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An animated Ryerson Students’ Union debate with the candidates for president, vice-president and vice-president of equity on Thursday night was dominated by the dual issues of restoring trust in the RSU and increasing transparency and accountability, in light of the fallout from the alleged financial mismanagement that has scarred the student union.
The debate hosted by the Ryersonian and The Eyeopener gave a platform for candidates of slates Inspire, Refresh and Rhino Party to be questioned by students in person and via social media and give their answers to the issues facing the RSU.
In their opening statements, the presidential candidates emphasized the importance of the RSU and their commitments to transparency and establishing new norms to prevent future scandals. The spectre of impeached president Ram Ganesh hung over the debate, with many candidates referring to the alleged mismanagement of money as an impetus for their platforms, and sniping at Ganesh’s supposed misdeeds.
Daniyal Patricio of the Rhino Party, the slate that initially leaked receipts that started the probe into Ganesh, said in his opening statement: “For years, the Rhino Party has preached transparency, and for years we were a self-described satire for politics… We feel that there was no other choice but to step up and be the change that students want to see.”
Patricio said his party would cultivate trust with first-year students by hosting an event where RSU services would be on display to showcase their importance to the community.
Refresh candidate Vanessa Henry spoke of financial and invisible burdens affecting students, reflecting on her own history where, “there were times I had to walk to campus instead of choosing to take the TTC just to eat.”
Henry said the RSU aided her immensely as a student, and promised to inform first- and second-year students about the value of the student union. “You are losing more when you opt out,” she said, referencing the provincial government’s proposition of allowing post-secondary students to not pay for student fees that support student unions.
The three slates announced their plans to reinstate the position of general manager, a role that was abolished by Ganesh. “We will rehire the general manager to regain student confidence, after the role was removed [the] first day under Ganesh,” said Inspire candidate Adam Asmar.
To control financial mismanagement and corruption, Patricio said the Rhino Party would cap the salary increases of RSU executives at a maximum of five per cent per year. Asmar said Inspire would make it “crystal clear” that credit cards would not be accessible, and that they would publish their finances publicly. Henry pushed to enforce bylaws for financial accountability, saying, “I will make sure every single one of my execs are reading the policies so they know what is proper procedure and what is not.”
Running as an independent, Alex Dinh described his lack of interest in the RSU’s politics until this year with the spending scandal, which jolted him into participating. His strategy throughout the debate centred on denouncing “groupthink” at the student union.
“By running independently, I am closer to the students and what they want,” Dinh said, adding that he is OK with allowing students to opt out of paying student fees. “If what is going on is so great, why is it that we have to force people to stay within the program, rather than giving them the option? Once you give people the option, people who are working here will be taking it more seriously.”
VP Operations and Equity
The debate for vice-president of operations followed the same topics as the president’s debate. Charmaine Reid of Inspire highlighted her desire for “lasting and systemic change” within the RSU, with a platform revolving around revoking access to credit cards, but also on opening the budget to the public.
Adherence to bylaws was a particular talking point for Reid. She said she wants to end the system that requires someone who wants to view the budget to make a request of the board of directors. She said that system, which was in place under Ganesh, violates the law.
Reid touted her experience in the debate club as her impetus for being involved in the RSU, saying, “It’s one of the key aspects that brings me to this community; is the financial relationship to the RSU.”
Rhino Party’s Angelina George followed in the same line of reform, but deviated somewhat by offering monthly disclosures of credit card spending, rather than terminating their use. She also called for monthly disclosure of RSU events and a ban on private board of directors meetings. Reducing executive spending by 50 per cent, and comparing budget operations to past RSU executives’ expenses were offered as well. Her history with the RSU as a finance assistant was her claim of background in the field.
Refresh’s Augustine Onuh was not at the debate, citing his attendance at another event. His proxy, vice-president of education candidate Kwaku Agyemang, said a live budget updated biweekly was on the slate’s platform, combined with educating students on financial management and communicating how money would be spent. Vision care for contact lenses and glasses was a unique selling point that Onuh pitched to the student body.
Vice-president of equity candidates centred on topics like how they would promote accessibility in classrooms, support for indigenous and black students on campus and aiding sexual assault survivors on campus.