On May 28 in the MUSC Atrium, the McMaster Students Union hosted an all-candidates debate with four candidates in the Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale riding for the upcoming June 12 provincial election.
The participants were Raymond Dartsch of the Green Party, Alex Johnstone of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Ted McMeekin of the Liberal Party, and Donna Skelly of the Progressive Conservatives (PC). Libertarian Party candidate Glenn Langton and Freedom Party of Ontario candidate Barry Spruce were absent.
It was an engaging and well-attended debate. The candidates had the opportunity to offer their perspectives on important issues within the riding before focusing on post-secondary education (PSE).
Opening Statements set the tone for the debate
Raymond Dartsch began by sharing his hopes for the GP’s success in this election. “It’s not a far-fetched idea that a candidate of the Green Party gets elected,” he said.
Donna Skelly, as might be expected from a former TV journalist, was always smiling and unmistakeably confident, but addressed the student audience too formally.
Johnstone, a former school-board trustee, began by highlighting her community experiences at McMaster and Hamilton. She was evidently the most nervous of the four, but recovered steadily.
Both Skelly and Johnstone made remarks about the state of provincial employment and debt rates under Liberal leadership.
Ted McMeekin combined personal anecdotes and past achievements as the incumbent MPP. McMeekin appeared as the most comfortable of the candidates, aiming to relate with the audience on their shared love of McMaster and the MSU.
McMeekin and Skelly: head to head on almost everything
In most of her answers, Skelly attacked Liberal governance, and on numerous occasions directed her accusations at McMeekin. Skelly spoke many times about the Liberal’s “blunders,” “corruption,” and “mismanagement.”
McMeekin concluded some of his own responses by rebutting PC platform points that Skelly hadn’t brought up.
While Skelly emphasized PC’s fiscal discipline, in particular in terms of cutting public sector jobs, McMeekin criticized the Tory plan as standing on “the backs of those who need us most.” Skelly stated that we have to “bite the bullet” with regards social cuts, while McMeekin countered that Ontario can only rebuild through investment, not cuts.
McMeekin responded well to criticism. A veteran to the area’s politics, he handled attacks against him and the Ontario Liberals calmly and maturely.
His responses to questions pertaining to PSE and to the criticisms of Skelly and Johnstone included a fine level of detail and knowledge of McMaster, its funding, and current projects. There is no doubt that McMeekin is well-informed on these issues given his incumbency.
McMeekin laughed off a number of Skelly’s attacks, though he did respond to Skelly’s accusations about the public investigation of officials in the Premier’s office. He told the audience, rather passionately, that he thinks if someone in Queen’s Park has done something wrong, the “bastard ought to pay for it.”
McMeekin conceded that Skelly’s attacks about the Gas Plant closure were fair, but that this didn’t pose a big problem for his overall performance in the debate.
The majority of Skelly’s statements were about issues unrelated to PSE. Skelly’s strategy might have worked for a different audience, but her repetitive attacks did not appear to have any effect on university students who wanted to hear about tuition and employment.
As much as Skelly liked to attack the Liberals’ platform, she failed to respond to McMeekin’s criticism of the Progressive Conservatives’ plan to tie marks to OSAP funding, Dartsch’s remarks about her support for the Niagara-GTA highway back in 2011, and Johnstone’s claim that the PC platform makes education inaccessible.
Johnstone garners audience support
Johnstone’s energy and natural tone, along with her emphasis on accessible education, garnered her support from the audience throughout the debate. The majority of the audience’s applause went to her.
She criticized both McMeekin and Skelly on their respective party platforms, while agreeing with Skelly on the Liberals’ fiscal irresponsibility and with McMeekin on the PC’s attack on social services.
She jumped into some of the more heated points of the debate, but overall came across as a constructive critic instead of a relentless attacker. Johnstone focused far less on attacking the Liberal government and more on bringing forth NDP’s tuition plans.
She did not miss a chance to remind the audience to vote for the NDP this election.
Dartsch emphasizes the importance of fresh ideas
Although Dartsch didn’t have a strong presence and seemed tired during the debate, he captured the audience’s attention with his honesty and refreshing approach to the election. He did not push for himself or his party, but for open debate and new ideas.
However, Dartsch was stumped by some questions, noting that he’s been too busy being a working parent with five kids to keep up with post-secondary news – a comment that might have left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the most involved students on campus. Dartsch went back and forth between making impressive, well thought-out points, and repeating previous statements and admitting to a lack of knowledge on some topics.
There was no clear “winner” in Wednesday’s debate. Overall, Johnstone and McMeekin out-performed both Skelly and Dartsch.
Skelly’s performance appealed to strong PC supporters, yet failed to engage undecided members of the audience due to her forced delivery, which at times sounded patronizing and too rehearsed.
Dartsch missed the opportunity to make a strong impression on McMaster students.
Johnstone and McMeekin gave the most natural and relatable answers. Both were friendly, and unlike their opponents they appeared to understand the purpose of the debate, and used this to their advantage.
The MSU presidential debate on Monday, Jan. 27 marked the final opportunity for candidates to publicly present their case to voters and attempt to shift the balance.
No new promises were made, but the tone of the debate was more critical than last week's debate. While Brodka and Saull seemed to be frontrunners in the first debate on Thursday, Jan 23, some candidates emerged at Monday's debate as thoughtful and well-spoken contenders, particularly Russell.
Of all candidates, Russell looked the most comfortable in front of viewers and, by far, sounded the least scripted.
When asked who they think deserves second place, every candidate, except herself, said that Russell would get their vote if they weren’t running.
Though Russell was personable, she had very little time to answer questions about her own platform and explain to voters they ought to support it. Most of her time was spent questioning other candidates and handing them a chance to elaborate on their own platforms.
Russell stayed poised as all of the candidates went after the early leaders—Saull and Brodka. While candidates interrogated Saull and Brodka, Russell shone as likeable and fairly unopposed. She closed saying "I'm asking for your vote if maybe you haven't felt heard before, if maybe you've felt that your lens doesn't matter. I'm asking for your vote if you've ever felt like you needed more support."
Ali and Wolwowicz improve
Israa Ali and Jason Wolwowicz both had their work cut out for them after an underwhelming performances in the first debate.
Ali clearly presented herself as the non-status-quo candidate. She also drew on personal experience while talking to the audience and spoke about being overlooked and underestimated as a Muslim women who wears a Hijab.
"It was brought to my attention that, because I wear the Hijab, or this head scarf, I'm not as appealing to the student population as the rest of the candidates are, and I may not even win or have a chance," said Ali. "I am a student just like you and I have struggles just like you."
Her confidence showed improvement and she referenced her MSU experience more heavily than before.
Wolwowicz was a strong speaking presence in this debate and was able to remain concise. Wolwowicz, in this debate, showed himself as researched and smart but still held on to his theme of leaving big decisions up to the student body.
"Engaging the student community more is key. Students have fantastic ideas. The MSU really only sees success because of student ideas...Services were implemented because they were student ideas at some point," said Wolwowicz.
Brodka and Saull staying afloat
Saull remained relatively likeable but did not improve much from the first debate and Brodka kept his remarks vague and wordy, trying to keep his reputation as the knowledgeable candidate.
Brodka and Saull politely battled each other for most of the debate, attempting to poke holes in the other’s platform. Neither of them was more impressive than the other and they both neglected to opportunity to criticize Russell or make any meaningful pleas to voters.
Brodka attacked Saull's off-campus security plan, citing redundancies or possible lack of demand.
"I just have a lot of questions about a variety of sub-points... if there's a demand for this," said Brodka. "For example, 'an increased police presence.' I know the University already pays up to $200,000* on specialized policing surrounding the University, so I just have a lot of questions."
Saull, again, was critical of Brodka's freedom credit point, saying it hadn't been researched properly.
"You had a consultation with a Dean, who said it worked. If you call a Dean and ask how his pilot project went, I think that that would be a biased sample," said Saull.
It seemed as though they were each just trying to hold on.
Online voting opened Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. and will close on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 5 p.m. Students eligible to vote are registered in 18 units or more and should receive a code to vote at mcmaster.simplyvoting.com.
*number clarified later on Twitter
We live streamed and hosted an all-candidate MSU presidential debate on Jan. 23. Find our analysis here and the full video below.
Last night’s informal debate at TwelvEighty offered a look at how the candidates stand out in a crowd, but it wasn’t the night for tough questions or head-to-heads.
Personalities and common goals emerged early in the hour-long panel talk, which allowed candidates who have fallen under the radar to share the floor with the frontrunners.
Haman Man, who has kept the lowest profile since announcing his candidacy, opened with a light-hearted joke. His demeanour was easygoing, but he was serious about his wide-ranging platform, from improved accessibility to students representing the MSU in parliament.
FYI, his posters are coming soon, and they’ll have Braille on them.
He sat next to Dan Fahey, who got riled up about campus food prices, tuition and book fees.
“We need more space in the libraries, but we also need some bloody books!” said Fahey.
Fahey’s answers weren’t as specific as other candidates. He spoke about the need for “students to take power into their own hands” and his fond impressions of McMaster’s student body as an exchange student, but didn’t elaborate much on his platform.
“I’ve got a lot of experience at my students union back home, and I wanted to bring some ideas here,” he said.
“I want to give back to McMaster and Hamilton, which I’ve really enjoyed so much.”
Rory Yendt, sitting at one end of the panel, took the most straightforward approach and focused more on explaining his platform than engaging with the audience. He was the most insistent on fiscal transparency.
“Students should have a say in all financial matters in the MSU, not leave it to the SRA,” said Yendt, who proposes that referenda be held in every case that student funds will be spent.
Yendt’s tone was less enthusiastic compared to others’ and it seemed at times as if he were ready to give up.
“Win or lose, I’m happy about it,” he said, referring to the result of the race.
The candidates seemed collegial and for the most part attentive to each other’s ideas. They each gave opening and closing statements, and responded separately to four questions.
The questions were easy to anticipate: What’s your vision for the MSU? Why did you choose your campaign slogan, colour and theme? What would you do during your first month in office? What can we expect from your campaign in the next eight days?
David Campbell had a consistently confident voice, and emphasized his experience on the MSU’s board of directors in his answers.
“I’ve heard people saying the MSU provides advocacy and services, but there’s a third element that’s left out,” he said. “It’s also about building community and campus tradition at our school.”
Jacob Brodka had an uplifting and charismatic tone. He expressed that he wants to make the MSU “fun and relevant again.”
Brodka chose to start his opening statement with “a shout-out to Huzaifa Saeed and Siobhan Stewart,” current VP (Education) and President of the MSU.
He then referenced Matthew Dillon-Leitch, President during 2011-12, and agreed with his point that “we need to invest in student ideas.”
Dowdall had a more job-interview tone when he talked about his experience as part-time manager of SWHAT and a teaching assistant. He then switched over to a more family-centred tone.
“I developed a group of friends that became my family,” he said. “My campaign is run with family here supporting me.”
More than once, Emmanuel broke out of his ‘space maroon emperor’ character, which was becoming repetitive after a few rounds of questions.
“I hope everyone’s aware that I’m running a joke campaign,” he said toward the end, getting a laugh out of the crowd.
He reassured the audience: “If I somehow get elected to office, I’ll do what needs to be done.”
The presidential pub night was a get-to-know-the-candidates event in advance of a more formal debate hosted by the MSU’s election department on Jan. 29, the same day polls open.
Here’s a line from each candidate’s closing statement, in order of speaking:
“It’s all about taking the engineering approach to the MSU.”
“Don’t vote for fancy slogans, vote for ideas. Don’t vote for change, vote for movements.”
“You are a very small minority of this institution – all of you are going to vote. You guys here, you’ve come out. Get as many people as you can to vote.”
“Regardless of who you support, you support the space maroon empire in the end.”
“We have seven fantastic candidates. We’ve come up with innovative ideas and we want to hear what you have to say. Come talk to us.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity for what we can do next year. I’m looking forward to seeing more of you next week.”
“I think what’s incredible about an election is that we’re turning students attention to it. We’re really looking forward to getting your feedback.
V: As a fourth year student, I have come to love and dread OSAP. For an independently funded student, OSAP is the only way I am able to stay in school. I have worked part time for years but it does not pay all the bills at the end of the day. Every year, with a steady increase of around 5 percent to my tuition, I find myself acquiring more and more debt. 5 percent does not sound like much but it comes out to roughly $500 every year. Ontario once adopted a two-year tuition freeze between 2004 and 2006.
In 2006, the average university tuition for an undergraduate degree was about $5,000. My tuition costs roughly $6,600 today.
As you can see, there has been a steady but painful increase in fees. Maybe it is time to have another tuition freeze.
D: At first I thought, “Why don’t we already adopt this motion?” Quebec has had a tuition freeze for as long as I can remember. I always wondered how the Province of Quebec was able to afford such an initiative. Federal Transfers and Equalizers, as they are called, is the reallocation of Provincial revenues to different Provinces to ensure sustainable budgets. Ottawa reallocates 15 billion dollars a year of other Provinces’ revenues to Quebec. Granted, Ontario also benefits from this program.
My point is that we all share into the expensive initiative that is a ‘tuition freeze’. If a tuition freeze were to occur in Ontario, the plan would cost $110 million to implement in its first year, $195 million in the second, $280 million in the third and $365 million in four years time.
Since no party would ever consider a tax increase in the midst of the Premier leaving office, I would have to assume that the money that would be needed would come at the cost of social services, the arts, and other important facets of society. I don’t think I can watch another social service risk drastic funding cuts.
V: The assumption that I made is grounded strongly in the evidence that has been presented over the last few decades; when the going gets tough, the services get cut. However, the only way this assumption could fail is if the economic prosperity improves as a result of this tuition freeze.
“With the fastest growing tuition in the country and poor performance in the student summer job market, the province must act quickly to address the concern that higher education is becoming increasingly inaccessible for Ontario families,” commented Alysha Li, President of OUSA.
As is consistent with my experience, along with thousands of my peers - as tuition costs increase, the need for more student financial assistant increases with it.
Furthermore, as tuition costs begin to increase and outpace inflation rates, the number of individuals who find that education is becoming inaccessible is also increasing. These potential students cannot then engage themselves in the competitive market places of our economy and find meaningful employment. This is just as problematic as having social services, and other funding, cuts.
D: But is a tuition freeze the solution?
As much as I do not always align my interests with the Liberals, I did appreciate the 30 percent grant that was available to me, and many other students, whose families make an annual income of less than $160,000.
I feel as though this is a very accessible grant that many students have benefited from over the last year.
This initiative has cost the Province the same amount a tuition freeze would.
I would argue that this initiative has been better on the basis of accessibility, practicality and the direct financial benefit to students. Furthermore, I think that this program should be expanded, not in terms of accessibility but rather, to relieve even more of the financial stress of students.
I would much rather see the money that would be needed to start or sustain a tuition freeze be put into this initiative.
D: At the end of the day, this is not an easy issue to debate. A simple issue has a clear-cut answer. A complicated issue has a difficult problem with a tested solution that requires attention. A complex issue is a very difficult problem with no clear answer or sufficiently tested solution.
Tuition costs are important to all of us.
We all must bear this burden in some way, whether that is through the support of parents, tiresome employment, federal grants and loans, et cetera.
What we all, and the thousands of students who protested in the streets of Montreal, can agree upon is that tuition costs are too damn high.
Sumeet Khanna & Violetta Nikolskaya
Co-Presidents McMaster Debating Society
Q: Should course drop dates be moved later in the term or are the current deadlines sufficient?
S: Add/drop dates. Although I've personally never added or dropped a course after the "financial penalty" deadline, I've spoken to peers who tell me that one could have dropped a second term course without academic penalty up until March 9 of this year. What comes to my mind, at least, is how close this date is to exams. In fact, it's so close to exams, that it might as well be pushed right-before exams (roughly April 3).
As a caveat, I don't want to be talking about courses that have no written examination during the formal exam period. I'm talking about the Chem 1A03s of the McMaster world. And the first point I'll offer Violetta to begin this debate, is that I think hope is something that lasts longer than the Mac admin want to admit. A student can pass March 9, be failing a course, and still cross his/her fingers for the exam to "save them". And then, right before the exam, while embroiled in exam-prep, I think some students finally realize that their efforts will be to no avail. They've neglected the course material, and that neglect cannot be resolved in the span of a few days cramming for an exam. So if this is the case, let them drop the course without penalty. The alternative is to have the student write the exam and fail the course; not only is this demoralizing for many, but it also looms over academic transcripts FOREVER (or at least for a while).
V: Hold on, Sumeet. March 9 is how close to the exam period? Oh yeah – a month. A solid month of midterms, assignments and content that has been prepared by the professor. This period in the academic semester offers two very important opportunities; the first is an improvement in one's standing in that course. The second is the possibility of developing an interest in the course. I think we do not give enough credit to the merit behind University and academic commitment. When we make a decision to take a class, there are many possible motives: "bird course" to improve CA or SA, required course, interesting elective, passionate course of exploration, the list goes on. However, in regards to the decision to take the class purely to get an easy mark is the one on the list that should be critically analyzed. When did we decide that in University it should be glorified to take the waters in an 'easy course' and then drop it once we realize we can't cheat the system into easy grades. This is University. Buckle up and commit to what you took.
S: Okay, let's buckle up. Vio, recognize that a lot of courses throw a lot of their heavy assignment material in the last month. So let's run a thought experiment. We have student X. Student X wants to continue in this course, even though he knows he's not doing so well. It's March 9th. He drops the course, because he knows that the heavy assignments are after March 9th, and he doesn't want to take the risk. On my side of this debate, student X doesn't feel the pressure to drop. He can take the course, develop "interest" in the course, as you put it Vio, and then drop the course if he’s finding it difficult. We maximize learning with my resolution Go in there, learn, and have the option to drop if you don't want to doom your transcript with a fail.
V: Sounds like your student X is auditing the course. As this student is not supposed to be just there, that develops two problems; the very first is that student C is filling a seat that someone else who either needs the course or would want to be in the course should be filling, and secondly, this student will be delaying what you imply is an inevitable process. There are a lot of students who find themselves in the awful position of not finding a seat in a required course and then having to either take an expensive summer course or to wait an additional year. For some this could mean delaying their graduation by a semester, or even an entire year. All so that one person can get an expensive ride through a course that will yield no credits? How is this at all beneficial for student X or those affected? Furthermore, this student clearly needs to talk to an academic counsellor and make plans for their own graduation and degree audit fulfillment rather than staying in a class that is draining precious time. Maximize learning? Your side only creates more problems and does not even begin to address the ones that I outlined.
S: Wait, this makes no sense. If student X is enrolled in the course, he is not auditing the course. That seems pretty clear to me. So if students can't find a seat, it isn't student X's fault; the admin has overbooked the course, or students are informally switching core class times to suit their needs. Listen, I get one last shot to prove my point for the paper, until September. Here I go. March 9th adds stress to students, and hurts their ability to succeed. Moving it to right before exams allows students to try, then fail, and learn from their failure, rather than worry about a big omen on their transcript. To sum things up in debate terms: I'm right, and you're wrong.
V: This all amounts to a mere strawman argument. I did not say student X auditing the course; I said that his behaviour is like that of auditing a course but it does not have the benefits that auditing the course has. Again, now you go on to absolve their guilt in causing the course to be full for others students. We have a responsibility to ensure that students who should be in the course access that opportunity, and this is made more challenging with suggestions like yours. Give more credit to University students. We are not children. We are adults and we should be treating our commitments like adults. Things are tough, but we cannot always afford to leave everything to the last minute. To sum things up in debate terms: Yield to the master debater.
Meghan Booth & Hasheel Lodhia
McMaster Debating Society
Q: Is a strict curfew an acceptable response to the London riots?
M: In light of recent events, namely at Fanshawe College in London this past weekend, the idea of a curfew on minors has been put on the table as a means of curbing delinquent behaviour. This, though, presents the problem of how a curfew would be implemented. Any child under the age of 18 would have to be accompanied by an adult outside of the home between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. This is on the basis that much of the petty crimes, vandalism and unwelcome loitering are committed by minors. In addition to society not being burdened by despondent youth, there would likely be positive externalities that would occur as a result of a curfew. With less time spent in parks and in front of the local Tim Hortons, more focus would be put towards things like homework. Furthermore, families would be able to enjoy more time together; building stronger bonds between parent and child paves the way for more responsibility and accountability in our youth. For these reasons, and many more, a curfew is an idea that would prove to be beneficial to youth themselves and to society in the long run.
H: The main reason behind the curfew laws in London is to set an example of bad behaviour. Perhaps curfews might do those students some good at this point, but it doesn’t make sense to impose it over all of Ontario, essentially punishing every individual for the acts of a few. This has never happened before, and never will. Besides, imposing a curfew isn’t in any way going to reduce the amount of crime that takes place; it will simply relocate it (in this case, indoors). For the rest of the kids, keeping them indoors every night will only develop their false sense of security. Think of the ‘boy in the bubble’ scenario. Suddenly turning ‘legal,’ they will be exposed to public nightlife too quickly. Being isolated from the entire world, including peers, is bound to lead to psychological problems later on in life. The burden of proof lies on you to show exactly why keeping kids in the dark will be beneficial for them or for society.
M: While I see your point about the ‘boy in the bubble’ issue, I think the fact that we abolished Grade 13 in 2005 demonstrates the regard the government has for rushed exposure to adult life, which is none. A curfew is furthermore not indicative of a false sense of security; if being at home with your family, or at a friend’s house with their family, is a ‘false’ security, then I don’t know what real security is. A curfew will not eliminate petty crime and vandalism, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Kids crave stability and accountability, which can surely be better provided if they are in a home setting. With teachers having their classroom hours scaled back more and more, kids are left to their own devices. As for this type of incident not having happened before, this may be an isolated event in terms of its scale, but broken bottles, vandalism and general debauchery is a drop in the bucket of youth acting out. If anything, a curfew is an option to be explored seriously. The permanence of it can be left up to its level of success.
H: I still don’t understand how forcing kids to stay indoors will solve anything. Someone who wants to vandalize property will just do so in hiding or during the day when no one is looking. This “general debauchery” you speak of isn’t going to suddenly stop when you take away the right to leave any sort of shelter at night time. In fact, it will probably give kids another reason to get fake IDs, which means even more kids going out into the danger of this so called “cover of the night.” If not, then they’ll just have more house parties, more internet crime and of course more sex (unprotected, of course). Some children who spend their evenings outside their home have a reason for doing so. They could be living with abusive families or need to work in the evenings to pay for their education. Should we be forcing these kids to stay indoors? All of us have a right to a standard of living that is adequate for the health and well-being of ourselves and our families. This ‘solution’ doesn’t solve anything. What you are proposing is a cop-out for the government to actually spend any real effort on controlling crime on our streets. By moving everything indoors, where the government has no real jurisdiction, the police are now the ones to say “not in my backyard.”
M: My opponent highlights the possible benefits of a provincial curfew. While the proposed curfew doesn’t claim to eliminate crimes and shenanigans committed by youth, it is an idea with no immediate foreseeable downside. Kids getting fake IDs and trying to get into bars may happen, but most of the time they are caught and turned away anyways (provided the bar isn’t crooked in its dealings). As for unprotected sex, that’s an educational thing. It’s the province’s responsibility, as well as parents at home, to preach the benefits of either protected sex or abstinence. Kids are less likely have sex if parents are upstairs. Furthermore, it’s not about forcing kids to stay indoors; it’s about exploring alternatives for letting kids with boundless energy loose with nothing constructive to do. As you also pointed out, there is the issue of kids with abusive families. If a kid has to spend more time at home because of legal constraints like a curfew, then they will be more likely to speak up and want to change their situation. Lastly, if you’re proposing that we do not enforce a curfew because there’s no governmental jurisdiction over what happens in the home and that we should just let kids roam the streets in the night like hoodlums, then I say that that is pure baloney. For these reasons, I resolve that a curfew on minors would likely be a beneficial thing for society if it was able to be enforced.
H: This motion is unconstitutional, plain and simple. Everyone has the right to paid work, mobility and other essential freedoms. You mention that parents should be responsible for preaching values. I agree! They should also be responsible for keeping their own kids in line. I know mine did. Once again, you assume that all kids are good for nothing “hoodlums” with “nothing constructive to do.” I for one remember my evenings filled with debate club, band practice and Kumon (thanks, Mom), not filled with running around with boundless energy, hollering in Timmies parking lots, spray painting nearby dogs and pushing over old people. The only message we will be sending out to these kids is, “You cannot be trusted as individuals in society.” Yes, there are certain restrictions we put on underage children and youth such as driving, drinking and voting, but you are going one step too far. We don’t simply ‘experiment’ with drastic regulations such as this. You haven’t even mentioned how the government plans on enforcing this. If anything, it will be more money and resources spent on useless measures such as this. This is just another case of the older generation blaming the younger for things that they are completely innocent about. This resolution must not and will not stand.
Karthicka Suthanandan & Andrea Tang
Members At-Large in McMaster Debating Society
K: Last week, Invisible Children released a video that went viral instantaneously. The video documented personal testimonies and accounts of issues in Uganda, specifically the crimes of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The heinous nature of Kony’s crimes essentially appeals to the viewer’s emotional side, outlining the crimes of abducting innocent children from their homes and turning them into soldiers. Though Kony has terrorized Uganda for years, the Stop Kony 2012 campaign has actually brought it to youth attention. Not only inspiring hope, the campaign encourages individuals to do something about the issue and stop the tragedy from spreading.
A: It is indeed nice to see youth paying attention to things other than their so-called “first world problems;” however, what it is essentially promoting is the idea that merely joining a Facebook group or re-tweeting a video can cause real social change. It can be easily agreed upon that justice for Uganda is not even close to a simple matter. The injustices occurring in Uganda and its neighbouring countries cannot be reduced to the faults of Kony alone, nor can true justice be brought to victims through simply catching one man. If youth don’t direct their positive energy toward implementing a set of workable solutions, they may be disappointed when the justice and change they’re expecting does not occur.
K: It is important to note the aims of this video. They specifically talk about “changing the conversation of the media that influences us everyday.” Facebook and Twitter are everywhere, but even the smallest step towards social change is more purposeful that status updates about Snooki’s pregnancy. First and foremost, this video is about awareness and a first step to action. It is a good start and certainly directs the focus of the world to Kony’s crimes. Problems may not dissolve with the single arrest of Kony, but with the world paying attention, they can be changed.
A: A campaign titled “Stop Kony” promotes youth to put to justice one man involved in starting a complicated problem in Uganda. Unfortunately, even with such a start, the majority of youth that has not actually researched the complexities behind this issue believe that stopping Kony is equivalent to stopping all the problems presented in the original video made by Invisible Children, which we all know is not actually true. When the Globe and Mail interviewed some of the actual victims of the Ugandan war, they indicated two things that were needed for true justice in their country. First and foremost, government leaders need to be responsible for the victim’s suffering (as government soldiers are alleged to have committed serious crimes against civilians such as rape and murder as well). Secondly, victims of atrocities should be compensated by those responsible. This really proves that capturing Kony is only a small part of what really needs to happen.
K: Maybe the campaign needed to be simplified. If you want people to get involved and make a difference, it isn’t exactly convincing to make the goal seem impossible. By telling people they have to simply pass on a video, spread awareness and get the government involved, two benefits result. One, it reaches the ears of everyone and results in discussion like this, which gives government officials incentive to intervene, analyze the situation and find a suitable course of action. Second, if something actually happens in a situation that has been ignored, the benefits of Kony being indicted certainly outweigh the harms. Can’t partial justice be better than none?
A: There are some potential harms in simplifying a complicated situation such as this. Firstly, it is actually counterproductive to make youth believe we have all the answers. Youth are better off being taught the real complexities and truths surrounding political issues such as this. Invisible Children is trying to make the war that Kony has started known to youth, and oversimplifying it may not be the right way. The recent energy brought out in youth will be a waste, and a great opportunity will be lost if it is not directed toward a real solution. When youth see that they are not making a real difference, won’t they be discouraged? Perhaps Stop Kony is a campaign with good intentions, but is not very well thought-out.
K: I will agree that the Stop Kony campaign does not provide a comprehensive solution to the issue at hand. However, that is simply not the point. The campaign does not expect youth around the world to come up with a well-developed political strategy to end civil dispute in Central Africa. The point is to inspire awareness; how viewers choose to define their involvement is another concern. Stop Kony is a chance to truly dedicate oneself to an issue, rather than just acknowledge it and walk away. Many catastrophes reach the news and become forgotten once they are out of the headlines, becoming an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. The difference is that this video inspires action and involvement. Non-profit organizations like Free the Children show that when emotion is channelled into action in a manageable way, it makes a difference. Building schools, donating a few dollars, these things don’t make nations educated, they don’t end poverty. However, they do build on situations that need repairing, just like Invisible Children’s campaign is using the power of awareness to build involvement that did not exist otherwise.
A: The Stop Kony campaign has brought extensive awareness to the situation, and there is value in what the campaign has done thus far. However, only time can tell if this campaign will actually bring change, and what value this campaign has for the actual victims we are trying to help – the people of Uganda.
Violletta Nikolskaya & Meghan Booth
McMaster Debating Society
Q: Should we pursue and prosecute the people behind the robocalls, or is it politicals as usual?
V: Voting is a democratic right that people have fought for through multiple civil movements. Unfortunately, there have always been, and always will be, election scandals. They are so common that most international electoral watchdogs tend to discuss whether levels fraud during an election season is either at ‘normal’ levels or moderate by comparison. It is personally difficult for me to stomach how a scandal, associated with a right that women before me fought to secure, could be so candidly dismissed. It vitiates the democratic process. Most recently, the Harper government has been under fire for an alleged robocall scandal. It is claimed that a fraudulent use of robocalls (computerized autodial calls with a recorded message) was committed when individuals received messages that attempted to dissuade citizens from voting by telling them that the polling stations had changed locations. The RCMP is investigating the matter. If it were to come to light that a member of the Harper government allowed this, I believe that the government should be charged for attempting to corrupt the democratic process and for electoral fraud. Dissuading citizens from accessing their facilitated right is bad for the country.
M: Let me first say that all parties involved (excluding the perpetrator of course) know that it is fundamentally and morally reprehensible to tamper with the electoral process. There has always been some level of questionable behaviour in Canadian elections. Hiring a company to call certain voters several times and direct them to the wrong voting stations is not only annoying but wrong in a moral sense. The media likes to remind us that this situation is certainly above and beyond normal political shenanigans and calls into question the very sanctity of our democratic system. But first of all, it seems that we are unable to nail down a perpetrator in this case. Secondly, we cannot take back the past. Finally and most importantly, when these types of things take place they most often happen without the knowledge of the head of the party. The party leader doesn’t have the time or the scruples to pull a stunt like this at the cost of their campaign. For these reasons, I don’t feel that Harper and his government should be charged criminally for the actions of some unknown perpetrator.
V: I agree that PM Harper probably didn’t have the time to pull off a stunt like this at the cost of his campaign, but someone in his party may have in certain ridings in order to get the edge. As the party leader, Steven Harper is responsible for the actions that take place under his rank. It is his responsibly to ensure that his campaign and parliamentary members are adhere to the same rules and laws that he must. “Every vote counts,” after all. In the last election, many ridings were separated by only a couple hundred votes. Thousands of complaints (31,000 reported) were made by voters who received these messages and received other harassing messages by robocalls.Many of the ridings were so affected that it has been brought to question whether the outcome of the election would have been the same had this issue not occurred. Thousands of individuals were wronged in their ability to exercise their right to vote. This is significant, considering that we live in a representative democracy. Our voice and our vote affects the policies implemented locally, federally and internationally. Changing the overall outcome of the election means that Canadians were not fairly represented.
M: By all means, this is an important part of our government system, to get to the bottom of the matter. Realistically, though, there are way too many people who have a motive to rock the election boat. Sure, the Conservatives had an election to win; that’s an easy motive. The Liberal Party was clinging to life during this last election and could have just as easily done something as underhanded as this – using a Canadian calling company, not an American one, I might add. What really hasn’t come to light yet, though, are the revolutionaries responsible for the riots in British Columbia not too long ago. As for the “level of security in the voting process,” well, in addition to the United States recount fiascos of past elections that point to the failures of security and technology, I would also like to point to a press release by NASA that discloses how often their systems get hacked. I don’t think that Canadian election security measures are so far superior that something like a hacking on the part of a revolutionary is out of the question. This is exactly something that would be right up their ally. While I don’t dismiss the need for the Conservative Party to be thoroughly patted down, I do think that all parties should be considered equally.
V: No one person is above the law. To excuse a fraudulent act by the government is to contradict the fairness and justice of our country. Canada was quick to condemn other international leaders that were elected despite alleged acts of electoral fraud or corruption (think back to Iran’s election and the most recent Russian elections), but has found itself in the same mouse trap. At the very least, if the government has nothing to fear, a transparent and public inquiry should be held to conclusively determine the outcome of the alleged claims. However, in this case, if the conclusion is that the government is guilty, then immediate action must be taken to ensure that a precedent is set so that any Canadian governmental body cannot act in such ways and expect to get away with it.
M: Looking at the world’s events in recent years, I have never been more proud to say that I am a Canadian. With the economies around us imploding, fiscal policy and budget-balancing has proved an effective tool in keeping us all relatively safe and comfortable in our standard of living. This was one of the key platforms of the Conservative campaign and one that was certainly delivered on. We cannot take the past back, and throwing our “gracious leader” and his cronies in jail is not going to fix the problem. Mr. Harper and those in his upper echelons are most likely too busy with more important matters that if it was someone in his party that caused this uproar, then it was probably some hooligan who wanted the support of the winning party on his resume who pressed a couple of buttons and started this whole thing up. The Conservatives won by a sizable amount, and the ridings of Guelph and Windsor only cemented further the majority. So, not only do we have no idea who actually did this, but I believe the Harper government won by enough of a majority that this situation is a minor technically that points only to the bigger issue that is national security. This is not to mention the even-keeled governance he has actually been able to provide. Furthermore, if it was some bottom feeder election campaigner or a radically left leaning communist, then they, if found guilty, should be punished to the full extent of the law. They’ll be released within a year any way.
Matt Martorana & Karthicka Suthanandan
McMaster Debating Society
Q: Is the Balanced Refugee Reform Act going to be too damaging to future immigration?
Matt: Immigration Minister John Kennedy recently introduced Bill C-31, which will reform Canada’s refugee policy. A refugee is a person living outside their country of origin or habitual residence because they have suffered persecution on account of race, religion or political opinion. According to Kennedy, Canada’s immigration office is flooded with “bogus” refugee claims, where many people who seek refugee status are not in “serious danger.” To solve this problem, Kennedy intends to label certain countries as “safe countries” and thus make it more difficult for individuals from these countries to obtain refugee status.
Kari: The changes incurred by the Balanced Refugee Reform Act are to the benefit of those claimants with founded claims because it ensures them faster and more inclusive support. These reforms are simply that – reforms to a system that remains fundamentally the same, simply working faster and more efficiently. Currently, the number of unfounded claims unnecessarily slows down the system. The matter of people abusing the system at the risk of others in serious need is no small matter. For individuals in need, this is a hindrance to the new life they wish to begin, while for those abusing it, buying time is all they want. The proposed bill has the ability to cut wait times for hearings with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada from 19 months to 60 days, removing failed claimants within a year as opposed to several. With these changes, the Canadian Government is even now able to increase the annual refugee target resettlement from 2,500 to 14,500.
Matt: The Balanced Refugee Reform Act puts too much authority into the hands of the Immigration Office, and specifically into the hands of the Immigration Minister, allowing them to be the judge, jury and executioner of determining who will qualify as a refugee. Rather than allowing the people whose job it is to help refugee claimants decide which countries are safe, politicians become the ones in charge of the decision. This is a serious problem, because determining which country is “safe” becomes a political question.
Kari: The system is still the same and will take into account the same humanitarian beliefs, though it uses authority to create structure and protect itself from corruption. Assuming that unfounded claimants cannot be distinguished from those with legitimate claims simplifies and underestimates the hearing process. The new bill comes out of a strong understanding of the system. The fact of the matter is that there are people who abuse the system and it is done so in correlation to certain areas, making the new policy’s regulations about safe zones necessary. For instance, claims from Hungary nearly doubled between 2010 and 2011, even though the rate of acceptance is only about two per cent. Consequently, these high rates of rejected claims contribute to the worsening backlog that is slowing the system to a halt.
Matt: The focus on the “bogus refugee claims” is nothing more than a political tactic that Kennedy wants to use to ensure that this bill passes. I do not deny that there are individuals who are abusing the system, but we have seen this tactic used by the Harper government before. Either you are on board to resolve the problem of bogus refugees or you are not. Suddenly, not supporting this bill means not solving the problem. While we should solve the bogus refugee problem, Bill C-31 has serious flaws, such as authorizing to strip refugees of their status and deport them years later if the government figures that the refugee no longer faces a risk of persecution. People who have already been approved as refugees might be deported even after years of living in Canada. This bill will also give the government the authority to detain any non-citizen as an irregular citizen for up to a year without any judicial review.
Kari: The current system negatively affects the claimants themselves, as well as Canadian taxpayers, with failed claims costing $50,000 of social service expenses. The reformed system cuts costs to $29,000, will allows for savings toward other areas. The Canadian government also announced increasing Resettlement Assistance Program funding to $54 million. They aim to promote more successful integration into society for refugees, because contrary to this idea that the government will begin arbitrarily deporting refugees, the humanitarian value of helping these individuals is still inherent to our practices.
Matt: I acknowledge that Bill C-31 may not only be faster for our immigration system and cheaper, but we should be careful if we are valuing human lives in terms of dollars and cents. For instance, think about what this bill would mean for European refugees. Any country in Europe would be considered a “safe” nation. Only five per cent of Europeans who apply for refugee status ever attain it, yet it is apparently fair to turn that five per cent away because the majority of Europeans may have made “bogus” claims? My point is, there are still families who legitimately require refugee status, even if their country is labeled as safe, and we would be wise not to overlook them. Yes, our current refugee policy needs reform, but replacing it with a more imperfect, corruptible system, which Bill C-31 supports, is not a better idea.
Kari: Someone has to make the tough decisions, and there is really no evidence to say that the immigration minister will use political influence to make poor decisions. It is an exaggeration to assume this bill will create some overly formatted system that does not make exceptions or recognize individuals in need on an unconventional basis. Even this proposed small five per cent can and will be heard. If anything, the example of only a small minority of EU applicants qualifying is exactly the problem. There is no reason to promote an old sloppy system that is to no one’s benefit. Instead, we need to continue to be progressive and adapt our system to the changes that affect us.