The Carillon questions candidates about their platforms
On Wednesday, Mar. 7, the four University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) presidential candidates – Snowy Bear, Nick Faye, Haanim Nur, and Nathan Sgrazzutti – sat down together in the Carillon office to answer questions that are on, or should be on, students’ minds. The majority of it is excerpted below; for the whole 40-minute roundtable, visit carillonregina.com.
Why are you running for president?
Snowy Bear: I really want people to have fun here at the campus. Now Damien – my campaign manger – wrote my bio and I think it may have got away from my true campaign, which is to bring more bacon to the campus. If students have to pay for mandatory meal plan, they should have more diverse bacon options on the menu. If they’re forced to pay for something they should have a choice – if not, then why the hell are the paying for it?
Nathan Sgarzzutti: It eventually became my decision to run for president because, when were coming together as a group who wanted to run as an entire slate, I was the one who knew everyone, had an interest in everyone, and knew everyone’s ideas. I have been an everyman jack-of-all-trades for everything I am interested in, from sports to arts to everything in between. I am able to connect with anyone who has a got a problem or any one [who] needs something done.
Nick Faye: I have had an interest in politics ever since I was little, and I made a conscious effort to get involved in the university a couple of years ago, and it’s just been the best experience of my life. I started paying attention to URSU for the last couple of years and I loved it. I think I have the leadership skills. I am a glue guy; I think I can bring a lot of different people together and I think I can bring a real sense of professionalism and leadership to the executive.
Haanim Nur: After serving one term as vice-president of finance, I gained a lot of experience of the whole executive’s URSU role. The reason I am running is because I think students deserve a strong and diverse team and a strong president when talking to the university administration, when talking to the municipal, provincial, and federal governments. What we need is a leader [who] represents all students on campus and bridge[s] a lot of relationships and work[s] toward student issues.
Is it URSU’s place to provide a platform for social issues?
Faye: My personal opinion of this – and obviously this depends on things like the [annual general meeting] and student voting – is that we shouldn’t be taking partisan stances. I feel we should try and keep that out of student politics as much as possible. If there are issues that are relevant to students’ education and student issues that we need to take a stance on, I am all for it. Supporting a teacher during a teacher strike: I stand behind that one hundred per cent because we have a vested interest in students. Blogging about rallying in the streets for a postal workers strike at a CFS [Canadian Federation of Students] meeting on an URSU blog and the recent Israel issue at the AGM: students voted it in and we need to respect that, but my personal viewpoint is we need to be more neutral and speak up on only student or education issues.
Nur: The way URSU is mandated, just going off of what Nick said about the whole Israeli motion, is we have to follow a constitution and the way the constitution works is that if students voted in the AGM and that motion carries, then URSU supports it. I really respect democracy that URSU plays a large role in and having an AGM and having the ability to put a motion forward and then having enough support for that and going carrying on those goals – in that sense, I am really proud of URSU.
Sgrazzutti: First and foremost, the University of Regina Students’ Union is just that: it’s a union for the students, it’s a union for the betterment of the student’s experience and, although things like what’s going on in Israel and the currently popular issues in Uganda [are important], it’s not something that’s going to exactly affect students right here, right now. As the University of Regina’s Students’ Union, you’re here to support all student societies, any student club that wants to get involved. If there is a club that says we’re going to be political activists, I would be more than ready to fund them, but fairly, in a line with all other club funding; they would get the same amount we would give to anyone else because, although it was something voted in at an AGM. it could mean there were other whole clubs that weren’t there, that couldn’t be there and able to put in their voice, which is something that I want to work on as well, to get all people out to make these big decisions, not just the smaller groups that are able to make it out to the general meetings.
Bear: I brought ice cream if anyone wants to try some. It’s amazing. Have you ever had freshly cooked bacon on vanilla ice cream? It’s tasty. If you have never tried vanilla ice cream and bacon you are missing out and these are the opportunities that students are missing out on campus: vanilla ice cream and bacon.
Faye: Just to go back, I definitely agree with Haanim that that was voted in. Regardless of whether or not students complain about it, that was voted in. Show up and vote if you really feel strongly for it. But I feel this particular issue might have marginalized a few members of the Jewish community or the Israeli community, so I am not sure how I feel about the issue, but it was voted in by students and, if you didn’t vote, I don’t think it is appropriate to complain.
Nur: Actually just going off of that as well. Some students a part of Israeli Appreciation Week came up to my office and actually spoke with me about the BDS motion that passed. I let them know how URSU works and the structures in place and I let them know that they do have options. If they want to call a special general meeting, that could happen. They could also bring a motion to the AGM and vote on it next year. I let them know of their options and that URSU did not persecute against a certain group of people; it was a motion brought forward by students and voted on by students.
Bear: I also brought cookies and cream toppings for the ice cream. I noticed no one really wanted my ice cream, so I brought this if you want.
What do you think the current board did well and what do you think it needed to improve on?
Sgrazzutti: Hands down, especially from our last question, the board did a great job of supporting things that was voted in the AGM such as the Israel issue. That should always be continued through URSU because that’s our job. [Something] that could be worked on is a much better connection with the faculty and with the outside government. I think instead of taking an incredible hard-nosed stance when dealing with members of our faculty we should be able to communicate and keep things from getting a little too heated and be able to come to a happy medium, where the students can be happy and where the teachers and the faculty are happy enough to let it kind of continue.
Bear: At the beginning of this winter term I was very impressed that the URSU was out there giving out bacon to students. I was tired, I had just waited in line for 10 minutes for Tim Horton’s, and then the next thing I know I walked over and – bacon. Oh emm gee. Yes, there were pancakes, hash browns, and sausage, but bacon. Thank you. And that is something that I would continue on the tradition – with more bacon, of course – for the following year.
Faye: I was really impressed with the election video campaign. I thought it was great, it was really well done. I loved how URSU came out and supported the teachers; we have vested interest in education and we need show support. I felt there was a very partisan slant to one way a lot of times. I think that translated in the dealings of the government and members of the University of Regina. If elected, I would really put a focus on making constructive relationships and trying to build them and trying to maintain a sense of professionalism in day-to-day dealings, just try and build those relationships. It is easy to let your opinions alter the way that you represent the school. In reality, your job is to represent all students, not just your opinions.
Nur: One of the things that I was really proud of this year was the URSU budget that was passed in June. We increased sponsorship, we increased club funding, we decreased the dollar amount for locker rentals; just overall I was really proud the board of directors passed it. We also had a really great elections campaign for the provincial election. We tied in a lot of student issues, like tuition fees, housing, childcare, aboriginal education, and general youth voting. A lot of students were pleased with the actions that were taken and we just had a great time overall running the campaign and making students aware of the issues. Another thing I was proud of this year was the Day of Action campaign that we ran as well with the CFS. We called on the federal government to take off the two-per-cent cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, which is the funding mechanism in place to fund First Nations and Inuit students.
Bear: Can I propose a Day of Bacon?
Parking is a major concern for students. What would be your plan to address this, if elected?
Nur: This is actually one point on our platform this year. That the plan for next year – considering there is a municipal election coming up – would be to work with the City of Regina and the University of Regina for better transit. Lots of students have communicated that if bus routes were more accessible – not like twenty minutes away from their house – they would take the bus. And if it wasn’t a forty minute to an hour ride to campus they would take the bus. So, with the upcoming election, work with the people that I mentioned to get transit to become better. I think that would automatically make the parking issue better. If we have more students taking the bus then that frees up more lots. So for parking in general is to work with the U of R and get more lots on campus and to get long-term sustainable plan in place for parking.
Faye: This is a huge issue. Basically for the university you need to spend money to make money. We took a hundred spots off the market last year; we’re building a 450 new spots for this fall which is good, but the school is going continue to grow. That is the short-to-medium term solution, is to get these spots up and we need to sure were looking at medium solutions for parking. Just to segue off Haanim’s point, I take the bus. I tweet from the bus. I love public transit, but Regina transit is a very frustrating thing. I don’t take it because it is efficient, I take it because I love it and I believe the long-term solution for our transportation problems is developing infrastructure for transit and maybe creating a report so the next U-Pass vote; we can give it to the students to say if you give us your money, if vote this in these are the improvements you can expect. I don’t think that was ever prevalent in any previous U-Pass referendums.
Sgrazzutti: So like Nathan and Haanim said parking is a huge issue at the university and I think all of us hope to improve that in the next year. From my point of view, I think taking a moderate approach to fix the issues is the best course of action. I have heard a ton of ideas being past across the table: why don’t we build a parkade, why don’t we build a hundred new stalls. While all of these are good ideas – especially the parkade – these are all expensive and will take time. Something that an URSU can work positively towards is something like adding a new parking lot and possibly dropping the fee of a parking pass. If the lot is too far away for students, then possibly looking at something a little more radical and possible like a shuttle that can go in between from a farther parking lot to the front of the university buildings. It is a little out of the box, but it is something that could work.
Bear: [Making audible chewing noises] Bacon. Give bacon to any students that choose to ride the bus, that way everyone would leave their cars at home. If students get bacon they will go and do things that are good for the environment and stuff. Bacon is such an amazing incentive.
Just to recap, are you for or against a U-Pass?
Nur: I would be for a U-Pass after doing some polling and after doing some tangible planning with the City of Regina and then ensuring they would make transit better and after doing some longterm planning with the university and the city. Then I would be for having a referendum.
Faye: I took two years at the U of S and the first year I went there was the first year of the implementation of a U-Pass. I have some experience and initially I said I wouldn’t use it. I think that the transit system was as bad there as it is in Regina; it is pretty terrible. I am not meaning to hate on the City of Regina. I think that if we take a few years, develop a report, develop a plan with the city, and can tell students a tangible plan, these are the things you can expect. I think we are a couple years away from a U-Pass vote, but I would be for it if the students knew where there money was going.
Sgrazzutti: If it’s something the students want then I would support it.
Bear: U-Pass, Bacon Pass, I am all for it if it’s for the environment, but the details have to be worked out. How much it costs, how much bacon is given out – these are things that have to be talked with students after were earn there attention and trust.
Apathy is becoming a major issue on campus. How do you plan on engaging students and increase participation on campus?
Sgrazzutti: I guess the first thing is to get known and then to get people to vote. For things run by URSU and student societies, the first thing is awareness. We need to get people to know that these activities are actually happening. We had that problem with the AGMs in the past year. Students didn’t know about them. So by making students aware by their student societies working with their student societies we can make things happen.
Bear: Doing things that catch their attention, that truly draw the[ir] attention away from the[ir] everyday life and making an impact, so that once you have the[ir] attention doing things that matter.
Nur: That is actually one of the points that is on our platform this year as well: increase student engagement. One of the ways we as a team would do this is by having these things called the URSU socials. Where every once a month we will sponsor a keg at the Owl and we will have a theme around – for example the Rams’ big night, or the basketball teams, or the wrestling or swim teams – just to get students engaged that way. Also through continuing the campaigns we did this year.
Faye: Just making sure things such as voting are as accessible as possible, just making sure things are as easy for students to get there as possible. And just to touch on what Nathan said, working with the student groups. They have a wide reach on our campus and I thin[k] if we reach out to them, get them more involved, maybe send out a newsletter, just try and get them on board for all our campaigns.
Do you think board of governor meetings should be open? How would you best advocate for students while they continue to be closed?
Bear: Of course they should be public; everyone should know what’s going on behind closed doors. But how to get them involved, get them in front of the doors knocking. If you don’t want this to be private, if you want to know what’s happening, go and make a scene, and bring bacon. If you have fresh bacon the smell will draw them out. Trust me. Works for me every time.
Nur: I think board of governor meetings should be open. I definitely would work towards working with the students on campus basically making them aware board of governors’ meetings are closed and basically making them aware of this issue. I understand that some students say that meetings then wouldn’t be as efficient, but the fact of the matter is students wouldn’t get to speak anyways. As students we just want to sit there and watch, as students we just want to see how the motions are being voted on.
Faye: I see no reason why they should be closed. URSU meetings are open [and] they work fine, its not like they get too disruptive. We’re just students curious about how our money is being used and the things on the horizon, etc. I don’t think it would hurt anything; I would obviously expect students to be professional at these meetings. I believe they should be open and I see no reason why they should really be closed.
Sgrazzutti: In order for the board of governors to have open meetings we need to have a much stronger relationship with them, by being a much more active and easier to work with group. I believe slowly with time we can gain that trust that students can enter the board meetings.
What kind of relationship do you want with Vianne Timmons?
Nur: I want a good relationship with Vianne. Vianne is a great person; I met her a couple of times. We worked great together this year, as well. One quick point about our relationship with Vianne is that she actually came to our AGM. We asked her to come and say a few words. This year’s was a little different because we criticized the administration on the parking issue, but I think that is what essentially a students’ union is for. It doesn’t mean we have burned any bridges, it just means were a strong representation.
Faye: Just on that parking issue I thought we went at that in abrasive way and I think we could have been more diplomatic. I would really try to forge constructive relationships with Vianne. I met her as well; she seems like a really nice person and congrats on her getting her contract being extended. I think that is going to be a huge key for getting this university anywhere, making that relationship strong. I just thought last year they got off on the completely wrong foot, with that abrasive campaign.
Sgrazzutti: I am behind Nick a hundred per cent. By working with Vianne for the new student orientations and the winter orientations, I can see she is very smart lady and she knows what she wants for the university and she wants the best and that is no different than what an URSU should want.
Bear: I think she is an amazing person and that I really think if students vote on incentives – like if you help us out, we’ll bribe you with bacon. Did I say bribe-bonuses with bacon? Vianne bacon, Vianne bacon – that’s all I have to say. Bacon bacon bacon bacon bacon, it’s for you if you help us out.
Why kind of relationship do you think URSU should have with Brad Wall and the provincial government?
Faye: I think at especially at the provincial level it is going to be very important to keep communication open and to try and create these constructive relationships. I am using that a lot because I like that phrase. I thought again, just with some of the personal opinions of the board members last year, there is nothing wrong with voicing your opinions and standing up for students on an issue, but I think you need to do so respectfully and you need to do so in a constructive manner to try and build and go forward and not to clash.
Sgrazzutti: The day the provincial government starts acting in a way that it’s universities will fail, is the day the provincial government itself will fail. Support from youth and parents of youth is a huge part for them, so by having a strong relationship with Brad Wall and the provincial government we’re able to once again converse with them instead of being very hard-nosed and attacking them.
Bear: I believe if students vote for Snowy Bear to be the next president then media, as well as politicians, will pay more attention to us and then we will have the opportunity to send our message in a more positive way. But we first need that attention that I can provide with bacon.
Nur: I really do agree with the guys here, I really do want a strong relationship with the provincial government considering that post-secondary education is a provincial jurisdiction. I think it is important to communicate our asks and our issues and it is important to do so in a very respectable and efficient manner.
Do you think slates or parties have a place in student politics? Do you think it takes away from a diversity and forces people to vote for people in a slate that they don’t necessarily want, but because it is part of a slate?
Sgrazzutti: I only have thirty seconds, but I really want to fit in that I am really excited for Nick’s answer. Personally I think that, although a slate and parties do defeat the original idea of democracy, I do think a slate [is] also good because within a slate you can find teamwork, co-operation, and a way to voice opinions that all of you have. So by having 20 people interested in the same thing then just one, it is easier to get an idea across to multiple people.
Bear: They can do what they want; it just leaves it up to the independent runners to be creative in what they do so they can be noticed. Yes they have a budget increase, they can buy bigger ads in the Carillon, but you know whatever, life’s a bitch – sometimes you got to go with it.
Nur: I think slates can be a strong mechanism when you’re running a campaign, but I strictly believe URSU should only have executive slates; I don’t believe in the slates with the board of directors, just because the board of directors provide an oversight on the executive. I think slates are good for teamwork.
Faye: Parties and slates have huge value in the province and in the federal government; they run the country. I think at the student level it takes away from learning more about the individual. Instead of having students market their individual skills, I feel the shift is on this group that might not even work together depending on the votes. They have to work with all different types of slates and people.