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Students’ Union VP External forum recap

By Ambroisine Maindron Bruneaux, March 2 2020 —

On Feb. 27, Marley Gillies and Colson Buchanan, running for the position of vice-president external in the Students’ Union election, were on the hot seat at the VP External forum in MacHall.

The current Vice President External, Sadiya Nazir, opened the forum by asking the candidates to introduce themselves and their platform.

Gillies and Buchanan have been involved with the Students’ Union for at least a year now and both their platforms reflect the three levels on which they are supposed to work as VP External — municipally, provincially and federally.

After introducing themselves, the candidates were asked a broad range of questions to detail their platforms.

What is right now the biggest challenge at the university? And why are you the best candidate to tackle this issue?

For Gillies, the biggest issue currently is the financial situation of students. A performance-based funding model has been implemented in Alberta such as in other provinces, and students should not have a “financial dependency on their educational success.” She will be the “leader who will stand up and have those difficult conversations.”

Buchanan agreed with Gillies on performance-based funding being the biggest issue right now. There is very little student consultation done by the university about this issue. For Buchanan, this is representative of the priorities of the university. However, he will make sure that our priorities, as students, are implemented. 

The SU is involved, provincially, with the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and, federally, with the Canadian Alliance of Students Associations (CASA). What role will you play in each organization and why?

“Provincially right now is our biggest fight,” said Buchanan. He wants to pursue the position of chair at CAUS, which means having a leadership role to fight the biggest challenges faced by students. Federally, he would be interested in the policy and director-at-large position at CASA, responsible for the development of federal policy for students’ associations. In other words, Buchanan wants to “shape the overall picture and representation of CASA.”

Gillies also wants to pursue the position of chair at CAUS and to continue the “amazing work” done currently by the owner of the position. But according to her, there is more to be done. She wants to work on campus not only externally, with the government, but also internally. Her idea is to unite the universities in and over Alberta thanks to her position in these organizations.

CAUS and CASA are non-partisan organizations. Have you been involved in politics before? And if so, how will you make sure that you will remain non-partisan?

Both candidates have some experience in politics and emphasize the importance of remaining non-partisan because, as VP external, the first priority is the student body.

Which of the committees are you the most excited to be working with?

Gillies answered she is really excited to work with the Student Refugee Committee because she was on this committee as a faculty representative. Buchanan is more excited by the idea of working with the Policy Development and Review Committee.

What do you think is something that the VP external could have done better this year?

Buchanan said that the SU, in general, can take a little bit more of exposure. Even if it diffuses an intelligent and respectful messaging, it should give the students the opportunity to hear what the SU is doing.

Gillies emphasised the fact that the SU and its members should be closer to the student body. Then students will be better aware of what is happening, and it will be easier to listen to students’ concerns.

What skills and qualifications do you personally bring to the position?

Buchanan starts by underlying his strong background at the SU. For the past year or so, he has been involved in every aspect of it and it is an asset for the position of VP external. He had also been an executive for clubs on campus, so he is used to leadership positions.

Gillies emphasizes three aspects of her personality — her experience being a member of the SU for two years and president of a club on campus, her ambition having been waiting for the position for a long time and her leadership as someone who is the leader of her own life and who wants to stand up for others.

Describe one of your weaknesses and how you plan to overcome it.

“I think one of my weaknesses is saying ‘no’,” says Gillies, who admittedly says ‘yes’ to most opportunities that arise but is conscious that the outcome is not always as positive as expected. She plans to overcome this hurdle by sticking to the portfolio and being honest with her executives.

Buchanan says, “One of the things I find the most challenging is allowing myself to delegate to people.” When he wants something to be done, he just does it himself. However, he is conscious that part of being a leader is to know when to delegate to others. 

During the debate portion of the event, Buchanan asked Gillies how she would manage to keep her promise about implementing the UPASS into the second phase of the city’s electronic transit fare system, and if she thinks it is reasonable. She answered that she believes it is reasonable and feasible. Then, she asked Buchanan how he will manage to find the time to keep all his promises and how he will balance each of his responsibilities. Buchanan plans on using the many different resources he will have access to in order to support his projects.

After those initial questions, the crowd had the opportunity to ask questions to the candidates, with the only obligation being to stay polite and respectful. 

When asked to say something positive about each other, Buchanan underlined the passion demonstrated by his opponent and said that we need more passionate people in the world.  Gillies’ answer was about the specifics in terms of policy that Buchanan highlighted in his platform. 

Another question was about how to make sure all students are heard on campus. For Gillies, organizing events for students to attend and having office hours, for instance, are essential to making sure everyone can reach the SU and be heard. Basically, being around, visible and accessible. Buchanan talked about the idea of developing an advocacy engagement task force but the most important thing for him is to go out and listen to students directly.

Someone else wondered about their will to work with external organisations in order to create political pressure.

“Absolutely!” answered Buchanan. Gillies, however, stated she will mainly work in collaboration with CAUS channel and network because she has concerns about alliances with external organizations.

Finally, the candidates were asked to describe themselves in one sentence.

“I would describe myself in one sentence as ‘Ready, period,’” said Buchanan.

“I am going to use one word as well and I am going to say ‘ambitious,’” followed Gillies.

To conclude the forum, Nazir asked the candidates to both say a few words to close the debate.

Each started by thanking the public for having come to listen to them. Gillies emphasized the fact she is passionate and will have the difficult conversations that are needed to make things move. Buchanan said that he is confident and prepared to fight the big issues. Finally, they insisted on how important it is to vote in this time of crisis. 

Voting days for the SU General election are March 3-5. Students can vote through their my.ucalgary.ca page or at in-person voting booths in MacEwan Student Centre, TFDL and Science Theatres.


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