2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Graphic by Valery Perez

Vice-president external candidates discuss how they plan to address students’ financial challenges

By Eula Mengullo, March 7 2023

On March 1 the Students’ Union (SU) hosted the 2023 General Election forum for the vice-president external position. The position is contested between Mateusz Salmassi and Mohammed Arhaam Mukati. 

The forum involved discussions surrounding affordable housing, student mobilization and advocacy towards the federal government. 

With regard to the most pressing affordability challenge students are facing, Mukati emphasized the need to ensure students have access to the bare minimum. According to him, these points — parking, charging outlets, textbook prices — are sequential to increasing the quality of education for students.

“The simple, bare minimum tasks are not being fulfilled,” said Mukati. “Access to the school is something that should be made easier. When we have the highest parking rate in the entirety of North America, we’re doing something wrong.”

On the other hand, Salmassi emphasized that affordable housing is the most pressing concern for students that he plans to combat at the municipal level through landlord licensing and price control. 

“Within the VP external portfolio, what we’re best equipped to deal with and what is more serious is housing, the ability to afford to live, to have a roof over your head, and the ability to afford food. We’re talking about basic needs for survival.

“When we fight to take housing and tuition pressures off of students, we’re better able to afford food,” Salmassi continued.

For Mukati, effective engagement with the campus community, specifically international students, is essential to moving toward federal advocacy. 

“If you want to engage with thousands of students across the country, we first must engage with the people in this school,” said Mukati. “We speak about international students yet there is no current mechanism in a way in which they have their voices heard. Why is there not more of an elaborate system in which you can engage one on one, learn what they’re saying, voice their opinions and then go to the federal level.”

Mukati also places an emphasis on putting student needs at the forefront regardless of political opinion.

“We do not care if you’re conservative or liberal, we care if you are willing to help us,” said Mukati. “The last thing we need is the proliferation of this side or that side, because it’s not about left or right, it’s about moving forward.” 

Similarly, Salmassi plans on working with politicians, regardless of political affiliation, to advance student concerns. 

“It’s about working with whoever will support students and pass policies that students need,” said Salmassi.

“Going into the provincial election is the time that we mobilize at a much bigger scale than we saw earlier this semester,” he continued. “Through actually going to students, classroom announcements, hitting the grassroots, we were able to turn out a 250-plus person protest. That is engagement and that is how you get results. And a day later we have pushed the provincial government further along in a way that we haven’t before.”

With the forthcoming provincial election in May, the two candidates expressed their different outlooks pertaining to how they plan to advocate to the federal government. 

Currently, Salmassi is involved in mobilizing students for an Alberta-wide Student Day of Action.

“It’s a multi-pronged approach, we need to mobilize students at a grassroots way and build real political leverage here at our institution, we need to dominate the airwaves through ad campaigns and we need to mobilize students for a get-out-the-vote campaign,” he said.

On the other hand, Mukati plans on utilizing social media to increase engagement and mobilize students to build relationships and understand what their needs are. 

“You call people in to build relationships that last, to understand people and what their needs are, and that is done through talking and that is done through social media,” said Mukati.

“Not just one protest, but a series of movements. To get people to realize the importance of voting,” he continued. “It’s about that we engage with everyone despite the fact that we disagree with them. This is simple, yet the simple bare minimum has not been done.”

The two candidates also addressed the affordability support recently introduced by the provincial government. 

“These supports are a complete joke at an attempt at a crowd pleaser right before the election,” said Salmassi. 

The government introduced a two per cent domestic tuition cap, but this will not be enforced until the next year, meaning that domestic students will still face a 5.5 per cent increase this upcoming Fall semester. 

“That means you’re still gonna get hit with the five and a half per cent increase this year and up to two per cent increases after that. After the biggest tuition hikes in history. All in all it’s the provincial government trying to throw scraps for students [to expect them] to not vote and not mobilize,” said Salmassi. “What I want my campaign to be about is organizing with you to make it clear that students should not just sit tight and be comfortable with half measures and last-minute reversals in some policies so that the provincial government can get re-elected.”

“What we need to do is demand even more bold policies during the provincial election so we can get policies of tuition freeze and a reversal of the seven hundred million in budget cuts,” he continued.

For Mukati, while mobilizing students is important, he also wants to provide a possible solution to the government. 

“We need to mobilize, but the way we do that is by offering solutions to the government as well,” said Mukati. “We need to provide them with viable opportunities that fulfill that.”

He plans to do this by increasing student engagement and proliferating the voices of students to pressure the government to listen. 

In their closing remarks, the candidates expressed what they would like to accomplish if elected.

“The bare minimum is not being fulfilled in this university and yet we’re demanding this and that,” said Mukati. “With me as your VP external, I will ensure that the basic requirements — to live, to have school, to have good education — in a way that is clear and concise that actually involves the community, that is something that I will accomplish.”

“My record is clear, I’ve organized student strikes that build the basis to last for months,” said Salmassi. “I’ve already organized to help defend international student rights. We cannot keep recruiting international students with zero regulations, that is not the solution to budget cuts. We need to push for the reversal of those cuts because otherwise, we will continue to be used as cash cows.”

All undergraduate students may vote for one of the two candidates for VP EXTERNAL or ABSTAIN from voting.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet