By Katie Hobday
[ed: Originally posted 2004-02-10]
The three-hour presidential forum was the most interesting election debate in quite some time. Six candidates fielded questions and responded to comments from an impressively large turnout of students. With current Vice-President Events Richard “Krafty” Bergen moderating, presidential hopefuls promoted themselves and their platforms in front of roughly 150 students, the largest turnout in recent years.
"I’m really scared about something," confessed presidential candidate Michael Soron. "I’m scared someone who isn’t equipped to be leading a students’ union might end up winning because there is so much momentum behind them. I’m up here with some competent people, but I’m also up here with some incompetent people. I think this scares a lot of us."
And so began nearly three hours of mudslinging, finger-pointing and deprecating comments from the candidates and audience members alike. Though all candidates faced scrutiny from the crowd, Phil Barski, leader of Barski’s Cabinet, took most of the heat throughout the forum.
"Apparently people like to ask me questions," he said, after several gallery questions were directed solely at him. "I’ve been taking a pounding from everybody, and I keep standing here."
Still, the candidates had a chance to express criticisms of their fellow competitors.
"I would like to point out oscillating between the soggy center and the mushy middle is not a policy," declared Action Party member Andrew Simon, following Bryan West’s outline of his platform.
The various approaches of each candidate in responding to the questions offered a chance for the audience to get a glimpse of the person behind the platform.
Though the audience attempted to feed the fire with impromptu cheers and jeers, Bergen reminded everyone to keep their responses to "clapping, cheering or silence."
When the smoke cleared, however, all candidates were able to express their goals and objectives if they are elected.
Sonja Bloomer promised to achieve her aspirations of a strong and united SU, with executive solidarity.
"I think it’s really important for the Students’ Union to be unified, and I think that the president should be working with the vice-presidents to ensure the overall goal of the Students’ Union is being moved forward," said bloomer. "If you do not have an effective Students’ Union that cooperates with each other, that can set reasonable goals and attain these reasonable goals, and gain respect by that, the students will not have a voice and we cannot make change."
Current Academic Commissioner Chris Ng emphasized the president’s need to guide the four VPs.
"There definitely needs to be goal setting with the vice presidents to make sure they’re on track and to make sure that their agendas are not personal agendas–[we’re] keeping in mind the students always come first," said Ng. "If we can formulate together and bond as an elected officials group in a united way, I think we can succeed."
Simon articulated his ideas for recognizing the great students at U of C.
"I believe we should be using every means possible–NUTV, partnering with the Gauntlet–whatever it takes to celebrate outstanding and inspiring students," said Simon. "If we start to promote our diversity, start to promote our strengths of the individuals within this campus, we’ll do great things."
Despite the excessive length of the forum and the air of hostility surrounding the engaged and assertive crowed, candidates remained energized.
"I’ve surrounded myself with the best and brightest people to help you with your interests," said Barski. "You can learn so much more from your peers than you can from any textbook. We need to bring people together. I am that person that can bring people together. If you can make those contacts- that how you’re going to better your lives."
Soron often focused on his growing debt, the result of funding his education.
"I’m running as a leader, I’m running as someone who is passionate, I’m running as someone who is going to work with people," said Soron. "We need to represent the students in an accountable way. Financially and politically being very strong at a collective level, and then as individuals we need to be financially and politically strong."
West, the other internal SU candidate, pointed to his experience.
"I have a realistic, pragmatic platform that is really going to outline a clear vision and a purpose for the Students’ Union, and that’s something that has really been missing in the last couple of years," said West. "I’m keeping my message clear, I’m keeping it simple. I think that all of my platform is very achievable."