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About an hour and a half into this year’s MSU Presidential Debate, candidates were asked about the dissolving of MacGreen and how candidates would continue to focus on sustainability on campus. Sustainability is nowhere to be found on candidate Devante Mowatt’s platform, and so he replied with the following: “In order to get more information on the subject, I’d like to look to the students that are surrounding me right now. I’d like to host campus talks alongside representatives that know a bit more about sustainability than I do. I want to make sure you guys can tell me what you want to see in terms of sustainability.”
Although a bit a sidestep, Mowatt’s answer was really the best he could do given the lack of a direct strategy or platform point. Nonetheless, public campus talks and open MSU office hours are not going to properly address issues that are otherwise left out of his platform.
Mowatt’s platform seems to include the bare minimum platform points needed to address fundamental student issues such as sustainability, student and university finances, equity and accessibility. As much as these can be thrown around as buzzwords during the leadership race, they should be present in everyone’s platform because they represent the wide-ranging concerns of the student constituency.
Mowatt defends the limited scope of his platform by stressing its feasibility. It is relatively easy to implement, and he is committed to asking the students how they want to address some of the larger issues through a reimagining of MSU office hours. These public hours will be hosted as town hall style forums in a variety of open spaces around campus. According to Mowatt’s website:
“Unless they actively seek out opportunities to do so, students often do not have a forum to make their beliefs heard. To change this, I would like to revitalize the idea of Presidential Office Hours to allow students to talk to the President about pressing issues on campus, in a way that is easy and accessible for them. I would like to hold bi-weekly sessions in different buildings on campus, prepared with topics of discussion that are of crucial importance to the student body (mental health, financial accessibility, etc.).”
The platform point is in all likelihood, completely feasible (barring the bi-weekly frequency). Town hall style meetings were a component of last year’s second place candidate Tristan Paul, and while both critics and fellow candidates questioned student interest and participation, the need to pursue more face-to-face student engagement with the MSU is still a problem that the Union has to address.
The issue lies in his attempt to use this point as a sort of buffer for the lack of focused initiatives to try and address the different areas of student issues. There is simply not enough time for a president to hold an appropriate number of meetings to formulate specific strategies for the organization and then implement them. Platforms are already supposed to be developed in collaboration with students and administration, and are meant to represent a potential yearlong strategy for the Board of Directors. Students deserve a candidate that is prepared to maximize their short-term, and using a well prepared, researched platform is the best way to do so in the current system.
While campaign season should not be the only time that students feel that their voices are actively being listened to, the reality is that this is one of the few times where the constituency is this widely engaged. Turning over feedback, while balancing a directed, personal set of goals for the Union is no easy task, but it is necessary for students to understand how their candidate will run the MSU, and it is important to go into the position with a relatively determined strategy for a one-year timeframe.
Chalking up the most important goals to “letting the students decide” does not give voters any reason to believe that Mowatt will actually successfully address their concerns if voted in, and if he would have time to provide results. Mowatt is a candidate of small-scale improvements for your McMaster mobile, Frost Week and washroom experience, and his plan to introduce another avenue of voicing your complaints is unlikely to address those issues in any substantial way.