The U's Presidential Election Debate


1.3k viewers tuned in to the debate on Facebook

This year’s presidential election debate for the Students’ Union on January 15 was eye-opening to say the least. Popular candidate Cecil VanBuskirk’s platform unravelled after likely misspeaking, “I want to reiterate that we’re on Mi’kmaw territory that’s really important to me, equity, and all that stuff;” and, “Sexual violence prevention is probably one of the worst thing that I have seen come to campus;” and he believes in an “aggressor-centred approach” to sexual violence prevention.

On January 17, VanBuskirk released a public video addressing one of his many controversial claims at the debate. VanBuskirk claims to have misspoken about the “aggressor-based education” despite referencing and providing a study of the Department of Clinical Psychology from the University of Nevada supporting an “aggressor-centered approach” to deal with sexual violence prevention during the debate and question & answer period. In the video, VanBuskirk now claims that he supports a “survivor-centered approach” to deal with sexual violence prevention. VanBuskirk failed to correct himself in the video for his earlier comment on how “Sexual violence prevention is probably one of the worst thing that I have seen come to campus” that was likely a misspeaking of one word.

Candidate Will Fraser explained means to improve the sexual violence issue on campus and clearly stated that he believes in a “survivor-centered” approach to dealing with sexual violence. Fraser is the only student actively involved in the Community Code Review Committee.

Fraser informed The Xaverian Weekly that the Community Code Review Committee is making changes to specific codes by implementing broader codes, “The process we currently use for sexual violence is not going to be applied to cases of sexual violence in the future. It’s not specific behaviours that we want to discourage, but we are shifting towards looking at how Xaverians impact the community. For example, in the Community Code now, there are specific violations for refusing to present an identification to an X-Patrol officer. We’re looking at shifting away from something very specific to something more broad-based. So, examples (of violations) would be disrupting the flow of the university community and creating potential dangers for people around you. It’s less about specific behaviours and more about how behaviours are affecting our community.”

In regards to sexual violence and the Policy, Fraser added “Sexual violence isn’t something that happens in isolation. It’s linked to a societal pattern, and I think mentioning that explicitly and making it clear that StFX wants to move away from the rape culture that we have now towards supporting survivors is another means of change I’d like to see made. I also want to see a formalized process for students to report a case of sexualized violence when it comes from a university staff or faculty member. Everybody needs to be covered by that policy.”

During his opening remarks, VanBuskirk stressed the importance of creating a stronger alumni network by means of promotion, “selling our students, and what is so special about the StFX community to the top grad schools of Canada. I want to create a task force of promoters that is going to go do that and sell our StFX community to those people. That will give us the opportunities we need.”

Fraser mentioned how, currently, StFX has one of the strongest alumni networks in all of Canada during the question & answer period. Fraser explained how he would improve the employment rate for alumni, “We have a great career development centre here at StFX, which is unfortunately underfunded and underutilized. Encouraging the university and the Students Union to pump more funding into that and utilizing the infrastructure we already have is a great way to get started.”

Other ideas by VanBuskirk included statements like, “One (change) I’ve been looking into very in-depth is specifically implementing a walk-home service with X-Patrol.” X-Patrol and the Drive U already have WalkSafe and drive home programs in place. Speaking on-record about the programs with The Xaverian Weekly after the debate, VanBuskirk commented “I just learned that now. The fact I didn’t know about it is a problem because I’m on the Board of Governors.” VanBuskirk wants to improve the programs that are already in place.

In conversation with The Xaverian Weekly, VanBuskirk mentioned that he has “never thought about it (marginalized communities)” during his upbringing in Rothesay, New-Brunswick. VanBuskirk’s first interaction with people from marginalized communities happened when he arrived at StFX and got involved with a few societies on campus. He expressed a desire to support those communities and make their voices heard.

Fraser has limited long-term interaction with marginalized communities as well; however, Fraser has more experience advocating for marginalized communities during his first year working with the Antigonish Women’s Resources Centre as House Charity representative for Mount Saint Bernard. In the summer after his first year, Fraser worked with the Extension Department that is now a part of the Coady Institute. New Opportunities for Work program is an initiative between the government about labor force attachment that Fraser worked on along with other individuals. Their main philosophy was listening to the voices of five underrepresented communities (Indigenous, African Nova Scotians, elders, people with disabilities, and multi-barriered people).

When asked about how each candidate would hold the University Budget Committee accountable for tuition increases, Fraser responded “It’s all about the Consultation Agreement. Currently, the Consultation Agreement sets out what the university has to do in order to increase any fees. For new fees, they have to provide an opportunity for council to vote. Council is highly encouraged to send that to referendum. The referendum doesn’t have to pass for that fee to become active which is, I think, a problem. If a referendum is defeated by more than 75%, they can’t implement the fee. This gives them a lot of leeway there and I’d like to tighten that up.”

VanBuskirk proposed to create a Compulsory Fee Committee that is similar from the University’s Budget Committee. His proposition follows, “Compulsory fees are defined as those fees charged by the University, the revenue from which is not applied to the cost of instruction in any course or program normally offered for credit toward an eligible degree, diploma, or certificate, but is applied to the cost of services which enhance the cultural/social/recreational environment of students or provide other non-academic service to students. Holding the university accountable for fees that are not otherwise outlined to the students when they pay tuition. We should know where our fees are going and why they are going there and we should be able to determine whether or not we want them exist. That is how I propose we can save our students money in the short term, especially our international students who do not have tuition caps.”

Fraser proposed, “A change with the University Budget Committee is making sure they’re publicizing what they’re doing. Right now, if we have an increase less than 3%, the university just has to tell that committee and that committee can approve it. Of course, the university has issues with confidentiality but I don’t think that applies to fee increases. Students should be the ones to know what’s happening with their funds. I would definitely ask that if I wasn’t automatically put on that committee as president, a spot be made for the president of the Students’ Union. I think as the leader of this organization you need to be involved in important committees like that which determines how much students are paying.”

VanBuskirk outlined his five pillars of approachability, efficiency, opportunity, safety & equality and fun. When asked about how he can balance his pillar of fun with more important ones like safety and equality, he said, “We need to step away from the title of a party school, but an environment that encourages leadership, emotional intelligence, sociability because being social is a big thing and all of those things come with being fun. When I say fun I mean genuine fun. Sober fun. Inclusive to first and second years and bridges the gap between first and fourth years and is genuine fun for everyone.”

Discussing his pillar of approachability, VanBuskirk plans to “take off the door of my president’s office if I get elected” so that he can “be accessible for students at all hours of the day.”

In regards to qualifications for the position of Students’ Union president, VanBuskirk said, “I don’t really think that I need to qualify myself if I see a need and I see a vision for where the Students’ Union is going…  I have a vision of where The U can go. Although it’s so great today, it can be even better tomorrow if I implement that vision. That vision and the way how I will mobilize that vision speaks for itself. So, I don’t need to qualify myself as a leader when I prioritize students and I prioritize that vision on what students need.” VanBuskirk mentioned his qualification for coaching hockey at QMJHL certification level and has attended leadership conferences across Canada.

Fraser stated the importance of being a qualified leader, “I do want to explain to you why I am qualified. This isn’t a position you take on just because of a vision. You are the Chief Executive Officer of a 2.5 million dollar a year organization. This is an important role. Starting from my first year I’ve been involved with the Students’ Union. Experiences include being on House Council working with people at Mount Saint Bernard to working for charities and providing funding back for the community. In my second year I was a student advocate and a returning officer where I worked to run elections like this one. I worked with the by-laws to know exactly what they say and how they tell us we should act. I advocated for students when it comes to negotiating with the university in relation to conduct issues. Continuing this year, I am a students’ advocate taking on a role with Students’ Nova Scotia representing 20 000 students in the province. I’ve also been on the executive of four different societies working to manage those teams.”

Fraser explains that his pillars of leadership, experience and commitment are substantiated. While Fraser’s platform includes many changes not realistically accomplished in a year, he intends to lay the groundwork for future Students’ Union presidents.

The Xaverian Weekly reminds all students to make an informed vote on January 22 and 23. Additional quotes from the candidates during the debate are available here, here and here.

Update: Last edit made to article at 9:28 pm on January 18, 2019.