Although “Let the #uscgames begin!” flashed on screen before opening remarks at Tuesday’s VP debate, any spectacle-starved voter would have been disappointed. The usual Twitter feed projection floating above candidates’ heads was put to rest while candidates for the slate-based USC positions of VP External and VP Internal debated key portfolio issues. Aside from moderator Andrew Shaw’s virtually celebrated #sass, a few tense questions from audience members, and one uncomfortable reference to “pulling out or staying in,” the event left sensationalism to the Super Bowl.
VP External Candidate Debate
External candidates’ opening statements were all loyal to the debate that followed. Sojnocki, Wood, and Eftekharpour were each consistent enough to earn a keyword for the purpose of this article. I don’t pretend to represent any candidate’s whole approach with a single concept, but each word is a useful starting point for discussion.
Jordan Sojnocki’s word is “experience” (as in “Best Student”). He was a cog in the larger Team McGuire machine made to regurgitate Western’s branding material for campaign fuel. Sojnocki opened by reminding students, “this is your Western,” and his stances often seemed neutral or poorly researched. His main initiative is to “bring businesses into the student bubble,” in part to give students better employment opportunities post-grad. Taking a business approach himself, Sojnocki also proposed that high tuition fees are necessary for motivating students to value their degrees.
Amy Wood’s word is “advocacy.” Her opening statement, while spoken as though scripted, highlighted a need for change. Wood’s intention to lower tuition is clear and admirable, however her plan of action remains unspecific. Team Prabhu’s External candidate plans to “build community relations” in London through volunteer opportunities and by better showcasing students’ involvement in the city. Making particular mention of Montreal’s student action, Wood hinted at a flavour of advocacy outside the sanitary realm of Purple Papers and policy. She also proved adept at challenging other candidates as she gained confidence throughout the debate.
Amir Eftekharpour’s word is “dialogue” (with students, with the aboriginal community, with non-profits in London and with Premier Life). Despite the Team Whelan slate member’s repeated use of such vague political phrasing, Eftekharpour’s genuine passion for the USC shone through at this debate. His approach to municipal engagement seemed antagonistic, however, including the assertion that “the only thing for students here is Western.” He is also concerned with students being systematically targeted by London Police’s Project L.E.A.R.N., which he plans to replace with a Good Neighbour campaign.
VP Internal Candidate Debate
Much of Blake Barkley’s rhetoric dripped with disdain for other candidates’ initiatives. Running on McGuire’s slate, Barkley served as the voice of administrative reason in Tuesday’s debate. He seemed wary of change and often cited the University’s existing bureaucratic framework as a barrier. Barkley self-identified as the only Internal candidate with extensive lobbying experience. Evidently, he is also the most worn down by previous frustrations with the system; he understands the limitations of the USC’s role and proposed no major initiatives, clearly preferring to work toward small improvements through policy revision and better relationships with the deans.
Dan Bain’s delivery was unremarkable, masking several good ideas. His plans to provide better downtown study space for students and to appoint a USC commissioner in charge of international student relations are productive and achievable. However, the Team Prabhu candidate also spoke of more vague initiatives, such as “raising awareness” about USC senators and providing “better service for first year students,” which were not as strong.
Of the three Internal candidates, Team Whelan’s Sam Krishnapillai inspired the most confidence. She took a definite stance on several issues that Barkley and Bain only prodded at. While presenting overly simplistic views on topics such as per-credit tuition and academic counseling (it “sucks”), her strong opinions demonstrated a determination for improvement. Krishnapillai proposed online systems as solutions to internal issues such as academic counseling and study space. She also traced her ideas back to those of Eftekharpour and Team Whelan generally, showing off some slate synergy.
Closing Remarks With the Slates
In her final remark, McGuire urged students to focus their votes on feasibility. Much of what Sojnocki and Barkley said demonstrated their confidence in the way the university currently operates, and the team seems to lack larger goals for the USC. While the effort to make students feel “at home” at Western is commendable, it’s also a weak vision for a student government.
Prabhu’s closing statement, a book-end to Wood’s opening, once again emphasized a need for change. Shifts toward an increased presence for academia and clubs during O-Week, more advocacy for lower tuition fees, and an increased student presence in downtown London will appeal to voters who are hungry for change. However, the team’s campus credit card initiative was exposed as irresponsible, and Prabhu himself failed to inspire at Tuesday’s debate.
Whelan’s final remark grounded his slate members; while Eftekharpour and Krishnapillai are clearly both passionate and experienced, it is the presidential candidate’s insight and diplomacy that may ultimately sway voters. Still, FIMS students are well-equipped to question Team Whelan’s techno-optimism, and its focus on catering to the existing USC community through such initiatives as a Soph Association may isolate other voters.
Elizabeth Sarjeant is OPENWIDE’s Managing Editor. It’s a wonder she has any time to attend debates, seeing as how she is also a fourth-year Hon. Spec. MIT student, FIMSSC VP Academic, and has a life besides!