Analysis: MSU presidential debate ends with no clear winner

Tyler Welch
January 27, 2014
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

An underwhelming MSU Presidential debate resulted in no clear winner and a missed opportunity for candidates to sway voters. The Silhouette hosted and live-streamed an hour-long debate on Jan. 23, allowing candidates to question and defend their platforms. Despite more than an hour of questions and answers candidates brought little to the table in terms of new messages or back-and-forth debate.

When given the chance to critique competitors' platforms, most of the panel questioned Jacob Brodka and, to a lesser extent, Teddy Saull. Brodka and Saull levied their harshest criticisms and most pointed questions at each other.

Candidates question Saull and Brodka 

Saull stood up well to the pressure. He knew his platform but had trouble remaining concise and getting his point across in a fixed amount of time. He also mixed in humour and light-heartedness with thoughtful comments.

Saull chose to focus his talking points on the pillar of his campaign—building community—along with touting his idea to freeze the MSU fee at its current rate.

“All of my platform points come down to community and how do we draw students in in a way that is easy and is exciting for them?” he said.

Saull demonstrated weakness, but also honesty, when he admitted to lacking in financial knowledge and experience. He made no mention as to how he could cope with that as the MSU President. He did, however, take to the opportunity to express pride in being out of the MSU and SRA bubble.

“I’ve spent my time at McMaster on the ground with students: as a CA, as a TA, and I think that will allow me to be sitting in that seat and to always be thinking ‘how does this come back to the student population,’” said Saull.

Jacob Brodka, composed and prepared, dealt with criticism with more tact than Saull, but perhaps in a less charming way. His statements never felt rushed and he consistently made his point within small windows of time.

As a panelist, Brodka seemed experienced, well-versed in the operation of the MSU, and comfortable on camera, but was less adept at engaging viewers and maintaining charisma.

Brodka’s message centred on his freedom credit platform point, participatory budgeting and allowing students to drive positive change.

“I want students to submit their concepts and ideas…I want them to share with us how we can improve campus…I think that’d be a great way to improve student life,” said Brodka.

When candidates pointed out what they believed were holes in his platform, such as the lack of a mental health platform point, Brodka responded strongly.

“Despite the fact that certain things may not appear in a candidates platform, that doesn’t mean that you’re not consciously aware of the efforts that are currently being put forward…The MSU is currently working on a mental health policy,” Brodka said.

Russell appeals to students

Jyssika Russell proved to be down-to-earth and personable in the debate. Though her platform faced criticism, she addressed students more personally and sounded less scripted than other candidates.

While most candidates address concerns that cater to the “involved” student, Russell made a concerted effort to appeal to those outside the MSU bubble.

“We need to be making sure that we have places where we can also make a lot of meaningful contact,” said Russell.

That proved to be a poignant statement, as both Wolwowicz and Saull jumped on board and agreed.

Russell’s most significant criticisms centred on plans that candidates saw as redundant. Other candidates pointed to her inclusion council and Art Crawl bus ideas as unnecessary, saying these needs can be met by other MSU bodies and the HSR.

Ali and Wolwowicz miss opportunity to make an impact

Israa Ali and Jason Wolwowicz each got their campaigns off to a slower start than other candidates and did not effectively use the debate to catch up.

Ali was, at times, lost in the speed of the debate and seemed the least confident of the candidates. Her speaking tone was professional but seemed stiff and rehearsed at times.

Ali was, however, the only candidate to address concerns of spiritual groups on campus, especially with regards to creating a spirituality centre.

“The spirituality centre has been a conversation starter ever since 2004 and it’s been needed for a lot of different faith groups on campus, even for those without faith,” said Ali.

Wolwowicz demonstrated confidence and charm but relied heavily on his notes, anecdotes and elaboration. He also tended to be long-winded in his answers.

His “Bright Idea” program fell under the radar among candidates at the debate. Brodka’s and Saull’s similar platform points saw much more talk time.

Wolwowicz's strongest moment came when lobbing criticism against the peer tutoring proposals put forward by Brodka and Saull.

“I understand we have a surplus, and we have money to spare right now. However, I don’t see how that’s affordable,” said Wolwowicz.

For both Ali and Wolwowicz equal speaking time did not result in equal impact.

Candidates address audience questions

To close the debate, candidates took questions from the live-streaming audience (beginning at 00:52:40 in the video). Many viewers wanted to hear the candidates weigh in on the scandal surrounding McMaster's engineering Redsuits organization and their "songbook."

The candidates agreed that the words found in the cheers are inappropriate but not representative of the engineering community as a whole.

Saull, Brodka and Ali supported the University's decision given the information that was available at the time of the debate. Russell denounced the songbook but did not directly comment on the decision to suspend the Redsuits.

Wolwowicz denounced the songbook but added, "having been a welcome week representative as well, I think we should have a little more discussion before condemning all engineering students who might be reps as well."

Going forward

An MSU-sponsored debate will take place on Monday, Jan 27 at 12:00 p.m. and take place in the atrium of the McMaster University Student Centre.

Online polling will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 28, Wednesday, Jan 28 and Thursday, Jan 30.

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