debate. Voting days for the 2018 SU general election are March 6–8. Students can vote through their my.ucalgary.ca page or at in-person voting booths. The Gauntlet’s SU election supplement for VP external can be found here and the debate can be watched online here.