Interview with Darien Lechner

Darien Lechner speaking at the debate on Wednesday at the Burnaby campus. Lechner's campaign has been focused on transparency and breathing new life into the SFSS.

With the SFSS byelection this week, The Peak sat down with all the presidential candidates for a more in-depth chat than the timed responses at the debates. To find the other interviews, click here for Larissa Chen and here for Deepak Sharma. 

Nathan Ross: Why did you decide to run again in the byelection?

Darien Lechner: I decided to run again because given the reasons for the byelection, I felt it was appropriate at the time. I kind of felt I made a lot of progress in the previous election in communicating with students and getting a message across that I didn’t actually know was going to be there when I ran, because I ran the first time based on principle. I didn’t see anyone else representing the values that I wanted to see in a candidate, and then it turned out it was just me and Deepak [Sharma]. And then I lost that election but I had quite a bit of support and a lot of people coming to me and saying “What you’re saying, we agree with and we know you’re up against a slate and you’re the long shot but don’t stop,” and so then the opportunity came to pick it up again and continue where we left off.

NR: What are the values that you’re looking for in a candidate?

DL: I really feel that transparency has got to be number one, and accountability. This previous new board has faced something that has never really existed in its history where we had 70 athletes actually storm a meeting and demanding answers. We’ve seen more efforts to move things into in camera and to be more secretive and to operate separate from the membership. And so to me, I think that’s what I wanted to see. I was tired of seeing faces on posters and in slogans and buzzwords and so what I tried to do was to have a campaign that seemed more like a conversation based on the facts and try to say “I don’t feel this is right and I’m wondering if you do too and maybe together we can change this so it’s something we all agree with.” And so the other value that I want to see in a candidate is someone who can be responsible to make sure that the commitment they’re asking people to vote them in for, they can actually stick to. That was a big disappointment for a lot of people. The other thing I think is kind of like transparency, but honesty and just good intentions. We don’t want to be suspicious of the people that are taking our money and saying “We’re spending this with your interest” and not really having a conversation with us to make sure that they’re on track. And so that’s why after I lost the election, I wanted to join a committee cause it felt at the time . . . I didn’t know anything about anything byelection at that point and I wanted to be in a position where I could try and take the stuff I’d built with at that point from the campaign and actually put it into action so that’s why I targeted the advocacy committee and I said “I want to try and sit on that. I want to try and work with some of people I met on the campaign with the slate and try to build a relationship and try and get something productive done.” So we had the survey throughout the summer and that was a big priority, and I felt that was kind of important to give people an option to voice their displeasure. Or what they think is being done right, I think that’s getting lost in the drama that’s going around right now, is the society isn’t all bad. There are huge problems with it but there is also good work that people are doing and it’s also important to acknowledge that but given the nature of the byelection a lot of that will be taking second place to the bigger stories and narratives.

NR: If you had to say just one good thing that the society has done since taking office in May, what would you point to?

DL: I think a lot of good work is being done on the sexual assault and prevention policy. I think even though the turnout to the consultation sessions isn’t enormous and everyone is championing this, there have been some really good ideas and conversations. There’s good points now to build off of and move forward so I think that was a big plus. The kickoff is something the society does too, and I think this year was a pretty good success compared to years previous. The weather didn’t turn out, but as far as providing something for students with their money, I think that was actually fairly well-done and responsible. So those are two big ones. I don’t know all the information about the stadium and the SUB contracts, cause a lot of that is private, so I think that’s an area though where they haven’t done enough. It was actually kind of a surprise to everyone when the stadium was cancelled but the biggest thing was that it was so over budget and it seemed at no steps along the way did anyone have the foresight to kind of check like “Maybe we should check in on this and be treating them equally,” so I think in that regard the board is really missing foresight and leadership in that regard. In looking ahead, we’re thinking “We’re doing this well now, but we need to think about who is coming in next year and making sure they’re just as informed and they’re picking up the ball and rolling.” I think that was a big part of Deepak’s platform at the time, saying “We know what we’re doing, we’re the experts, we’re gonna hit the ground running,” and that fell apart right away.

NR: In your spring campaign, you made a lot of noise about the Build SFU levy. This time, it’s modified what you’d like to do with the levy. Instead of scrapping it overall, you’d like to rework how the levy is taken. Do you want to talk about why you made this change?

DL: Basically it’s changed because I’ve got a time constraint now. I don’t have a year to try and change things. I’ve got realistically four months. I need to also account for the fact that I have to learn a lot on the fly, so there’s that. Also, I want to look over the actual agreement so that we can make real changes. I don’t want to promise too much, and then have what’s changed between now and then actually bite me, so I want to be honest with people about what’s a feasible goal. I want to modify it because that seems like something we can do within the organization itself. I also want to, and I didn’t really touch on this in the last debate, is that I also too still touch the bylaws to make sure that when the society is going to ask for levies like this that they need five percent [response from all students]. It’s unacceptable to do what they did before with hiding this in the AGM and then pushing for it in that way.

NR: I think it’s fair to say you are a headstrong individual. You see something you want done, it seems that you believe if you don’t do it that no one else will. How do you envision working with a team where you have to be able to convince a vote for a board instead of just passing an idea through?

DL: That’s a really good point. I think some things I’d like to say to that is I have worked with a few board members on the advocacy committee so I think that there is a sentiment there now that they understand that I’m not someone . . . before I made it seem like I wanted to come in and tear everything down and I didn’t know what I was talking about and I was aggressive and I can understand that view of me. Now they understand where I’m coming from, they understand that they’ve worked with me in the past and I think that since that relationship has been established, I can build off of that. As far as moving the vote, I also find it really hard to see why anyone wouldn’t want to — in a situation where I was elected — why they would vote against that. It seems like it would be against their own interests, and I really would be open to hearing the problems they have with the policies I’d be bringing forward. Then I’d like to take that into consideration and see where I’m maybe not fully understanding an issue or two. So that’s kind of the mentality I want to take into the board, but I also want to try and direct them. It seems that transparency and accountability have been buzzwords, but they haven’t been a focus given the track record and I want to steer them in the direction that was promised. And part of that may have been because of the drama that happened, because it’s kind of reasonable to see that naturally a power vacuum would have happened in any scenario. That’s what I’m going into it with my mentality and why I think I can get it done.

NR: Should you be elected, you basically have four months as you made clear. You are the only one who should they be elected from this byelection has not already served as president in some capacity or another. Why wouldn’t this hinder you?

DL: I don’t think it’s set anyone at a disadvantage in the past. I don’t want to misrepresent, but I believe that [former SFSS president] Enoch [Weng] didn’t serve on the board previously too, so he was a sort of like an outsider candidate in the same vein as myself in as far as having that direct experience. That didn’t seem to set him back or really set back his supporters, so I think there’s that mentality that this is a student organization, there are the frameworks in place to guide someone along once they’ve come into it. There’s a team there that is going to be willing to help the person along, and I think all of those put together make it less of a concern. Other than it being an enormous amount of work, I haven’t had anyone come and say “I don’t think you’re ready for this because of this,” and that’s been something I’ve been open to hearing and it hasn’t been there so I don’t think it is a valid concern at this point.

NR: What is your favourite SFU memory?

DL: You caught me out of left field with that one! It’s going to sound really corny but nothing really beats coming up here on your first day. I moved into residence for my first year and all the excitement in just seeing all these people . . . I’m from a small town too, and I’d never lived away from home for anything more than a week on like a band trip so being in the middle of that, seeing all these people, and kind of being overwhelmed and scared is actually a really good memory. It’s kind of humbling to think about and it’s nice too because you can sort of see as you get older and older and older and you realize you’re coming to the end of your degree that it doesn’t stop. They keep coming in and I feel that really humbling and exciting.