On Wednesday night, USC presidential and vice-presidential slates Team ForYe and Bardia + Cat 2019 faced off for the first time at the USC Media Debate.
Hosted by the Gazette and Radio Western, the evening was marked by heated remarks and pointed rebuttals as the teams defended their respective platforms. The two-hour debate started off with a presidential question period, followed by vice-presidential, slate-specific, all-slates and audience question periods.
Team ForYe’s vice-presidential candidate Jared Forman was absent from the debate due to a “personal emergency”. His partner Frank Ye spoke on his behalf.
Cuts to education
The debate was dominated by discussion of the recent provincial cuts to education, which ForYe believed to be the greatest challenge currently facing Western University students. Bardia + Cat expressed concerns over the cuts but emphasized sexual violence prevention on campus as the most significant challenge.
“I don’t understand how we can fight for these other policies or programs if the USC doesn’t exist next year,” countered Ye.
ForYe criticized Bardia + Cat for not having a plan relating to the cuts, but Bardia + Cat maintained that having a specific plan when the bill for the cuts hasn’t been released yet would be premature. Vice-presidential candidate Catherine Dunne emphasized that focus should be on preventing the cuts from going through.
“We are encouraging every single student that passes us to write to their MPP to have their voices heard,” said Dunne. “In June, it may look completely different, and we do not want to ostracize our relationship with the government by putting out a plan that may not even be effective when the time comes.”
When pressed to specify what University Students' Council service they may cut if necessary, Dunne said she would remove Western Film; she said that although she supports the Arts, the cinema is underattended. Ye said he and Forman would cut USC executive salaries, but deferred from answering the question with a specific service.
Ancillary fee changes
Both teams expressed significant concern over the potential opt-out option for ancillary fees, highlighting the importance of protecting the services offered by the USC and expressing an intent to increase student engagement in order to do so.
The teams often fell on the defensive as they challenged the feasibility of one another’s platform points and criticized their rivals’ responses to questions posed by the hosts. Citing budget limitations, ForYe challenged Bardia + Cat’s plans to extend crisis counselling hours, while Bardia + Cat challenged ForYe's plans to provide free mental health intervention training to all students.
The intensity of the discussion peaked as ForYe repeatedly questioned whether Bardia + Cat had sufficient experience for the position and a plan for challenges accompanying the potential cuts, specifically referring to Bardia Jalayer’s lack of political experience.
“My experiences are diverse … and my strengths lie on the corporate side,” emphasized Jalayer. “If elected, I will do everything in my power, and I promise that ... on June 1st, I will be the best president that I can be.”
Sexual violence prevention and other services
Further, the teams disputed the best approaches to sexual violence prevention on campus. Dunne highlighted “holes” in ForYe’s sexual violence prevention policy, explaining that self-defense training and sexual violence opt-in courses are already available. While expansion of these services is important, she stressed supporting survivors, reinstating the sex-ed curriculum and providing bystander training should take priority.
Nevertheless, the slates saw eye to eye on multiple issues, as they both agreed that the smoking ban is a step in the right direction and support the push for open-access textbooks. They also expressed concern for being the only two slates running in the elections, emphasizing the importance of increasing student engagement.
The teams further discussed issues relating to accessibility, the free speech policy, academic relief, the provision of free menstrual products and the presence of controversial speakers on campus. During their closing remarks, ForYe emphasized the uniqueness of this election while Bardia + Cat emphasized the role of student engagement considering potential changes to the educational framework.
“This election is unlike any other election. Whoever is elected is going to operate unprecedented in uncharted paths with the USC and with the school,” said Ye. “This is not the time to bet against experience, this is not the time to gamble your services.… A vote for ForYe is a vote for you and your Western student experience.”
“Our platform is based primarily on the engagement of students, and there is nothing more serious than that when it comes to the upcoming school year and the upcoming cuts that could happen,” said Jalayer. “We want to be a voice for the students, and we want to engage with every student that we possibly can, because we’ve had the luxury of having such an amazing student experience, and we don’t want that to stop.”