Not that I’m a stakeholder: SU Elections 2008

Thursday, 6 March 2008 — 12:53am | Studentpolitik

Is it just me, or has this week been a veritable festival of democracy? It’s high time, then, for the last edition of my annual endorsitorial for the most inconsequential election of the lot—the Executive of the University of Alberta Students’ Union.

Since I’m releasing my endorsements much later than usual, and after the first day of voting, I don’t expect that anything I say will swing any votes. But I don’t expect that I’ll need to. Without any referenda or plebiscites on the ballot, if you’re voting in the first place, you’re probably informed enough to know that the VPSL race is perhaps the only one without a single, obvious choice.

I’d first like to commend The Gateway for putting a stellar panel together for this year’s Hack-o-Rama-of-sorts, one in which every participant has substantially more experience than I do in navigating the workings of the Students’ Union (even if one of them happens to be a domain-name highway bandit). I can’t say I have a lot to add to their analysis apart from weighing in on where their endorsements are split, so I’ll devote most of my attention to making fun of the speeches at the Myer forum.

For previous editions, please see: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. Without further ado, let’s get endorsing.

President: As a colleague of mine observed under condition of anonymity, this year’s Presidential candidates are virtually caricatures: the uninspiring but competent insider, the inexperienced spiky-haired idealist, the disgraced former executive, and… who knows what to make of Sheldon Tibbo. (The answer: God knows what to make of Sheldon Tibbo.)

We can strike Bobby Samuel from the start: his ineffective performance as this year’s VPA was borderline harmful (Bear Scat, anyone?), and is itself a reason to vote against him—and that’s even before you consider his flagrant pre-campaigning, obstruction of disciplinary proceedings, and unreasonable expectations that a few profuse apologies will make everything okay. Students should not only direct their votes elsewhere, but also exercise their moral duty to punish him.

Sheldon Tibbo is clearly not playing to win: I’m convinced he entered the race to deliver a special message from his deity, and leave it at that. You have to admire how he’s doing this out of a campaign budget funded by student dollars instead of his own pocket, but I wouldn’t call it a nefarious plan; I don’t think he’s that clever. I also don’t think he believes that we mortals are in any position to make plans: his implicit policy position on all things is to fill a seat and avoid doing anything in case it interferes with God’s will. (As we all know, God is a dedicated student politics hack like the rest of us when he’s not busy playing dice, letting there be light, and persuading indecisive young ladies to date neuroscientists from Lethbridge.) If Tibbo wins, I’ll be damned. Literally.

When my frequent classmate Dustin Miller first circulated a nomination package for signatures, I was ready to rule him out right off the bat; he immediately struck me as as an upstart well-meaning Marxist ideologue who couldn’t walk the talk, and one of those stock candidates who proudly speak of the blank page that is their record of campus involvement as if it were a credential. That said, I have to congratulate him on the quality of his campaign: he put in the effort to establish himself as a credible candidate who is willing to commit to doing his research and getting his message out.

The problem that I still have with Miller, who is running on the plank that the solution to all problems is to develop a vibrant protest culture in the student body (like what Mike Hudema attempted in ’02-’03, but without the chicken-suit silliness), is that he doesn’t realize that people miss tuition rallies for reasons far more important than publicity. I’m not about to make the argument that the SU should not run highly publicized tuition rallies, but students are busy people, and protesting for a long-term gain from which they are unlikely to benefit will simply never be a priority for most of them. Students elect representatives to advocate on their behalf, not merely create conditions in which the students shoulder the burden of advocating for themselves.

That leaves Janelle Morin, who—if you cut through the campaign rhetoric designed to hit the typical bullet points of what students think the SU does—has specific, achievable ideas as well as the experience and work ethic to be a functional President. The Student Group Services background is a bonus.

The gestalt entity of gold and silver robot-dancers that is “the/future” isn’t one of the stronger joke candidates I’ve seen, but the silver one spoke to me in binary, and I want to see if he can beat Bobby Samuel on the first ballot. I’m placing it/them first, and I encourage you all to do the same.

My ballot: 1) the/future, 2) Janelle Morin, 3) Dustin Miller, 4) None of the Above (i.e. none of the others).

Vice-President Academic: Look, I know John Braga isn’t the most presentable character—he enunciates his bid for this position with the desperation of a second-grader begging for a cookie, as if his life depended on it—and how he thought spending money on longer Executive retreats would appeal to fee-paying voters, I just don’t know. That said, I don’t believe he’s at all incompetent; in fact, he might be an improvement. Then again, when your metric of a VPA is whether or not they are likely to misappropriate resources to fund their future political ambitions, your standards are probably pretty low. Nevertheless, Braga still strikes me as someone who will perform better in an office than on the campaign trail: once he got into the typical specifics of textbook costs, it was evident that he knows what his portfolio is and where he should go to effect change.

As for returning candidate Bryant Lukes? Let me be absolutely clear: contrary to what his pamphlets might suggest, I did not endorse him last year. I am not endorsing him this year. I’m no longer even convinced that he’s not in on his own joke and secretly laughing at all of the people who take him seriously. It’s like the people who comment on YouTube: you just can’t tell if they’re kidding.

Lukes’ Myer speech this year wasn’t even legendary—a disappointment, given my expectations based on his performance in 2007. I think he got upstaged by Sheldon Tibbo—who, according to my estimation, was definitely not kidding.

However, I’m not a mean-spirited individual; indeed, I have the utmost sympathy for those who commit to the most hopeless, quixotic pursuits. So I’m more than willing to encourage well-meaning, dedicated individuals to keep trying! Rolled up the rim and didn’t win? Please play again. Maybe one day, the object of your earnest, solar-powered solicitations will recognize you for who you really are—assuming, of course, that they don’t have an accurate measure of you already. If you’re reading this, Mr. Lukes, feel free to use the following paragraph in your pamphlets when you run for President next year:

“Bryant Lukes promises to extend the stability you know you can expect from Canada’s Natural Governing Party™ to all walks of student life. For a sunny future of sustainable, federalist student advocacy and not misappropriating funds, vote Bryant Lukes.”

One suggestion, though: come up with a better alternative to our addiction to oil. I’m no expert on renewable energy sources, but I recommend combusting the fat of adult seals in the hope that we might stop clubbing all of the baby ones. Sustainability, you know?

My ballot: 1) John Braga, 2) None of the Above.

Vice-President External: Beverly Eastham is competent. Matt Trodden is not. One of them should be trodden on at the polls, and I think you know which one. While Eastham was visibly nervous on the Myer Horowitz stage, I’m not of the opinion that you need to be belligerent to be a confident negotiator. She knows about the position, and I think she’ll do well. The Trodden campaign kept insinuating that she didn’t have a position on textbook prices, but that’s not her portfolio. I was hoping that she would fire back with the accusation that Trodden had no plan regarding solar power, but apparently she knows better than to play that game. That’s a good sign.

My ballot: 1) Beverly Eastham, 2) None of the Above.

Vice-President Operations/Finance: So while I wasn’t paying attention, Steven Dollansky’s performance at Myer ’07 became a minor YouTube hit, to the point where students from other campuses would ask me about the experience of having been there. I like the guy, and I think his specific and comprehensive vision for what he wants to do with the position (especially with respect to SUB redevelopment) far outweighs any concerns one might have about his taking a leave of absence in the midst of a provincial election. He’ll have a substantially bigger impact as next year’s VPOF than he would have in the provincial campaign; I certainly don’t hold him responsible for Monday’s 42% voter turnout.

The Gateway panel sees a lot more in Peter Rychlik than I do. But it was easy to get that impression from his Myer speech: for the first five seconds, I was sure Rychlik was on drugs. Then for the rest of his speech, I became convinced that he was actually going through withdrawal. He also failed to articulate, when asked, why he was a more capable opponent than Soundwave. That’s just the Myer forum, though; on paper, I’ll admit that he looks a whole lot more credible.

My ballot: 1) Steven Dollansky, 2) Peter Rychlik.

Vice-President Student Life: At last, we get to the only actual race in this election. While I’m not , I agree with the general assessment that while he has original ideas about issues like transit service, Sean McQuillan comes in third—and mostly in comparison to the other two candidates. Kristen Flath and Alena Manera engaged in a lively debate about the purpose of an elected position atop the SL pecking order: Flath takes the line that’s been fashionable since Carmen Gustafson’s campaign in 2004—that events and programming should be left to the hired staff—while Manera sees the VPSL’s focus on advocacy as a fait accomplit.

My vote goes to Flath, not so much because of the purpose of the SL portfolio, but because she takes the firm stance that the SU and the University should establish and provide services without spreading the costs over the entire undergraduate population—an explicit condemnation of the Physical Activity Complex and Health Plan proposals that students mercifully shot down in previous referenda. She has the right idea.

My ballot: 1) Kristen Flath, 2) Alena Manera, 3) Sean McQuillan.

Board of Governors Representative: He’s probably the best-suited individual for the position among all of the eligible students I know, let alone the one-strong field of candidates, so I’m saying Yes to Michael Janz.

This year’s Myer performances were unremarkable, so I’m going to rank the top three moments—all of which occurred in the debates and questions from the floor:

1) In response to a challenge from Beverly Eastham, Matt Trodden lists the people in the External portfolio he consulted in preparation for his campaign, claiming that he had a walk-and-talk with the chair of the Campaigns Planning and Action Committee (CPAC). During the questions from the floor, the CPAC chair confronts Matt Trodden and asks him who he spoke to, because it sure wasn’t her. Trodden’s response: “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

2) The President of the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics asks Sheldon Tibbo how he will engage with him and the 130 members of his student group, as they felt ever so slightly excluded. Tibbo’s response: a proposal that in the mould of International Week, we should also have a Spirituality Week. I somehow got the impression that Tibbo doesn’t believe in atheists.

3) The/future: “Mr. Janz, what is your favourite col-ourrrrr?” CRO Craig Turner instructs the/future that it/they can only direct his questions to another candidate from its/their race. While I half-expected the/future to play off the word “race”, as there were no other robots in contention, it/they reported an error (404!) and directed the following question to Janelle Morin: “What is your favourite colour—and are your pants pleat-eddd?” She was given a minute to respond. In case you’re interested, the answers are green, and no.

Well—that’s all, folks. And you’d better appreciate it, because you’re never getting one of these again.


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