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There's a lot to unpack when examining Mike Gill’s plan to "Build our McMaster" in both scope and depth of research, and it's fair to say that it's by far the most comprehensive plan in this year’s presidential election.

As a short recap for the unfamiliar, Gill's biggest platform point is a $75 million plan that extends over the next 30 years. He's hoping to allocate about $60 million of that towards a brand new building akin to a second student centre, and the other $15 million toward Athletics & Recreation initiatives including a Pulse expansion and a roof for an outdoor field.

Now, with such a detailed financial plan, Gill makes some necessary assumptions.

The first is that the full-time undergraduate student population will grow by one percent each year. Since the number of students directly informs how much the MSU accumulates in student fees, it's an important quantity to be aware of.

Based on enrolment statistics provided by the university over the past decade, while the exact growth of the student population fluctuates from year to year, one percent is a fair estimate for student growth. Although VP (Finance) Daniel D'Angela did note that post-secondary enrolment over the next several years is expected to slow, a flat student population growth would at most leave a gap of about $4 million.

It's certainly not pennies, but it's not a ruinous amount either; tacking on a couple of extra years would solve this as a potential issue.

A second assumption is the inflation rate. Gill applies a two percent inflation rate to the fees collected from students year to year, which is a slight overestimate of the current Canadian inflation rate according to tradingeconomics.com, but is still a reasonable approximation of overall trends.

However, an important, accompanying assumption isn't detailed in Gill's financial breakdown: the interest rate collected by the banks through the mortgage made on any kind of building plan.

Gill has noted this in conversation with The Silhouette, explaining that the university "can take out loans at a very low rate, and right now interest rates are really low to begin with, so it's a good time to do that sort of thing."

But the $75 million or so that Gill is proposing to use is misleading in terms of today's real dollars.

As Gina Robinson, Assistant Dean at Student Affairs and Director of the Student Success Centre, puts it in an email, "In borrowing we must pay interest to compensate the lender for the time it will take to pay back the loan. Essentially the amount of money that you have today is worth more than the same money that you are promised at some future date."

Ultimately, what this means is that while $75 million in capital funding will be accumulated over the life of the plan, if one assumes the mortgage is made in 2020 at a 2.7 percent interest rate, this actually only amounts to about $47 million in today's real dollars.

Even if one applies a more modest 2 percent interest rate, approximately only $51 million will be available with the proposed funding model to cover both the Student Life Centre as well as Ath&Rec upgrades.

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All of this is said with the understanding that the provided financial breakdown is not meant as a final plan, nor does it ask for students to commit to spending any more than they currently do.

But these rough calculations do raise questions as to whether or not an efficient budget exists for a functional building to be built, and in a good and useful location. While Gill pointed to T-13 as his favourite spot for the new building, D'Angela noted that T-13's location is not ideal and would need further consideration.

While it might be a bit alarming to see student fees covering costs until 2047, it's worth noting that this is neither unusual nor irresponsible, according to both D'Angela and Robinson. In fact, Robinson still expressed an enthusiasm for a Student Life Centre based on the proposed budget, and the Living and Learning Centre planned for 2019 will also be using this type of funding model.

But along with the various proposed Ath&Rec upgrades, it's implausible for all of the various proposals to be implemented; with the current budget, the building won't nearly match up to the grand expectations it inspires. Based on what students vote for, it remains to be seen if a new Student Life Centre is a building worth building.

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About an hour and a half into this year’s MSU Presidential Debate, candidates were asked about the dissolving of MacGreen and how candidates would continue to focus on sustainability on campus. Sustainability is nowhere to be found on candidate Devante Mowatt’s platform, and so he replied with the following: “In order to get more information on the subject, I’d like to look to the students that are surrounding me right now. I’d like to host campus talks alongside representatives that know a bit more about sustainability than I do. I want to make sure you guys can tell me what you want to see in terms of sustainability.”

Although a bit a sidestep, Mowatt’s answer was really the best he could do given the lack of a direct strategy or platform point. Nonetheless, public campus talks and open MSU office hours are not going to properly address issues that are otherwise left out of his platform.

Mowatt’s platform seems to include the bare minimum platform points needed to address fundamental student issues such as sustainability, student and university finances, equity and accessibility. As much as these can be thrown around as buzzwords during the leadership race, they should be present in everyone’s platform because they represent the wide-ranging concerns of the student constituency.

Mowatt defends the limited scope of his platform by stressing its feasibility. It is relatively easy to implement, and he is committed to asking the students how they want to address some of the larger issues through a reimagining of MSU office hours. These public hours will be hosted as town hall style forums in a variety of open spaces around campus. According to Mowatt’s website:

“Unless they actively seek out opportunities to do so, students often do not have a forum to make their beliefs heard. To change this, I would like to revitalize the idea of Presidential Office Hours to allow students to talk to the President about pressing issues on campus, in a way that is easy and accessible for them. I would like to hold bi-weekly sessions in different buildings on campus, prepared with topics of discussion that are of crucial importance to the student body (mental health, financial accessibility, etc.).”

The platform point is in all likelihood, completely feasible (barring the bi-weekly frequency). Town hall style meetings were a component of last year’s second place candidate Tristan Paul, and while both critics and fellow candidates questioned student interest and participation, the need to pursue more face-to-face student engagement with the MSU is still a problem that the Union has to address.

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The issue lies in his attempt to use this point as a sort of buffer for the lack of focused initiatives to try and address the different areas of student issues. There is simply not enough time for a president to hold an appropriate number of meetings to formulate specific strategies for the organization and then implement them. Platforms are already supposed to be developed in collaboration with students and administration, and are meant to represent a potential yearlong strategy for the Board of Directors. Students deserve a candidate that is prepared to maximize their short-term, and using a well prepared, researched platform is the best way to do so in the current system.

While campaign season should not be the only time that students feel that their voices are actively being listened to, the reality is that this is one of the few times where the constituency is this widely engaged. Turning over feedback, while balancing a directed, personal set of goals for the Union is no easy task, but it is necessary for students to understand how their candidate will run the MSU, and it is important to go into the position with a relatively determined strategy for a one-year timeframe.

Chalking up the most important goals to “letting the students decide” does not give voters any reason to believe that Mowatt will actually successfully address their concerns if voted in, and if he would have time to provide results. Mowatt is a candidate of small-scale improvements for your McMaster mobile, Frost Week and washroom experience, and his plan to introduce another avenue of voicing your complaints is unlikely to address those issues in any substantial way.

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Sarah Jama's entire platform is arguably centered on accessibility, whether through MSU services, food and living accommodations or improved financial accessibility.

However, there are a couple of key concerns that are embedded in Jama's platforms on improving food and healthy living.

With Jama's Emergency Meal Plan, the basic premise of her idea is to create an emergency meal card for students that will be provided on a first-come, first-serve needs basis.

But immediately, the explanation provided for this platform is questionable, as Jama’s website states:

"The cost of food is expected to rise in Hamilton up to three hundred percent within the next two years (source)."

With no actual source provided, it's troubling to see this cited as a real statistic when it falls apart under a simple application of logic. If a basic meal at Centro costs $8, conservatively, it seems ludicrous to imagine it costing anywhere near $32 in two years.

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Now, it's worth noting that regardless of whether or not the statistic is true, it does not invalidate the desire for an emergency meal plan fund. Jama pointed to the massive demand for the MSU Emergency Bursary as tangible evidence of students' needs on campus.

But a number of logistical issues remain unanswered and the flimsy statistic does nothing to help the seemingly shallow research.

For example, it's unclear how exactly such a plan would be implemented; in particular, what an individual needs to reveal about their financial situation in order to be eligible.

It seems both necessary and yet onerous to ask an individual to divulge their financial standing to be eligible, but it's an inevitable problem that as of yet has no tangible solution.

For now, Jama explained that she plans to work with both Hospitality Services and the Faculty of Social Work to develop a solution.

There are also a number of potential issues with a first-come, first-serve distribution. An individual who is in need of funding in April has a disadvantage to receive funding compared to an individual in need in November, even if the financial need is equal.

In addition, both Gina Robinson (Assistant Dean at Student Affairs and Director of the Student Success Centre) and VP (Finance) Daniel D'Angela confirmed that for students in need, the Financial Aid Office can provide assistance in a number of ways including a week-long loaded meal card. However, Jama explained that she wants to expand that aid for students who might need assistance for longer than a week, and D’Angela indicated that these options for students could certainly be advertised more effectively.

It's a nuanced issue, but with a month-long meal card being worth somewhere around $400-500, Jama must present a plan with a better balance between addressing a need and implementing a responsible system.

Jama's platform on a $5 meal plan also seems like a challenging issue to push through, although it's worth noting that a similar plan is currently being implemented at Ryerson University. But when the plan involves hiring students to cook meals for students, as both a cheap and healthy option, it seems like the combination of one too many ideas to be feasible.

Ultimately, providing affordable food options to students is an admirable goal to have in mind, and the same goes for a plan to provide financial aid for students in need.

But Jama's platform does not adequately address how these programs can actually be implemented, and the research behind them feel somewhat flimsy upon close examination.

 

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