By Kristy Koehler, March 4 2019 —
The Gauntlet hosted its annual debate on Feb. 28 for candidates running in the Students’ Union presidential election. All four candidates — Harrison Montgomery, Renzo Pereyra, Jessica Revington and Quinn Stevenson — were in attendance. Jason Herring, the Gauntlet’s editor-in-chief, served as moderator.
Herring encouraged the candidates to debate each other and sparks flew during the opening statements when Montgomery went on the attack almost immediately.
“With Quinn’s platform, it seems like it was written in 10 minutes and there’s lots of misspellings,” he said. “Jessica says on her Instagram that she’s a politician, which is only more and more clear when you look at her Instagram because I don’t understand any of her points because they’re so broad. She doesn’t explain anything that she actually wants to do. She just makes very sweeping claims.”
The other three candidates offered more traditional opening statements, giving attendees an overview of their main platform points.
The first prepared question concerned the future of MacHall and the candidates’ vision for any potential redevelopment.
“We know that students want to see MacHall redeveloped,” Revington said. She acknowledged that the university isn’t willing to put money forward but said she believes that developing SU-allocated spaces like the Black Lounge would be feasible in her term.
Stevenson agreed that a redevelopment is a feasible goal, also emphasizing SU-allocated spaces. He took it a step further, indicating that he would like to see more diverse food options such as the expansion of halal and kosher offerings within SU-run food vendors.
“This is one of the students’ most prioritized items on the MacHall surveys,” Stevenson said.
In the past, candidates have run on platforms of diversity in food options but haven’t been able to deliver. Stevenson took a more pragmatic approach, acknowledging that these changes would likely have to come from vendors like The Den and La Taqueria, which are owned and operated by the SU.
Montgomery also wants to focus on food choices in MacHall.
“We need to increase the diversity of food that we offer because most of it is just fast food and Asian food. It would be exciting to get some Mexican food in there,” he said.
He also said he planned to increase the space allocated to the Wellness Centre, a point Revington was quick to rebut.
“We actually cannot allocate more space to the SU Wellness Centre because the Wellness Centre is actually a university-run wellness centre and it’s SU in name only because of a Quality Money fund that the SU provided to the Wellness Centre,” she said. “What this means is that we really need to advocate for increased per-student mental health funding so that students have access to these services.”
Next, the candidates were asked what they would like to achieve if they were only able to accomplish one of their platform points during their term as president.
Pereyra offered up his vision for building a tighter-knit community, while Stevenson said he wants to build upon the emergency fund he started during his term as arts representative.
“When I was 16 years old I was actually homeless,” he said. “Many students are facing domestic abuse. Many students are facing distress. And it pains me to think they might actually go through what I went through and I really want to make sure that no people have to. I would make sure that these students have safe accommodations on campus and they can access the food and resources here so they do not have to sacrifice their education to live a healthy life.”
Revington said she wants to achieve financial independence for the SU and to make sure that students are getting the most value out of the organization as possible. She isn’t worried about potential incoming government legislation making student fees optional, citing that the University of Calgary’s SU has one of the lowest fees in the country.
“We’re actually being proactive,” she said. “We’re in a position where the student fee is nine per cent of our budget. We can work with that nine per cent so that students aren’t impacted if it suddenly vanishes.”
The candidates were prompted to criticize an opponent’s platform point, after which the other candidate was given a chance to respond.
Stevenson chose to criticize Montgomery’s key point of lowering prices at SU-run food vendors.
“I think he fails to recognize that these businesses are already running on a very low profit margin,” Stevenson said. “There’s a very strong possibility that if we lower these prices we’ll begin losing money and possibly lose the service of The Den and Black Lounge as well as La Taqueria. I think there needs to be a little more research into the actual margins that we’re selling things for.”
“I understand that the margins are really small right now but I think that most of that is due to inefficiencies in the models,” Montgomery responded. “Normally, we’ll have two people at the taco stand but only one of them will be doing work. And most of the time they’ll just be standing around.”
Montgomery then chose to criticize Revington’s platform, stating, “Her first and third platform points are too vague.”
“I think that’s a pretty vague criticism that you can’t name the first and third platform points,” Revington responded before taking advantage of the opportunity to discuss her platform in more depth.
Revington said she was disappointed with Stevenson’s platform point about open education resources (OERs), saying it oversteps the portfolio of the SU VP academic. She also said the University of Calgary is already at the forefront of encouraging the development of OERs, citing the pilot projects that have been successful in doing so.
The candidates offered up their closing statements, after which a long queue of audience members formed behind the microphone to ask questions.
The most memorable moment during question period came when Sadiya Nazir asked the candidates which Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) advocacy priority would be the priority of the next SU president.
Montgomery, first to answer, asked Nazir to list the priorities.
“She’s making sure you’ve done your research,” Stevenson said.
“If you’re not going to say the four then just move on,” Montgomery responded.
Stevenson was the next respondent, who again made a pledge to commit to mental health.
“Student suicide is going up. Our peers are dying,” he said. “Why is this not our number-one priority? Screw infrastructure. Screw everything else. If people are dying, this has to be our number one.”
Revington took a divide and conquer approach saying that she would “work with the VP external to share the burden of the different CAUS priorities.” With the VP external focused on mental health, Revington would devote her time to deferred maintenance and the “classrooms that are currently falling apart around us as we’re trying to learn.”
“Students deserve to go to school in a safe environment that won’t fall apart when they try to sit in a desk,” she said.
Montgomery, allowed an opportunity to speak after his initial deferral, chose to go a very different route.
“So, Jessica says that she’s a minority as a woman running for president,” he said. “Someone that’s even more of a minority for president is somebody who hasn’t been in the SU. And, I think that if we’re going to have a debate and talk about the four things that we think are the most important, it’s really important that we have all of the information so things like, ‘Don’t tell him’ and, ‘Make sure he’s done his research’ is really just trying to make sure that the people who aren’t already in the SU don’t get into the role of president.”
“Can I just confirm that you’re comparing the struggle that females have faced in politics over the past several, many, many years to your inability to answer a question?” Revington asked.
“There’s obviously a nuance there,” Montgomery responded, at which point Herring stepped in and ended the argument, allowing Stevenson a rebuttal.
Stevenson reiterated that everyone, regardless of current work with the SU or not, has access to the same information and resources.
“That’s not exactly true,” responded Montgomery. “If you’ve been in the SU you’ve spent the last year working with these different organizations, so you’ll have an innate knowledge of them. Whereas within the two weeks that I’ve decided to run, I haven’t had the time to do all of that research and also do all of my classes. So, it’s not really fair.”
Pereyra offered up his take, saying, “I am a first-year student and I am proud to announce that I have done my research.”
Voting days for the 2019 SU General Election are March 5–7. Students can vote through their my.ucalgary.ca page or at in-person voting booths. View all candidates’ platforms here.