USC Elections 2014-VP Debate

Last Wednesday was the first debate of the 2014 USC Election season. VP Internal and External candidates from both platforms debated before Team Belman and Team Helfand faced off. Topics discussed included free tuition, Western’s Strategic Plan and student activism. Given last week’s silent protest against the Strategic Plan, and the demonstration held during O-Week, such issues are especially important to FIMS students.Read below to find out the opinions of each slate on these issues.

External Debates: Steven Wright and Jen Carter

Along with OUSA, one of the major topics of the night was free tuition. The candidates were asked if they agree with the 60% of students who voted in a recent poll with The Gazette. Wright of Team Belman said “In the current environment we are operating in, I don’t think tuition should be free”, adding it is unrealistic. While Team Helfand’s Carter felt post-secondary education should be free in theory, she knew it wasn’t realistic due to budget cuts.

When asked about their single biggest priority in London, Carter wanted to focus on building relationships with municipalities, but Wright said later in the debate he felt that was already established. Rather, he plans to encourage students to explore London beyond Richmond Row. In other words, burst the Western bubble.

External Debate Highlight: In terms of provincial differentiation, the candidates were asked which of the three different goals with the new policies they would advocate for. Wright felt the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines should not be the only ones receiving benefits. Carter called the differentiation unfair, and she hopes it won’t stick around for much longer.

Both of the candidates’ opinions are similar to the highlights of Jordan Coop’s call to action. While the former FIMSSC president stated “this is not a diatribe against STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”, and emphasized unity between all faculties on campus, the comments in the debate added more to the point. The breadth requirements mean students must take an arts, social science and science credit to graduate, regardless of faculty. Regardless of which program receives more benefits, all programs should be balanced to ensure the students are receiving quality education in all aspects.

External Debate Lowlight: Although free tuition is an important student issue, and is one that needs to be discussed, there wasn’t too much contrast in this part of the debate. Sure, Carter may have received applause after she said free tuition is ideal, but she clarified she knew it wasn’t realistic. Either way, it’s good that both candidates know that it’s unrealistic to achieve, even if tuition is pricey.

Internal Debates: Alex Benac and Emily Addison

The first question for the two VP Internal candidates was about the Western Strategic Plan. Team Belman’s Benac explained, as a FIMS student, he would’ve voted against it. However, he believes now’s the time for the USC to make sure voices are still heard. Addison of Team Helfand, on the other hand, said she would’ve been for it, but would make sure that it includes the students in the process.

The candidates were also asked about the “most exciting” and “biggest flaw” of the strategic plan. Benac praised the plan for striving for an improved teaching quality, but he noted he would make sure the Strategic Plan is positive for all, regardless of faculty, including liberal arts. Addison also liked that the plan intended to redefine what it means to provide excellence, but felt the plan needed to redefine what it meant.

When later asked about how they would handle student protests, both candidates said they feel students should be allowed to protest, but only if they are non-violent.

Internal Debate Highlight: This might be a bit obvious, given the above summary. However, the discussion of the protests was the key part of the debate. The timing of the questions couldn’t have been more perfect, especially since last week’s demonstration advocated for the Arts and Humanities, Social Science, FIMS, and Music programs. While only time will tell how the plan will affect these programs over the next few years, the plan’s been criticized for allegedly putting them at a disadvantage. That demonstration, and the O-Week protest earlier this year, were silent ones, but the signs still put the message across.

Internal Debate Lowlight: There was more of a similar stance on the issues addressed in the debate. Of course, I’d rather know both candidates are advocating for mental health, rather than only one advocating for it. Other than the slightly different answers to the first Strategic Plan question, however, there wasn’t a lot of contrast. It’s still only the first debate, so perhaps we will see more contrast later in the campaign.

Slate Debates: Team Belman vs. Team Helfand

This is where things got heated, with the most rebuttals out of the whole debate. With different off-campus goals made in the VP External Debate, and similar stances during the VP Internal Debate, the Slate Debates picked up the action quickly. Particularly, after Belman stated he could see beneficial opportunities from connecting technology and democracy. Helfand noted that a “techno-utopianism” cannot be created, then Belman rebuttled his point. Helfand stated he believes relying on technology shouldn’t be the top priority. From that point on, the Slate Debate went on to what could’ve been a solid conclusion.  I’ll explain shortly, but first read the highlight.

Slate Debate Highlight: Student apathy. Being a critical thinker, rather than apathetic, is part of being a FIMS student. However, it’s important for all students in every program to engage in this behaviour. Regardless of how you feel about either party, students become involved in the student government to make changes to potentially help their peers and the rest of the campus. Asking the candidates about the issue made it clear that student apathy is a problem, especially since it affects them directly.

Slate Debate Lowlight: At the end of the night, the last question concerned the UCC. Did someone address the Victoria’s Secret PINK controversy of last fall? Nope, it was about the doors at the front of the atrium.  The anonymous rant complained about the appearance of them, and how the structure makes it hard for students to enter and leave. Even a hashtag was used at the end. There was a bit of awkward laughter in the audience before the baffled slates could come up with a response.

Yes, accessibility on campus is a concern, and is something that needs to be addressed to ensure all students are getting the help they need. That said, the question seemed more centered on the appearance of the doors than anything. The tone of the concern made it seem like more of a joke, regardless if the person was serious. The question seemed out of place with the rest of the debate. Still, it’s probably for the best that it was the last question of the night, so the campaign could continue smoothly.

The next debate occurs on February 4th in the Mustang Lounge at 7pm, but don’t forget about our FIMS elections!  The FIMS debate happens February 5tht at 8pm, location TBA.

Do you agree with the candidates? Disagree? Feel there’s an issue that needs to be touched upon? Sound off below.

**DISCLAIMER: The opinions reflected in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of OPENWIDE, the USC or the FIMSSC.

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