Following last year’s historic UTMSU spring elections with four teams and three individuals running, this year’s election is back to featuring two teams vying for UTMSU’s executive positions: Fresh UTM and UTM First.
Interview with The Medium
In a sit-down interview with The Medium, the two teams highlighted their main goals and what distinguishes them from one another.
UTM First’s presidential candidate, Alex Gignac, stated the importance of engaging every student within a club or a society on campus, as this helps improve their experience at UTM.
“[Our goal is to] make sure that every student has an easy time getting affiliated on campus with clubs, societies, and with the UTMSU, because as soon as you get involved with any clubs or any student organization, […] you switch your mentality of how you see the campus. We’ll unite the campus by getting people involved in clubs.
“We’re realistic […],” he said. “We’re not campaigning for a GTA-wide U-Pass; we’re campaigning on a Brampton and an Oakville U-Pass.”
He explained that students pay around $200 a year for the U-Pass, whereas if they were to pay the regular Miway transit fee, it could cost up to $800 a year.
Emphasizing the focus on a Brampton and Oakville U-Pass instead of a GTA-wide U-Pass, he added, “I’m not saying it’s for sure, but what I’m saying is, it’s tangible, we can see it. And it starts with two steps: talking to Brampton and talking to Oakville.”
Salma Fakhry, Fresh UTM’s presidential candidate, told The Medium, “Accessibility is a huge thing for us. […] Having access to food, having access to resources, having access to education, and having access to funds.”
“Accessibility, as well as inclusivity,” added Fresh’s VP university affairs and academics, Maya Tomkiewicz.
“We’re all from very different walks of life. We want to make sure that [the students] all feel like they belong in UTM. We’re one school. We’re one union. And we want to make sure everyone on this campus feels that way.”
Fakhry also highlighted fighting the fees, saying that it is rather a step-by-step process.
“There’s no, ‘There’s tuition and the next day there’s not.’ There are demands. Number one is to regressively reduce and eliminate tuition fees […]. Number two is to turn all loans into existing grants, not payable grants. The third one is to remove interests of all existing loans. So it is a step by step. It’s not just a UTM thing; it’s a student solidarity thing,” said Fakhry.
As of Friday, the demerit points were three for UTM First and five for Fresh UTM. According to UTMSU’s Election Procedure Code, if the demerits reach 35 points, the candidate would get disqualified.
As previously reported by The Medium on February 13, UTMSU’s president and the next CFS Ontario chairperson, Nour Alideeb, had served as UTM’s chair of the Election and Referenda Committee when setting the election date.
In an email to The Medium, UTMSU’s VP external, Marise Hopkins, who assumed the position of the chair of the Election and Referenda Committee after Alideeb, explained that UTMSU executives are not allowed to have a say in deciding on the demerits for each team.
However, the UTMSU executive director, Munib Sajjad, has the right to advise the chief returning officer, Sahab Jesuthasan, with “institutional memory on complaints,” as Jeuthasan is not a UTM student.
Leave of absence
Multiple members of the UTMSU executives have taken a leave of absence, including Alideeb, the VP university affairs and academics Vanessa Demello, and VP internal Jackie Zhao.
According to the Fresh UTM team in an interview with The Medium, Alideeb, Demello, and UTM student Hashim Yussuf are their campaign managers.
The EPC states that “candidates are not entitled to use their campaign, any service or moneys conferred onto them by virtue of holding a position in any campus organization unless such services would still be available to them otherwise. This includes, but is not limited to, office supplies, equipment, advertising space and staff.”
The EPC also explains that any current member of the board, staff, volunteers, or committee members of UTMSU, if affiliated with the elections, has to take a leave of absence during the campaigning period, including refraining from their email access or office usage.
UTSU not informed
UTMSU’s VP internal Jackie Zhao had also enacted a leave of absence from his position. However, according to UTSU’s president Jasmine Wong Denike in an email to The Medium, Zhao, who serves as UTMSU’s designate at UTSU this year, did not request a leave of absence from the downtown union, although he would be required to do so if he’s running for the UTSU elections.
“Jackie Zhao did not inform the UTSU that he is taking a leave of absence […],” wrote Denike. “[He] is required to give us notice if he is taking a leave of absence for the UTSU elections,” she said.
The Medium has reached out to Zhao to confirm when he enacted his leave of absence at UTM, but did not receive a response, as of press time.
The two teams, Fresh UTM and UTM First, faced off last Wednesday in a debate at the Blind Duck Pub, where they got to promote their campaign points and address questions.
Beginning at around noon, the CRO, Jesuthasan, asked the audience members to write down their questions for the candidates prior to the introduction of their platform points.
Representing Fresh UTM, Fakhry advocated for making students feel valued by the administration and to create a more welcoming environment in the classroom and on campus. Fakhry was associate to UTMSU’s VP university affairs and academics in 2015-2016, and served as the UTM academic affairs member this year.
“Education is our universal right, and what you’ll come to see through this debate is that Fresh UTM is all about that. Fresh UTM is all about Fighting the Fees. Fresh UTM is all about accessible, affordable education for all. Fresh UTM is about your mental and physical well-being,” said Fakhry, the third-year international affairs and education student, during her introductions.
Gignac, the presidential candidate for UTM First, cited a “disconnect between the UTMSU and clubs and societies.” He was the charges d’affairs and director of operations of UTM’s Debate League this year. His platform points featured that the goal is to give clubs more funding if they did more events and more collaborative efforts with each other on campus.
In his interview with The Medium, he further explained that currently there are several criteria, including the number of members for the clubs, which determine the funding. “Criteria are good, but it’s not clear enough on how you can get more funding,” he said.
“What I want to introduce is not revolutionary; it’s just an add-on chair-system funding,” he added, elaborating on implementing more criteria for the distribution of funding: clubs that are “top-notch,” invested, host more events, and are more active; those who are average; and those who are not active.
“What that would do is give us a clear idea on how to fund the clubs and give them a clear idea of how they’re doing in terms of their clubs. All this information will be made accessible to them […].” He added that it would create “a healthy kind of competition” to engage all students more in their community.
VP Internal Services
Vikko Qu, the only candidate for VP Internal, running on the Fresh UTM team, placed a strong emphasis at the debate on helping international students. “I didn’t feel like I belonged or [was] represented. My language, my beliefs, my culture, that was never pressing on this campus,” Qu said about his own experience at UTM. “I want to be that person to tell people, this is your home, and this is where you belong.”
Qu, who was this year’s associate to the VP internal, also addressed The Medium’s question in an interview about the feasibility of a GTA-wide U-Pass.
“I’ve got a chance to be involved in the whole progress [of the GTA U-Pass]. I’ve had several meetings with Metrolinx,” he said. According to Metrolinx’s website, it offers “regional transportation plans for the GTA and Hamilton areas.”
Qu added that after several negotiations, they reached a first plan but it would have cost $650 for each student, “which is a lot, so we didn’t pass that one. We want a GTA U-Pass that’s more student-friendly, so that students can afford it.”
Qu added that if elected, he and his team would first see who wants to participate in the process, then would conduct a GTA U-Pass survey, approved by Metrolinx, which would ask students questions like what cities they want to cover and at what cost. The team would then hold a referendum to see what the majority of the students would say.
“We have a plan,” said Qu. “We have direction and we know who to talk to, how to negotiate, and we have been doing this since last year. We don’t have to start from scratch.”
Jose Wilson is the VP external candidate for Fresh UTM. Wilson served this academic year as the UTMSU part-time student coordinator and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students board director. His platform, too, centered on helping international and part-time students feel more accommodated at the university, as well as focusing on making it more affordable.
“I want to focus on international students, I want to focus on part-time students, I want to focus on everyone who’s felt neglected by the school and by the province,” he stated during the introduction period.
The candidate for UTM First’s VP External is Ali Taha, who’s a first-year student and a Division I board of director. When talking to students about their opinions of the UTMSU, he claimed that “the common theme is that big goals just aren’t feasible. A big part of this comes from being over-political. As a student’s union, we should only be as political as it has to be. UTM First wants to be a student’s union for all students no matter your race, sex, creed, or beliefs.”
“We genuinely want to make UTM better, and that won’t work if the student union is brought down by political opinio
ns that take the focus away from student issues,” added Taha.
VP University Affairs
Running for the VP university affairs and academics from the Fresh UTM team is Maya Tomkiewicz, who was this year’s UTMSU assistant to the board. Tomkiewicz advocated for clearer visibility about student codes of conducts and policies at the university.
“As a student, I was not aware of any policies or student code of conducts that I was forced to follow. This is just not right that many students are not made aware or have the accessibility to these codes that essentially govern their bodies,” she said. “I want to make sure that every student has the accessibility to have a successful university career.”
In her interview with The Medium, Tomkiewicz added that she wants to implement a midterm deferral policy, which she said is quite similar to the exam deferral fee. Tomkiewics also stated that the current exam deferral fee is $70, and that she and her team would try to eliminate this fee and add the midterm deferral policy at no cost.
Christina Khokhar is running on UTM First’s slate. Currently a first-year student and the chief debate officer of the debate league, her platform focuses on Fighting the Fees as well as making students aware about the various campus services and the different fees in their tuition.
“I want you to understand what we pay for and what resources that are available to you. [Information like] what’s included by tuition by hosting info sessions about what you pay for because too often do I hear: ‘I wish I knew that when I was a first year.’ I want them to say: ‘I’m glad I had that, I’m glad I knew about it,’” said Khokhar in her introductions.
“I also want to lobby for more opting-out options from tuition, other than the health and dental plan,” she added. Khokhar elaborated that she wants the opt-out options to include downtown U of T’s newspaper, The Varsity and U of T’s radio, CIUT. In an interview with The Medium, she explained that UTM collectively, by opting out of these two, would have more money that could rather be invested in the Brampton and Oakville transit, more in-course scholarships, and more bursaries.
Sagal Osman, an executive for the Black Students Association and Fresh’s candidate for VP equity, advocated to “provide students with platforms to love who they are, but also [to] love everyone around them. And the way to do that is to educate and start a conversation, all while maintaining a safe space for all of our community on campus.”
Diversity, inclusion, and accessibility were the main motivations for her candidacy as she said, “I want to collaborate with students and show real-life experiences. I’m prideful of the diversity we see at UTM.”
Mduduzi Mhlanga, team First’s candidate for VP equity, explained a different focus for the position. “My goal would not be to focus on the exact same issues that have been advocated by past candidates, by past execs across UTM and across UTSU downtown. I want to focus on finance, and that’s something that every student struggles with.”
Mhlanga told The Medium that he has been involved with the commission meetings, “which were a big contributing factor to my decision to run, because they showed how the UTMSU was spending students’ money instead of giving that money to clubs to bring students together.”
After introductions, candidates took part in a multi-round question period from students.
Some of the questions posed to candidates included “How would you ensure you created accessible safe spaces on campus?”, “How are you going to reinstate OHIP for international students?” and “Can you explain the governing structure at UTM?”
The questions prompted UTM First presidential candidate, Gignac, to note that “a lot of the questions are based on the main points of our opponents.”
In response to this claim, Qu from Fresh UTM told The Medium that the team members have all been involved on campus.
“We are all involved. We’ve worked in the student union, have been executives within clubs and societies. We know what we’re doing. We’re experienced, so that when the question was asked, we knew the answer,” he said. “Just because we knew the answer, doesn’t mean the questions were prepared.”
Presidential candidates were also asked about how they would go about establishing a Student Centre expansion.
Fresh’s Fakhry explained that her team would consult students, clubs, and societies, as well as finding an alternative-funding model to past suggestions.
“We must lobby to the administration to find a good funding model, an accessible funding model that takes the pressure off students. We don’t want students to be paying extra money because this is their right and this is their space,” said Fakhry.
Gignac for UTM First expressed the importance of consulting with the administration and establishing a plan before progressing with specific details.
“Once we reach an agreement with the university about how the Student Centre will be funded and we have 100 percent assurance that tuition fees won’t be raised, we’d start consulting students about what to do with the space, we’d start consulting societies, the clubs, and see what is useful,” he said. “It is important to consult what we can do, it’s important to consult how we’re going to get the action.”
Polls for the UTMSU spring elections resume this Tuesday to Thursday at IB, CCT, Davis, MAM, Kaneff and Deerfield.