Elizabeth Murphy emphasized the need for open communication within the union and accused John Hoben of making “rash” decisions at the St. Thomas University Students’ Union presidential debate on Thursday.
The candidates were asked how they would justify not running The Aquinian’s Board of Directors elections because the paper would not give the union a column. Hoben said it was done out of frustration after being denied a meeting with the editors.
“All we were asking for was a meeting. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” Hoben said.
Power and Murphy disagreed with Hoben’s decision.
“I think just because of some earlier issues and frustrations I don’t think that should deny them the right from having the right to have their elections hosted as well,” Power said.
Murphy said the decision was rash, not wise, and she would have voted against it.
“You are shutting down the student voice,” Murphy said.
Hoben said the union’s goal is to stand up for students and he accused the paper of being slanderous. Murphy said that was hypocritical because the union published a public letter about one of The Aquinian’s writers.
“Journalism students are students too and this is not standing up for students,” Power said.
The debate went over the two-hour mark last week, with approximately 82 people in the audience and more than 15 questions from students. The candidates, John Hoben, Elizabeth Murphy, and Dallas Power, were given turns to answer each question and then had time to debate.
They were asked “how do you feel about discrimination of groups on campus such as 19-year-olds not being allowed to be voting members?”
Murphy said she strongly spoke out against this decision, but as a Board of Governors representative she doesn’t have a vote on council.
“I have no interest in excluding anyone from representation on council because having a vote is important. I really think with first years it’s make or break,” Murphy said.
Power came to STU at 16 and only turned 19 in his third year so he is against this change. Under the Companies Act in New Brunswick you must be 19 or older to sit on a Board of Directors, which the students’ union was changed to by Hoben this year.
“If I were elected that would be something I would hope to change,” Power said.
Murphy said the union should not have made this decision as quickly as they did.
“Why limit our students?” Murphy said.
Hoben said they took two months, did their research and there are no other options.
“I guess we’ll find out,” Murphy said.
Alex Carleton, the moderator for the debate and Holy Cross House rep on the union, asked the question, “Why are you running for president and how will your experience enhance your platform?”
Current STUSU President Hoben said “I’m running on my track record.”
He mentioned the online bookstore, Tommyfest, constitutional reform, and the ReasontoStay campaign.
Murphy talked about better communication and updating the STUSU website.
“I think there needs to be change in the way we interact with students.”
Power emphasized creating positive relationships between the union and students.
“I want to make a difference and what better way than running for STUSU President.”
Carleton’s next question was why do we have a union and what is its main goal?
“We’re here for you. We’re here to advocate for you… I want to make sure we’re doing a better job of that,” Murphy said.
Power said there needs to be transparency with the union.
“We need to know what the union is doing behind closed doors,” Power said.
Hoben said the most important function of the union is external advocacy.
“The origin of all unions is to unite to fight against external forces and right now those larger forces are the government which is cutting funding to universities, which are hurting students when they should be investing in students.”
The next question was what do you think is the most pressing issue facing students today and how should the students’
union address it.
Power said students don’t know where their money is going and the union should be more approachable.
“You’re paying a fee to go towards your students’ union, you should know where that money’s going and you should be able to appreciate the benefits of that.”
Hoben said the biggest issues are tuition increases and external advocacy.
“The biggest issue for students in general is tuition costs and all the costs and other barriers that the government simply isn’t addressing.”
Murphy’s answer was being able to afford school and finding out what to do with your education when you get it.
“I know a big struggle to do with why people apply for emergency bursaries, the reason is a lot of the times they need money for food.”
She wants to put more money towards the campus food bank and have a larger alumni presence on campus, two major parts of her platform.
The first question emailed from students said the university faculty association has an agreement set to expire this June. If there was a faculty strike what would you do?
Hoben said the last strike at STU was for five weeks. He wants to make sure students can come to campus right away after a potential strike.
“We also want to make sure student voices are at the table because if the university is being pressured to make cuts we need to know that those cuts aren’t going to hurt students.”
Murphy said the union needs to be proactive.
“If it does come to a strike I will ensure that student voices will be a part of that discussion so they know this cannot go on long.”
Power said the union would need to be understanding and provide transportation.
“I’m graduating hopefully within the next two years and I would hate to be set back by something like a strike.”
A debate followed where Power said it would be beneficial for the strike to happen in June because it would be finished by the fall, but Hoben disagreed and said it would take months. In the closing statements Hoben said this is part of his platform and he’s offered a plan to be proactive. Murphy echoed the need to be proactive and Power said this issue should be about students.
The candidates were then asked about what they plan to do to make the campus more environmentally friendly.
“This is definitely an important issue and one that I hope to study more about,” Murphy said.
She said banning bottled water is difficult but she’s trying to use a reusable water bottle more. A ban on bottled water was approved a few years ago by a referendum but nothing happened because of a contract with Pepsi. Murphy also mentioned talking about organic food with Aramark.
Power said his platform includes a composting program and a new committee to lessen environmental impact.
“Mixing food with the garbage, to me that was really weird coming here, and I think that’s something I’d like to see change at STU.”
Hoben said the union already employs a sustainable lifestyles coordinator and there are metres on the residences to monitor water usage.
“We can do things like the water challenge, we’re participating in the energy challenge.”
The next question was what will you do about STUSU’s collective agreement with its employees ending next year.
Power said he would work with his executive to find a “viable option.” Hoben said unionized employees make up 42 per cent of the budget and automatic pay increases are an issue. Murphy said the research being done needs to continue and there needs to be an open discussion.
Hoben and Power debated over the issue of transparency. Power said he wants to see the union be as transparent and open as possible while Hoben said it’s the most internal issue so it’s unfortunate they can’t be transparent.
The debate then turned to questions from the audience.
Emily Sheen asked the candidates how they would prevent office bullying.
Murphy said workshops to integrate council members are part of her platform. Power said a simple conversation could help. Hoben said office bullying isn’t an issue for the STUSU.
Justin Brown asked Hoben if he would be interested in a non-private meeting with the AQ. Hoben said yes and the other candidates agreed.
Billy Mann asked “do you think Welcome Week during second semester is a good idea?”
Power said he wants to do a Frost Week to welcome back students but not as expensive as Welcome Week. Hoben and Murphy both agreed, with Murphy noting second semester is when students deal more with mental health issues.
Liam McGuire asked “would you ever refuse to grant interviews with the student press?”
Murphy said if she’s elected she wants all interview requests to go through communications. Hoben said there are certain circumstances like in October when he refused to do interviews for The Aquinian until McGuire apologized to former VPSL Nicole Pozer. Power said he would only say no if he had real justification for it.
Nathan Paton asked if they would be willing to support faculty in the event of a strike. Hoben said it’s the union’s job to side with the students.
“We’re there to be the voice of reason in what could easily be an unreasonable situation,” Hoben said.
Power said he would be on the side that represents students best.
“I would want to be on the side that works out best for the students,” Power said.
Murphy said she would not choose a side.
“I don’t think it’s the students place because we’re not the ones making the decision,” Murphy said.
Conrad Palmer said he’s against the fall reading week that Hoben is proposing. He asked how this will affect students.
Hoben said it would help students’ mental health and they would need to take five days from somewhere else like Welcome Week and Christmas break. Murphy says she agrees and wants to advocate for mental health next year. Power said he would try to spread out the five days in the name of a fall reading week.
Henri Thibeau asked Hoben what was done with the $100,000 surplus this year. Hoben said part of it was used to buy the mascot, part of it went to Tommyfest and the rest has been given to a ad-hoc committee which he would like to see put toward a student services centre.
Murphy said she would use the money for the campus food bank and Power said he would use it in a way that would be obvious to students.
Elizabeth Strange asked how the candidates would deal with a human rights complaint based on discrimination by age.
Hoben said he thought it was unlikely because it’s under the Companies Act. Power said it’s unfortunate that it’s a law and he doesn’t agree with the law. Murphy said if this issue came up she would look into alternative measures because she doesn’t want to stand for this discrimination.
In the closing statements Power said he is more than willing to learn about the important issues and consult his executive about how to make rational decisions. Murphy said she really believes in the student voice and wants everyone to have free speech and lobby the government through student groups. Hoben ended with a quote by Winston Churchill. “You have enemies? Good. It means you stood up for something in your life.”