It can't be easy to sit for two straight hours of questions. Nonetheless, the three candidates vying for next year's SU presidency, Julie Bogle, Julie Labonte, and Wilma Shim, remained poised throughout the SU presidential forum, which took place Fri., Feb. 9 in MacEwan Student Centre.
The forum followed a standard question and answer format, with alternating candidate responses for every question. Candidates were asked to comment on a variety of issues, including their vision of the University of Calgary SU in 10 years time. All three agreed they wanted to see the organization continue to expand and become a model for other students' unions across the country.
Bogle elaborated on the importance of informing students about what the SU does.
"We need to get students to be involved so they can see how effective we are and so we can continue to be the best students' union in Canada," said Bogle. "A good measurable goal would be to see a 50 per cent election turnout 10 years from now."
Shim also touched on student apathy.
"[I want the SU to be] a large, powerful organization that students feel a great sense of pride to be a part of," said Shim. "Alumni should be proud to come back to the U of C."
Labonte also mentioned the necessity of communication with students.
"There is no way we can be the best SU in Canada if students don't know about what we do," Labonte answered. "We need to work to improve school spirit, to build a strong campus community and to eradicate apathy, with high-value and highly attended events and awareness weeks."
The moderator then asked the three whether or not they supported a SU fee reduction.
"We have one of the lowest SU fees in the country, but that is no excuse," said Labonte. "I do support fee reduction, but I am in no position to decide who to take the money from. We need to talk to the students."
Bogle said fee reduction is only feasible if services aren't reduced.
"A key problem is that students don't know where their fees go to," she said. "There is a lack of student outreach at the root of the problem. Realistically, the only way to reduce fees is to work on increasing the SU business income."
Shim expresses a similar sentiment.
"I am absolutely in favor of fee reduction, but quality must be maintained," she said.
Candidates were particularly passionate when asked about the effectiveness of the current tuition consultation process between the SU and the U of C board of governors.
"The university is suffering in so many areas: class sizes, deferred renovations, but this shouldn't be on the shoulders of students," said Labonte. "Currently, there is not enough support to mitigate these costs. The board is fiscally orientated and don't see the effects of increased tuition. We need a new approach, somehow bringing in the provincial government and building on what we've developed over the past four years."
Bogle had her own take on the issue.
"I think it's interesting that there is even is a consultation process at all, considering that the board of governors mandate is to increase tuition by the maximum every year up until 2010," said Bogle. "Realistically, they've already made up their mind before consultation. The focus should be on the long-term quality money commitment."
Shim also thought the tuition consultation needs to be reviewed.
"The current consultation process is not effective," stated Shim. "We need to take a different approach, lobby the government and listen to students."
Overall, the forum was friendly and professional. When each candidate was asked to state the strongest characteristic of their two competitors, all three emphasized the strength of the field.
Both Shim and Bogle spoke about Julie Labonte's passion for her work and her beliefs.
Bogle, meanwhile, was described as possessing a "fiery, energetic spirit" by Shim and as "an incredibly driven person, always wanting to seek out as much information as possible," by Labonte.
Labonte said Shim's strongest characteristic is her, "big heart and her huge involvement with volunteer work and campus life. Bogle, meanwhile, said "Wilma is so well spoken and professional, and she always has her act together."
The moderator commented on the importance of confidentiality in the role of the SU president and asked the three candidates the last time they told a secret. All three maintained that they could genuinely not recall a time when they had let an important secret slip, with the exception of Labonte, who jokingly recalled a recent occasion when she told her mother her younger brother had absolutely no food in his fridge.
"I really value loyalty," said Bogle.
Shim, meanwhile, spoke of her experience volunteering with the campus food bank and her term as kinesiology academic commissioner, two roles which require strict confidentiality.
The candidates were also asked the classic interview question: how would you deal with a conflict between the president and a vice-president.
"Inevitably, we won't see eye to eye on every issue," said Labonte. "I would get the rest of the executive involved to offer other opinions and to act as mediators. If the issue still could not be resolved, it would have to be taken to council to be discussed."
Similarly, Bogle said she would first try to sit down and talk about the issue one-on-one to work the conflict out.
"If our views were still radically different, I would bring in the other VPs, then the external commission," said Bogle. "I would only strongly oppose something if I felt it was detrimental to students."
Shim said that in the case of a conflict, compromise is extremely important.
"My personal opinions shouldn't be put first," she said. "It should be that of the entire student body."
In regards to government lobbying, all three candidates envisioned a strong role for the U of C SU within the provincial and federal lobby groups, the Council of Alberta University Students and the Canadian Alliance of Students' Associations.
"The U of C should show our strong position and take on a leadership role," said Shim.
Labonte discussed the need to balance inernal and external portfolios.
"The external portfolio is very important, but I wouldn't let the internal portfolio fall to the wayside," said Labonte. "That said, I firmly believe in collaboration with other students' unions. When we lobby, we need to have a strong, united voice to increase our credibility and our passion. The U of C is highly respected across the country, and we produce strong individuals when it comes to lobbying. But we are not the only university in Canada, and even though our voice is large, we are still only a part of it."
Bogle also placed importance on working with other schools.
"We are fortunate that both the candidates for VP External have emphasized a key role within the larger SU movement," said Bogle. "We all have common goals, and three schools working together are stronger than one. We need representation on every council to ensure U of C's goals are addressed."
Candidates also commented on the recent news item of corporate sponsorship on campus.
Labonte said that she is not 100 per cent in favor of corporate sponsorship.
"Right now, we are a Pepsi campus, and we do get some benefits, but is it worth it?" she asked. "This is an issue that should be brought back to students."
Bogle didn't fully support corporate sponsorship either.
"We need to look at this question on a case-by-case basis, doing a cost-analysis of the deal," said Bogle."If there are enough benefits, it is something to look at, but I can't give a blanket answer."
Shim agreed she would also take a case-by-case approach.