The problem with taking the SFSS election slates at face value

Written by Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor

Each year, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) election is like adulthood: sudden and overwhelming, and nobody ever tells you how it works or why. You’re just supposed to instinctively know, the same way you’re supposed to know how to grope produce to pick the freshest fruits. For me, slates are one of the strangest parts of the SFSS elections.

If you didn’t know what they were, I’m honestly not sure how you’d find out, since you won’t find a single mention of slates in the SFSS Elections and Referenda Policies and the SFSS’ website’s ‘Slates’ page (under ‘Elections’) is currently blanked. But essentially, slates are a group of candidates who are running together under a common name: this year, we have  Inspire SFU and Shift SFU.

Oh, so it’s like a political party, you might ask. Well, no, because one member’s election isn’t inherently linked to another’s success or failure. Furthermore, slate members don’t need to agree on specific platform elements like the BC Liberals might agree on a common budget that is unique to them and their members. If you look at how many times the word ‘gondola’ comes up in all the platforms: one independent candidate wants to look into it, as do three from Inspire SFU and two from Shift SFU. Of course, you would expect different platforms to be tailored to different positions, but what’s the point of a slate if your ideas are scattered and not unique?

One of the biggest parts of slates is their social media presence. You’ll find both slates on Facebook (where Shift SFU’s ‘about’ section identifies them as a political party). Both have produced videos (Shift, Inspire), hashtags, Facebook events that will remind folks to vote for them. There’s even an Instagram account for Inspire SFU.

What it comes down to is candidates using each other’s popularity, influence, and reach to campaign more effectively. I had trouble recognizing candidates when I attended the Burnaby campus debates (Thursday, March 15), but I knew exactly which slate they were a part of based on who was clapping for them.

I would say that there’s nothing wrong with that, aside from being a disadvantage to independent candidates or newcomers to the SFSS. But in this election, candidates have used their slates as camouflage, and that’s worrying.

On March 15, at the Burnaby campus debates, the first question was asked to the presidential candidates: why does mental health not appear on your platforms? While I was personally unsatisfied with both candidates’ responses, Amar Singh’s response is worth considering. He accepted the responsibility for his omission, but started by stating that he hadn’t thought it was necessary since one of his slate-mates had included the issue on their platform.

How were student voters expected to trace one candidate’s opinion to another? Does this imply that all the slate members of Shift SFU agree with at-large representative candidate Arman Mohseni that the SFSS should not prioritize funneling additional funding to the SFSS food bank, as he stated during the Q&A period of the debate? Does that mean that students worried about the food bank should vote for SFU Inspire, as two of their candidates clearly stated in their platforms specifically mentioned the food bank? The lack of regulation and clarity on slates makes their purpose unclear.

(This isn’t to pick on Singh exclusively: Jas Randhawa also focused his closing section at the end of the debate by focusing on the strength of his slate as opposed to the strength of his potential presidency.)

I think that very first question was incredibly valid, and pointed to a problem that has run through this entire election: slates allow weaker candidates to get lost in the crowd. What would the student body get if Singh were to become president, but not his slate-member with the mental health platform? Perhaps Singh would try to carry those initiatives through himself, but how would anyone know that?

This lack of regulation also means that there’s a lot of confusion about other issues. Take the allegations that the Inspire SFU campaign manager asked questions to candidates without making his affiliation public. While we have no way to know if this is true, the suggestion does illustrate that the fact that slates have no regulated codes of conducts creates a potential ethical loophole.

Furthermore, what are the implications for post-election? At the Burnaby debate, presidential candidates acknowledged that the Board would most likely be made up of candidates from all across the board. After an election period in which candidates not only run against one another but pit themselves against entire teams of candidates, I wonder what the long-term consequences of slate rivalries may be?

If you vote #InspireSFU or #voteshiftsfu, keep in mind that you really aren’t . . . You’re voting for individual candidates who will be elected to the Board as individuals and who will then carry out their duties as individuals. If you want to #voteintelligently, you need to go past the smoke and mirrors of slates and look at individual candidates and their individual platforms.

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