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(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

SSMU candidates wrestle with eroded student trust, building closure at debate

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The seven candidates for positions in the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executive Committee convened on March 13 for a debate hosted by Elections SSMU. Candidates for each of SSMU’s six executive portfolios presented their platforms, fielded student and press questions, and gave closing statements. Although the event was meant to be a structured debate between opposing candidates for the same positions, all five Vice President (VP) portfolios are running uncontested. The polling period begins March 19 and closes March 21 at 3 p.m., after which results will be announced.

VP Finance – Jun Wang

SSMU’s VP Finance manages the Society’s human resources and finances, which involves preparing a budget report and signing off on SSMU expenses.

Jun Wang, U2 Management and the sole candidate for the position, is running on a platform promising to restructure SSMU’s finances to promote the efficient allocation of funding, make funding more accessible, and improve transparency in the office.

“I believe [being a good] VP Finance is to understand student groups and to tackle the certain costs and inefficiencies in the system [in order] to streamline [and] meet student needs,” Wang said in his opening statement.

Wang aims to make the Executive Committee more transparent by introducing performance evaluations for each position. Wang also plans to share the VP Finance’s agenda in weekly memos posted on SSMU’s Accountability webpage.

“The weekly memos [would be] on simple activities like, ‘what did you do this week, who did you meet with, is there any projected funds that you talked about?’” Wang said. “Having this transparency on what people actually do posted on SSMU website […] will really show the student body what [SSMU is] actually using their funds for.”

VP Student Life – Sophia Esterle

The VP Student Life acts a liaison between SSMU and clubs, services, and independent student groups, in addition to working closely with SSMU’s mental health services and McGill’s Student Services.

Sophia Esterle, U2 Arts, who is running for the office uncontested, heavily underscored the role of the VP Student Life in promoting and collaborating with McGill’s mental health services in her platform.

“We need to be able to touch individual students who are suffering with mental health [ailments] directly, and so that is why […I would like to] have some counsellors that would be available to go to residences […or] at least have sharing sessions where students can talk about their mental health problems in residence,” Esterle said in her closing statement. “That would help destigmatize mental health [problems] because people would realize that the students around them are suffering too.”

Esterle also proposed creating a search engine on the SSMU website to help students find SSMU clubs and student groups that match their interests.

VP External – Marina Cupido

The VP External manages relations between SSMU and various non-McGill actors including the municipal and provincial governments, community organizations, and provincial student federations. The office is also responsible for organizing and mobilizing students for a variety of political causes.

At the debate, Marina Cupido, U4 Arts, whose bid for VP External is unopposed, explained her perspective on SSMU as a political institution.

“The reason I am running for this position is because, after spending four years reporting on SSMU  and student life at McGill[for The McGill Daily] […] I both developed a deep appreciation for what SSMU can and does offer to students and a deep frustration with all the ways in which […] SSMU is often inefficient and isolated,” Cupido said in her opening statement.

Cupido’s primary objective is to promote accessibility at many levels at McGill, with particular regard for Francophone students, Indigenous students, and students who require financial assistance. She also plans to devote resources to improving relations between long-term residents of the Milton-Parc community and McGill students, many of whom are temporary renters in the neighborhood.

“I would like to organize […] an event at which members of the community and McGill students could come together and […] become aware of all of the work that has been done, is being done, and can be done to facilitate relations between those communities,” Cupido said.

VP Internal – Matthew McLaughlin

SSMU’s VP Internal is in charge of communication between the Executive Committee and SSMU members as well as managing planning for large-scale events including Frosh, SSMU and MUS’ Halloween Party, and various other events including Faculty Olympics.

Matthew McLaughlin, U0 Management, who is running unchallenged, described his plans to improve a number of the committees within the VP Internal portfolio, including increasing training for members of the Students’ Society Programming Network and reforming First Year Council.

McLaughlin also expressed his commitment to finding alternative spaces for SSMU events in light of the impending closure of the University Centre.

“I think […we] can collaborate more between faculties,” Mclaughlin said. “We can use [the closure] as a chance to use the spaces in different faculties by fostering those relationships and leveraging them [….] Also, engaging with the Montreal community more broadly [is important]. This is a chance […] to connect with them as SSMU and use [Montreal] spaces to plan events as well.”

VP University Affairs – Jacob Shapiro

The VP University Affairs acts as a representative for undergraduate students in the McGill Senate and many of its committees, and is consulted by the administration regarding matters of academic policy and equity complaints.

Jacob Shapiro, U3 Arts, who also lacked a competitor, explained that his passion for teaching and learning motivated him to run for the office of VP University Affairs.

“Most people that know me know that I am animated and have a passion for education,” Shapiro said. “I think any position at SSMU […] is really about thinking about […] how [SSMU can] reduce the barriers so that we can have fairer, kinder, and more accessible education. That prompted me to run.”

Shapiro plans to maintain efforts by the current VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke to refocus the office’s mandate through constitutional reform.

“We need to have a system that is designed to represent students and that reminds itself it’s a student union,” Shapiro said. “I think the idea of having town halls and forums where people can engage with each other is on point.”

Although advocating for Open Educational Resources at McGill will be his top priority, he clarified that he hopes that reforms to the office’s mandate will allow him to advocate for a plurality of initiatives.

President – Corrine Bulger and Tre Mansdoerfer

SSMU’s President is the chief officer of the Society, a member of the student Senate Caucus, and the chair of both the Board of Directors (BoD) and the Executive Committee. The President also represents students at a number of administrative bodies, including McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) and two committees of Senate.

Corrine Bulger, U2 Arts, is running on a platform of increasing the number of SSMU community spaces, following through with incumbents’ projects—including creating a SSMU sexual violence policy and improving relations with the Milton-Parc community—and making SSMU governance more accessible by incorporating multimedia.

Tre Mansdoerfer, U2 Engineering, wishes to develop closer relationships with faculty associations and increase their participation and representation in Senate, re-establish students’ trust in SSMU’s governance, and advocate for initiatives including a Fall reading week, improvements in mental health services, and redressing McGill’s Sexual Violence Policy.

Both Bulger and Mansdoerfer agreed that, as chair of the BoD, the President should be stripped of the power to vote and that the BoD’s membership should be broadened. However, while Mansdoerfer believes that the BoD should add an alumni director, Bulger contended that SSMU should add a non-McGill director with expertise in governance.

“We are a bunch of 20 year olds at the end of the day,” Bulger said. “We do not have the extensive experience [of] someone who has been in law, or who has been in banking as an accountant for years.”

Mansdoerfer noted that his experience serving in a variety of SSMU offices distinguishes him from Bulger.

“I think I’ve seen [SSMU] a bit more and I have a bit longer history [with] it,” Mansdoerfer said. “I [also] think I meet outside my faculty a lot more, and engage with a lot of different student groups on campus. I have strong relationships in most of the faculties through my work as student Senator and Council member.”

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