Posted in Features

The Peak‘s 2016 SFSS endorsements

Our picks for the 2016–2017 SFSS Board of Directors and referendum questions

CMYK-Exec-Lisa Dimyadi

Editor’s Note

Last year, we received a lot of criticism from readers in response to our candidate endorsements. Among the complaints was the argument that publishing our endorsements so close to the election was likely to sway voters, and that privileging our own opinions over that of other students implied that our opinions were somehow more valuable than those of the student body at large. Hundreds of our papers were taken off shelves by angry readers, an act of censorship that deprived our contributors and editors the chance to have their work reach a wide audience of SFU students.

With this controversy in mind, we have decided to again offer our endorsements for the executive candidates in the upcoming SFSS elections. Many student newspapers across Canada, including The Ubyssey at the University of British Columbia and The Gateway at the University of Alberta, have included candidate endorsements in their election coverage. It is common practice among news sources, and we agree that this practice is ultimately one that we at The Peak plan to continue.

While we recognise that many of the points brought up by our readers were valid, we are confident that our endorsements will offer students a valuable perspective on the elections and the candidates. We spend more time than almost any student covering the actions of the SFSS Board of Directors, and this gives us a valuable perspective on which candidates will best serve the interests of SFU students in the future. Our endorsements are based on the promises made in the candidates’ profiles as well as their performance in debates and their history with student government and initiatives at SFU and in general.

Given the relatively low number of candidates running in this election and the notably low turnout at the candidate debates, we feel that it is more important than ever that we offer our perspective on the elections to our readers. However, we recognise that this perspective will not be shared by all of our readers, and we encourage you to send us your thoughts via our Facebook page or through email. As always, we welcome feedback — both positive and negative — and we hope that this will provoke conversation among SFU students that will result in greater overall involvement with student government.

As with our endorsements last year, the following represents the views and perspectives of select members of our editorial team, and does not reflect the views and perspectives of The Peak Publications Society as a whole.

 

President: None

The SFSS elections this year only attracted 24 candidates, roughly half the number who ran last year. Nowhere is this lack of candidates more keenly felt than in the race for SFSS President. While both Deepak Sharma and Darien Lechner are passionate and capable candidates, nearly all of our team agreed that neither would ultimately be a good fit for the role.

In Sharma’s time as VP Student Life, he has been largely successful in promoting events and initiatives for student engagement. He’s also proven himself a charismatic and likeable leader. Last year, we confidently endorsed him for this role he eventually took on, noting his previous experience and passion for the role.

However, his time on the board has not been without its hiccups, and the fact that many of his fellow board members have been openly disparaging of Sharma at debates speaks volumes. Sharma has focused more on his own personal projects than on those that benefit the students as a whole, and many of the skills he built as VP Student Life don’t translate to those needed for an SFSS President.

As a self-proclaimed outsider candidate, Darien Lechner has received plenty of support from disenfranchised students who feel underrepresented by the SFSS. To his credit, his performance in debates has been arguably stronger than Sharma’s — whereas the latter comes off as rehearsed and stilted, Lechner has been confident and calm, appealing to students from outside the SFSS’ inner circle.

The problem, however, isn’t just that Lechner has no real experience that would prepare him for such a role. He’s also a one-issue candidate: he continually stresses the Build SFU project without really expanding on the rest of his platform. A former member of the No to Build SFU movement, Lechner has promised to lower the levy for non-Burnaby students paying for the project. But he hasn’t really explained how he would do this without defaulting on the SFSS’ loan, which would financially incapacitate the whole organization. Lechner has made a lot of promises, but few of them are backed up by any plans or achievable goals.

Ultimately, the majority of our board was in agreeance that neither candidate would be a good choice for the role of SFSS President. As such, we recommend that students vote for neither.

Results: 11 for none, 2 abstentions

Disclaimer: Darien Lechner previously contributed to The Peak’s humour section regularly.

 

VP External: Christine Dyson

VP-External-ChristineHeadshotThough The Peak has decided to endorse Christine Dyson for the position of VP External, our endorsement is a lukewarm one. For Dyson to truly earn our support, she needs to commit to a stronger stance on issues affecting students on campus, and maintain a confident approach to her role.

In debates, Dyson often came off as unprepared and nervous. Her opponent Archit Bansal, while generally unfamiliar with the expectations of the role, was often able to speak over her and dominate the conversation. Ultimately, however, Bansal’s candidate profile is overly focused on maintaining ties with other student unions in the province, and does not reflect the needs and wants of SFU students; also, his lack of experience with student initiatives stands out against Dyson’s work with projects such as BC Open Textbooks. We have no reason to believe that Bansal has the necessary credentials to serve the board.

While the majority of our staff believes that Dyson is the best choice for the role, we hope that she takes after her predecessor Kathleen Yang in focusing on a specific set of issues that pertain to students, rather than trying to tackle everything at once.

Results: 8 for Christine, 3 for Archit, 2 abstentions

 

VP Finance: Ibrahim Hafeez

VP Finance-Ibrahim Hafeez

In debates and in their platforms, Ibrahim Hafeez and Hangue Kim have stressed very different priorities for the role of VP Finance. Given what we know of both candidates, it’s likely that Kim would continue in the footsteps of previous VPs Finance Adam Potvin and Barbara Szymczyk, whereas Hafeez would approach the role with the intention of making large structural changes.

In our view, large structural changes are exactly what the SFSS needs, and we feel confident that Hafeez is the best person for the job. Though his performance in debates has been underwhelming, his experience and credentials speak for themselves. His candidate profile further underlined this commitment to efficient and prioritised spending. Kim’s, on the other hand, focused primarily on smaller issues like cheque requisitions and student outreach.

Though Kim would likely be capable at maintaining the SFSS’ finances, we feel that a fresh set of eyes is much-needed. We offer Hafeez our endorsement.

Results: 10 for Ibrahim, 2 for Hangue, 1 abstention

 

VP Student Services: Larissa Chen

Larissa - The Peak Headshot

Our staff agreed that Larissa Chen is the among the most qualified candidates among all of those running for executive roles in this year’s election. In fact, if we had our way, Larissa would have run for President.

In her time as Health Sciences representative, Chen has regularly gone above and beyond the expectations of her role, helping others on the board and consistently advocating for students. Furthermore, Chen has appeared knowledgeable and humble in debates, openly admitting to her shortcomings and displaying a remarkable willingness to address important changes to SFU’s mental health services, sexual assault services, and campus accessibility.

Despite running unopposed, Chen is a perfect fit for the role of VP Student Services. We offer her our enthusiastic endorsement.

Results: 13 for Larissa

 

VP Student Life: Curtis Pooghkay

VP-Student-Life-Curtis

Our staff was split on whether or not to endorse Curtis Pooghkay, and ultimately our decision hinged on a single vote. However, Pooghkay narrowly receives our endorsement.

We agreed that Pooghkay has been impressive in debates and has taken his candidacy very seriously. He echoed his slatemate Deepak’s commitment to breaking down SFU’s “commuter campus” status, and his commitment to creating new faculty and departmental student unions is sure to prove popular with voters. Further, like his predecessor, Pooghkay is approachable and excels at dealing with individual students.

However, many of us were concerned at Pooghkay’s unqualified support of Greek Life on campus during debates. Greek Life has been fighting for recognition from the SFSS and the university for years, and several staff members noted issues with alleged hazing rituals as well as exclusion of students based on gender. Furthermore, Pooghkay’s argument for a Fall reading break just doesn’t seem realistic.

Ultimately, Pooghkay is a better choice than a “no” vote, albeit only barely. For him to improve in our eyes, he will need to further explain his support for fraternities and sororities at SFU, and to focus more on events and initiatives that benefit the majority of students.

Results: 7 for Curtis, 6 for none

 

VP University Relations: Arr Farah

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Our staff offers our endorsement Arr Farah for the role of VP University. However, Farah is far from a perfect candidate.

While Farah does possess many qualities that make him an asset to the current Board of Directors — his willingness to disagree with board consensus, his clear and concise communication style, and his knowledge of the SFSS — his virtues have been very nearly overshadowed by his flaws throughout the elections season.

In particular, Farah has come off in debates as standoffish and overly comfortable with his status as the sole candidate for VP University. Many feel that he needs to work harder to earn the votes of students, and his commitment towards fighting the university on issues like deferred maintenance and TSSU job action have felt overly compromising and toothless.

What we need in a VP University is someone who is willing to fight for students — both for their votes and their interests — well after they are elected. Ultimately, we feel that Farah has the potential to be this person if elected to the Board of Directors.

Results: 8 for Arr, 3 for none, 2 abstentions

 

Referendum questions: Yes

We unanimously advocate a “yes” vote for both referendum questions.

A “yes” vote for the first referendum question is arguably more important than any other vote you’ll cast in this election. The most recent numbers available showed that 88 percent of SFU students use their U-Pass, and the U-Pass program has long been a source of pride for the SFSS as a whole. Though this vote does ask for a larger levy from students — $1.50 more per year for two years — the alternative is that we lose our U-Pass entirely. We’re guessing you don’t want that. We don’t want it either, which is why we fully endorse a “yes” vote.

Results: 13 for yes

 

The second is basically a formality: both SFSS and Schools Building Schools (SBS) themselves are advocating for the cancellation of a meagre student levy currently awarded to SBS. This is pretty much a done deal — they just need the “yes” votes. The staff uniformly agreed that we might as well give them those votes.

Results: 13 for yes

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