With the shadow of a financial scandal and funding changes looming large over the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), candidates in the 2019 RSU elections made their final pitch to Ryerson students on Monday night, as online polls opened today.
The nearly three-hour event, hosted by the RSU, saw attendance from 71 students, including those running for executive positions from three of the parties: Refresh, Inspire and the Rhino Party. Candidates reiterated the platform points they’ve been sharing throughout their campaign and answered a handful of questions from students. No candidates from the party Candor spoke at the Q-and-A. Independent candidate Alex Dinh did not attend, citing a mandatory class.
Discussions centred on ways to restore trust in the RSU among students following the credit card scandal, and how executives, board members and staff can be held more accountable to following the rules and being transparent about the RSU’s finances.
Daniyal Patricio, presidential candidate for the Rhino Party, said “the RSU is stuck in a rut.” The Rhino Party first leaked the credit card receipts that began investigations into RSU president Ram Ganesh’s affairs. Patricio said students have grown distrustful of the RSU with every ongoing scandal and individual issue, and offered up the Rhino Party as an alternative. “Who would you rather have in your corner: a ‘Ram’ or a rhino?” he said, alluding to Ganesh.
Students asked candidates how they planned to respond to changes to OSAP and to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s proposed student choice initiative, where students will be able to opt out of paying ancillary fees, including fees for the RSU.
Vanessa Henry, presidential candidate for Refresh, shared her experience as a student who struggled during the first semester of her fourth year with finances and mental health issues. “I was burnt out and felt alone,” she said. She said she created Ryerson Motivators to connect students to resources on campus — resources provided through the RSU, like the seven Equity Service Centres, which could lose funding if students choose to opt out of the RSU fee in the fall.
In reference to Ford, presidential candidate Adam Asmar, from Inspire, said, “He cannot snap his Thanos fingers and take away student life from our students.” Asmar said he is not going to cut funding from the Equity Service Centres, or other services and groups available via the RSU.
The three parties present had some overlapping or similar points on their platform. All three candidates agreed that the RSU needs a general manager to keep the RSU accountable for its actions. The current executive team removed this role when they entered office in spring 2018.
Adam Asmar, presidential candidate for Inspire, argued that executives broke RSU bylaws with the alleged credit card misspending, in part because the bylaws were unclear. He said his team wants to make them “crystal clear” through amendments.
Henry said she wants executives and board members to know what the bylaws are and be trained in how they are implemented.
Patricio said he wants to change how much executives are allowed to spend. Currently, he said, the limit is $5,000; he wants that cut “at least in half” to $2,500.
Rhino Party and Refresh proposed mandatory open office hours for all executives to increase communication and transparency between the union and students. All parties proposed a public, updated budget, though there was debate as to whether it should be updated in real time — which was Inspire’s position — or once every two weeks.
One point of policy disagreement concerned the existence of the vice-president marketing position. This was a new position, added to the executive roster this semester. Inspire’s candidate for vice-president operations, Charmaine Reid, said the party would immediately cut what they call the “wasteful” position. Inspire’s team doesn’t have a candidate for that position.
Running for the new vice-president marketing role are candidates Victoria Anderson-Gardner for Refresh and Abeer Tahir for the Rhino Party. Anderson-Gardner said they want to use the RSU’s social media as a tool to hold the union accountable by live streaming RSU meetings. Tahir said she wants to utilize the street team to do more outreach to first-year students and create a Toronto and Ryerson apparel line, based on interest she said she’s heard from students.
The candidates for vice-president equity are Naja Pereira for Refresh, Jarrett Stoll for Inspire, and Emily Gioskos for the Rhino Party. One student asked how the RSU is going to promote accessibility on campus, particularly for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals (the student noted they were the only student from that community at the Q-and-A). Pereira and Gioskos shared the idea of having full-time ASL interpreters available to the RSU. Pereira added that this is something they should consider when it comes to the union’s budget.
The last group of candidates to speak were those running for vice-president student life and events. Zaima Aurony, for Inspire, said she wanted events to be safe for students. She talked about her own experience being assaulted at a party hosted by the university during orientation. “I was scared for weeks to attend events after that,” she said.
Rafay Syed, for the Rhino Party, said he wanted to increase outreach to students to gauge their interests and hobbies, and to host concert events with local artists who are “less expensive than Drake or Tory Lanez.” Joshua Wiggins, for Refresh, said he hopes to utilize his connections on campus and his experience in non-profits to host a diversity of events other than parties.
Voting takes place until Thursday, March 14. Polling stations are located around campus, and are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thursday, when both in-person stations and the online polls close at 4 p.m. For a full list of executive candidates and faculty representatives for the board of directors, click here.