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Apathy reigns supreme at SFSS Executive Debate

Attendance and engagement minimal as candidates answer questions

Darien Lechner (left) looks on as Deepak Sharma (right) checks his notes during the presidential debate.
Darien Lechner (left) looks on as Deepak Sharma (right) checks his notes during the presidential debate.
Image Credits: Lisa Dimyadi

“I kind of expected there would be a lot more people up here,” remarked Simon Fraser Student Society presidential candidate Darien Lechner during his opening statement. He wasn’t the only one.

After an intense debate at last year’s Burnaby campus debates for those running for executive positions, including president and vice president positions, no one candidate was able to stand apart as a clear front-runner in a debate that took much less time than was budgeted for.

The afternoon was a low-energy question-and-answer period, with nine candidates jostling for six positions. Three of the positions (VP Student Life, VP Student Services, and VP University Relations) were uncontested, helping to contribute to the lack of debating between candidates.

There was only one slate, Connected, with members running in executive positions. Anyone else running was doing so as an independent.

VP External Relations – Archit Bansal vs. Christine Dyson (Connected)  WEB-External-Lisa Dimyadi

In their opening statements, Bansal indicated his intentions to focus on open textbooks and lowering student fees, while Dyson chose not to mention specifics.

Bansal argued that it was time for fresh faces on the board, springboarding off of members from the audience who questioned having continuity from current board members remaining board members.

Dyson responded by stating that she is currently working with open textbooks, an initiative which Bansal says he wants to get started with.

Bansal went on to campaign for his clear vision on the issues, and Dyson touted her experience and drive to find out “what students want.”

VP Finance – Ibrahim Hafeez vs. Hangue Kim (Connected)WEB-VP Finance-Lisa Dimyadi

The debate started with both Hafeez and Kim acknowledging they were friends, which came up several times throughout their short time at the microphones. Kim insisted that they had worked together on several projects throughout the year, and was glad they were having a civil and friendly competition.

Kim’s big priority for his campaign is the restructuring of cheque requisitions. He believes that, “if we improve [cheque requisition], it’s kind of a domino effect for other services.” Improving this service makes getting money back to students easier, and Kim said this was an issue that several students were complaining about.

Hafeez took a stronger stance. “I believe the system is broken,” he said answering how he felt the SFSS manages money. “The budget is created by the board before the new board is elected, and that’s not the way to go.”

He mentioned the desire to create something he called “The Opportunity Budget” which focused on incoming board members sitting down and determining a new budget that would reflect student wants and needs.

VP Student Life – Curtis Pooghkay (Connected)WEB-The Poogh-Lisa Dimyadi

Running uncontested, Curtis Pooghkay touted his ideas, which consisted of building engagement across all the campuses, and eliminating the idea of SFU being a “commuter campus,” wanting students to want to come here for more than just classes and go home.

He also threw his support behind the fraternities and sororities on campus, saying that Greek Life is “highly engaged” in student life, and they should be rewarded for their efforts.

VP Student Services – Larissa Chen (Connected) WEB-Larissa-Lisa Dimyadi

Chen highlighted her student desire to have services be more accessible in person, and pointed at the U-Pass as the number one service that students depend on, noting the importance of this year’s referendum. She also gave a shout-out to the copy centre, which she feels is an underutilized service on campus.

One of her big mandates for next year is to try and improve student well-being, specifically in regards to mental health. Chen acknowledged that issue is very dear to her, and wants to advocate for more staffing to accommodate a greater need from students.

VP University Relations – Arr Farah (Connected) WEB-University Relations-Lisa Dimyadi

The final uncontested debate was also the shortest, with Farah fielding few questions from the crowd.

He did say that while “the student society and the university have had a good relationship, [. . .] the student society has been taken advantage of by the university in many areas.” He pointed to Build SFU and maintenance as a couple examples, and said he would improve this relationship if elected, one which would allow the ability to advocate for these issues.

President – Darien Lechner vs. Deepak Sharma (Connected)WEB-Prez-Lisa Dimyadi

In the final debate of the day, the two candidates campaigning to be president got the chance to argue why they are worthy of students’ votes, with the two having to field so many questions from the audience that time had to be extended past the regulation.

Sharma pushed for the ideology of SFU to shift from a commuter school with satellite campuses to one that sees SFU as a “tri-campus university,” helping to increase connection between the three campuses.

As for Lechner, he made it clear that his main priority was to get students more involved in campus life, primarily through reducing the amount of money he was taking, and making it more obvious to student where the money that was being collected from them is going.

Both candidates were questioned by the audience about their evasive answers, with current VP University Relations going as far as to call some of their responses “fluff” on Twitter. (For more of the day’s tweets, check out our coverage here)

Current president Enoch Weng and VP Student Services Darwin Binesh had several questions for the candidates, and made sure to instill the notion that candidates could not agree to advocate for every issue brought their way, as the role of president is forced to make tough decisions.

Looking forward

With two more debates happening next week at the Surrey and Vancouver campuses, IEC chief Vanna Lodders believes that there is still plenty of time for students to show up and ask candidates about their platforms, which will be released by the debates.

She took responsibility for their unavailability today. “I extended the the due date to the 11th is because I didn’t communicate that early enough to everyone that they needed their platforms due and I know a lot of people wanted to take their time with them,” she said.

“I didn’t want to rush anybody and have them put out a platform they didn’t want and then ask me to edit it and then me tell them no. My own thinking was to give people enough time.”

Last year, the Burnaby debates were the most popular ones, with noticeably more students showing up there than the Vancouver or Surrey campuses. It will be interesting to see if more students attend the off-mountain debates given how few showed up for the main event this year.