Good governance

Campaigning for politicians to deliver on promises

AelectionpromotionPolitical campaigns are based on the platform of lofty, ill-advised and unachievable goals, followed immediately by disappointment and broken promises.

Voters cast their equally ignorant ballots based partially on these promises and the celebrity factor of their preferred candidate, whether it be a smiling carrot or a jolly banana, and the end result stays largely the same.

Unfortunately, the process and result remain true in federal and student politics alike.

In March 2016, while our current executive council members were campaigning for their respective jobs, they were required to appear on camera and present their platforms.

In his platform video, available on SAITSA’s YouTube channel, SAITSA president Gar Gar campaigned to reduce the financial burden on SAIT students through various cost-efficient programs he planned to implement.

Certainly, this is a valid concern and we value our money. However, one of such programs Gar campaigned for was a semester-long textbook rental. Prior to his campaign, course textbooks were already available in the Reg Erhardt Library for free.

It’s unfathomable that those who are campaigning to represent students are unaware of what is already in place. And it wasn’t just Gar who fell under this umbrella. 

There needs to be policies put in place so candidates are able to campaign on things that are actually within their control, to remove us from the habit of over-promising and under-delivering.

Moreover, during the previous election’s meet the candidates night, any questions for the future executives had to be submitted ahead of time, rendering any on-the-spot questions from the audience, The Weal included, illegitimate. The act of halting audience questions undermines the entire purpose of student government, which is to voice the concerns of their students. Luckily, this issue has been remedied for the 2017 elections.

Under former SAITSA president Brigitte Matheson, the referendum for the SAITSAHQ Student Building passed. Students voted and they wanted their building.

“The biggest project we had is the SAITSAHQ. I find that my predecessors had done a tremendous job to have it done,” said Gar.

“But, the question is, how can I improve things and how could I add more value?”

However, this year, talk of the SAITSAHQ has largely fallen by the wayside, with little chatter about their future headquarters reaching the students.

According to Alex Dimopoulos, SAITSA VP academic, due to the executives’ short time in office, their proposals often take place after their time is up.

“I feel like that’s how it works. The previous VP academic will set it up, and then you’ll see it happen the next year,” said Dimopoulos.

But, Gar focused his efforts on the students, which is admirable.

“Basically, listening to students’ concerns, and that’s one of the best things I ever actually campaigned on,” said Gar.

He pushed for further health care coverage, and in turn, students can now claim an extra $20 on vision coverage. While it’s $130 less than his original goal, it certainly starts the talk on improving student health care. But, that doesn’t mean other initiatives can simply be pushed to the side.

Gar campaigned heavily on student specific carpool stalls as well, a project he said is currently in the planning stages. 

“Students have currently three carpooling spots that they could apply to through the SAIT parking authorities,” said Gar.

“The whole idea is to bring that sustainability, whether financially or economically and environmentally.”

Prior to Gar’s campaign, SAIT had carpool parking stalls available. The main difference now, however, is that these stalls are student specific. Putting students first is all well and good, and something our SAITSA president advocates for, but interested students still have to apply for a carpool-parking pass. It seems unnecessary, at least in its current state, when students could simply carpool in any other spot and split the cost amongst themselves with the exact same outcome.

It’s not only what the candidates campaigned on, but also the quantity of change they promised.

“It sucks to say it, but because VP student life is so much the fun things, the mental health, the recycling bins, I had a lot of things I wanted to do,” said Connor Goodfellow, SAITSA VP student life, who went on to say he accomplished roughly 40 to 50 per cent of what he set out to do during his year in office.

“My goals were a little ill-advised almost. Not in the content, but in that, where other EC’s had like six to eight goals, I think I had 12. It’s almost impossible to get that much done in just one year, and that was a big learning experience for me.”

Mikayla Schaffer, SAITSA VP external, said she was able to accomplish roughly 80 per cent of what she set out to do.

“I did run on a [platform of] tuition for international and domestic [students], and so that’s not completely finished,” said Schaffer.

“[But], this Friday we’re going to start discussions about apprenticeship and international student tuitions, so I’m hoping by the time I’m done with that we’ll see some movement on that sector.”

The blame for over-promising and under-delivering isn’t the sole responsibility of the executive council, though.

According to a survey published in the March 13 issue of The Weal, 58 per cent of participants didn’t know the name of the student association president, 65 per cent didn’t know what function the student government serves on campus, 65 per cent didn’t vote in the last student government election and 63 per cent don’t plan on voting on March 29 and 30 for the new student government elections.

If the students don’t care where their student fees are going or who will be representing them, then nothing will change.

However, that’s not to undermine the work that our executive council has done over the past year. Like the majority of political parties, our student government did provide benefits to the student populace.

“My biggest accomplishment from this year would be the board games in [the Odyssey],” said Goodfellow. “We see people sitting down and playing them, and that’s awesome.”

Gar, on the other hand, took pride in representing the student body. 

“This year, especially, I had a feeling that we’re more involved. SAIT was looking for our feedback,” he said.

Schaffer advocated for a student gym, which she said is awaiting approval.

“I definitely think that collaborating with SAIT Recreation and getting them to agree to pay for a gym at the aero centre for those students. Right now, it’s in the planning and approval phases, but hopefully in the next year or so, we’re going to see a gym go up there,” Schaffer said. 

Dimopoulos pushed for students to receive co-curricular credits, a practice already in place at other post-secondary institutions.

“I started a committee on the academic council with co-curricular, and it sounds like they’re going to implement it for next year,” Dimopoulos said.

But, this is just a taste of what could happen if those who run for elections were aware of what was within their grasp to achieve.

This past February, as a result of last year’s election campaign, information sessions were held to give potential candidates an idea of what they could actually do. So, with some luck, the campaigns will be more focused this year.

When SAITSA as an organization receives $3,505,126 revenue from student fees in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Student’s Association Financial Statements from April 30, 2016, we as the student body have the right to know that the executives we elect are truly advocating spending our money in our best interest. When they campaign on unsubstantiated promises, how can we possibly know?

So, while Prime Minister Trudeau recently abandoned hope of federal electoral reform, perhaps it was student government all along that was truly in need of reform.

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