Photos by Kyle West

 

On Jan. 17, the McMaster Students’ Union hosted a debate featuring the 2019 MSU presidentials candidates four candidates. Here are some of the highlights.

The first question of the debate concerned whether the candidates are more focused on advocacy or student life.

Josh Marando said he would be more focused on advocacy.

Jeffery Campana explained that the limited one-year term of a president would mean smaller initiatives are more important to him.

A1: Campana: Platform aims to engage students to get them more involved; focuses on both advocacy points and student engagement. "I am more out for student engagement, but I don't sacrifice advocacy"

— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) January 17, 2019

The debate quickly turned to Ontario government’s decision to restrict Ontario Student Assistance Program grants and make some student fees optional, a move that was announced the morning of the debate.

Madison Wesley pointed to the announcement as proof of why advocacy is central to the MSU president’s role. Justin Lee and the other candidates were also quick to condemn the new changes.

Q10: Campana - "The PC government is not for students like us". The option to opt out of student fees will cause a reduction of funding to services that the MSU needs in order to thrive.

— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) January 17, 2019

When the topic reasserted itself later in the debate, Marando noted the need for students to be “prepared to mobilize.”

When candidates were asked to outline their main platform priority areas, Wesley pointed to the need for improved mental and physical health support systems, while Lee chose his “HSR Drivers Accountability” platform point.

Marando said he is focused on making students feel welcome, and Campana spoke about his plan to place free menstrual products in all-gender bathrooms.

On the subject of off-campus housing, all the candidates said they were in favour of the new MSU landlord rating system.

Marando pushed the need to continue supporting landlord licensing, while Wesley and Lee talked about continuing housing education programs for students.

The discussion became more heated when candidates were asked to critique an opponent’s platform point.

Marando pointed to the logistics of Campana’s on-campus ice rink proposal.

Campana, Lee and Wesley criticized Marando’s proposed increase of the maintenance budget and various advocacy goals.

A6: Wesley - Most critical of Marando's point on lobbying to freeze tuition. Previously, OSAP is a provincial legislation issue, problem is that there are entire groups of lobbyists that dedicate time to this and they haven't gotten very far.

— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) January 17, 2019

One audience member asked how the candidates would increase campus safety.

Ideas ranged from Wesley’s call for improved police response to the need to upgrade lighting and fix emergency poles on campus, put forth by Campana and Lee, respectively.

A7: Wesley - Student safety big concern. Main issue is that Hamilton police have not been involved, advocating for students to Hamilton police important. If we have concrete advocacy coming from the school, we may be able to change a lot for the better.

— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) January 17, 2019

When asked about sexual violence on campus, all of the candidates agreed that training for students, Welcome Week reps and staff needs improvement.

Marando pointed out that none of the other candidates’ platforms addressed sexual violence.

Campana countered by saying that the issue could not be fixed in a one-year term.

A11 Rebuttal: Campana - Didn't address the issue in his platform because it is not a problem that one president can fix. Several different groups across campus must be involved; it is not enough to put a "bandaid solution" on a platform

— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) January 17, 2019

The candidates were also given the opportunity to explain what made them unique.

Marando cited his comprehensive MSU experience. Campana did the same while stressing his experiences outside the MSU.

While acknowledging their relative inexperience, Lee and Wesley stressed the creativity of their platform and noted that they represent the only ethnic minority candidate and only female candidate, respectively.

The full debate can be found on the MSU Facebook page.

 

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Westdale's Mexican take-out restaurant closes its doors

It had pulled pork, rice, beans, lettuce, lots of tomato, green peppers, cheese, salsa and guacamole. For Noah Ciglen, it wasn’t just a burrito. It was end of an era.

Ciglen, a fourth-year Arts & Science student, had the “sad honour” of purchasing the last burrito from Jimmy Gringo’s Burrito Factory, a favourite student haunt at King and Marion in Westdale, before it closed for good on Jan. 26.

“I had heard before winter break that Jimmy’s was closing, but I had no idea when,” he said. “Then I read on Twitter that it was closing that day and I thought … that I was going to regret it if I never had another burrito from them.”

Although students and local residents alike frequented the takeout restaurant, co-owner Ewan MacLachlan said that operating the business has not been an easy time.

“We’ve been open five years, and it’s been a fight since day one,” he said.

“I chose a location in Westdale because I wanted to cater to students and I liked the village atmosphere … but some of the locals didn’t like us.”

The restaurant operated as a takeout eatery only, but that wasn’t MacLachlan’s original plan for it. His initial vision was of a restaurant with seating, an outdoor patio in the summer and a liquor license so as to sell a small selection of drinks like sangria.

“They’ve got deep pockets and politicians on their side,” he said of the Westdale residents, who were resistant to the business’s presence in the neighbourhood.

The ill will was not new to Jimmy Gringo’s.

An April 2010 article in the Hamilton Spectator, reporting on the success of Hamilton’s business districts, quoted Joe Catanzano, co-owner of the restaurant. “We almost have to close our doors,” he told the Spectator. “Everybody says the city should be supporting you but, nobody here wants another Hess Village.”

Because of the residents’ issues with the restaurant’s late-night business and often rowdy customers, MacLachlan said he was often faced with a series of city inspectors and fines.

In September 2009, less than a year after its opening, Jimmy Gringo’s was brought to a City of Hamilton licensing tribunal for having a small collection of tables and chairs in its storefront, which violated code.

MacLachlan was consequently forced to pay a $1,500 fine for operating illegally, as the restaurant’s license designated it takeout-only. He alleged that this fine was imposed despite a city official assuring him he would not be violating code because the restaurant had already put in an application for seating.

As a result of the tribunal, the restaurant’s license was suspended for a day, and as well as being told to immediately remove the seating, it was ordered to put up a sign indicating that the establishment was take-out only.

So, after a tough five years, MacLachlan finally took an opportunity to close up shop.

“The timing was right, and the lease was up,” he said. “I’d had enough.”

Although students won’t have a reliable source for burritos in Westdale, some may find consolation in the opening of the American chain restaurant Taco Del Mar at Main and Emerson. But Ciglen, who considers himself among Jimmy Gringo’s cult following, won’t be among them.

“I tried [Taco Del Mar] to see if I could change it up, but it was too clean, too calculated and precise, and just not good,” he said.

There’s still some hope that Jimmy Gringo’s won’t be gone forever. MacLachlan, who said he has loved serving students, noted that he had the intention of moving elsewhere to “do what [he] had originally hoped.”

But with no location yet in mind, those loyal to Jimmy’s will be going hungry for a good burrito.

Starting in May, no one under 19 will be allowed into club nights at TwelvEighty.

The rule change does not apply when the campus bar is acting “in the capacity of a restaurant or a bookable venue.” Campus groups that book the space for an evening event, then, could invite students of all ages.

But when TwelvEighty is operating normally as a nightclub, which it typically does on Thursday nights, no minors will be permitted to enter.

“We’re going to have a little shift in how we operate the nightclub now. Time will have to tell what that means in terms of our operations, in terms of our reach,” said Derek Spekkens, service manager at TwelvEighty.

The change was made at the Nov. 25 Student Representative Assembly meeting, where members decided that the risks of letting 17- and 18-year-old students into the club outweighed the rewards.

The original proposal was to make the change effective Jan. 1, but members were wary of upsetting current underage students and preferred to wait until a new crop of first-years come to McMaster.

Currently, the bar allows a maximum of 25 underage patrons in at a time on typical club nights.

Before Spekkens and other members of the management took over, around when Quarters was re-branded to TwelvEighty in 2009, up to 50 minors were permitted to enter.

He explained that, to make the club nights more manageable, that number was decreased, and all patrons (not just underage ones) were given coloured wristbands to help bartenders make age distinctions. Alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic ones are also served in different sized cups so that security can tell if a minor is holding an alcoholic beverage.

“There have been steps to try to improve the offering and still keep it inclusive,” said Spekkens. But now that the SRA has made the change, “it will be our challenge as managers to keep this place a thriving business entity.”

Even the limited allowance of minors has made the bar particularly popular among first-year students living in residence, many of whom would not otherwise be able to go to a nightclub.

A memo to the SRA from its Operations Committee, though, expressed concern that minors “create an added working pressure for staff that is a drain on time and resources” and that TwelvEighty takes on the liability of first-years coming into the bar, many of whom might have consumed alcohol beforehand.

The memo also pointed out, though, that despite frequent visits by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, TwelvEighty hasn’t received a license suspension since 2007.

Under current operating policies, a minor “found consuming alcohol, in possession of alcohol, or show[ing] signs of past consumption of alcohol” must attend an alcohol awareness seminar and be barred from the club until their twentieth birthday. According to the memo submitted to the SRA, enforcement has been lax on these and similar penalties.

Spekkens acknowledged that the alcohol awareness “should be more robust … It’s definitely not something that TwelvEighty has been structured or directed to run.”

Spekkens did, though, point to the multiple levels of security, both in the bar and on campus, that allows TwelvEighty to provide a safe environment at club nights. “The purpose of being in this environment is to come of age and learn about responsibility and consequences,” he said.

All-ages or not, the TwelvEighty management team will continue working to offer students a positive experience.

“At the end of the day,” added Spekkens, “do students remember that third-year calculus class, or do they remember that amazing Halloween party they had at TwelvEighty?”

In the near future, students will likely encounter a much more regulated environment when searching for student rental properties.

On Sept. 18, a report proposing a new by-law will be presented to the Planning Committee at City Hall. The proposal seeks to address issues in regulating rental units across the city, and is believed to include a licensing program for all rental units (excluding those in apartment buildings) in the City of Hamilton.

The proposed by-law would begin to be drafted following the Planning Committee meeting and would most likely take shape by the end of November.

Discussion of regulating rental units has been ongoing. The current proposal looks to regulate rental units under the provincial Municipal Act. The intention of the licensing program is to ensure uniform standards for all rental properties across the city.

Rental licensing programs in other municipalities such as the City of Oshawa have sought to monitor property maintenance and ensure proper documentation and insurance.

Student rentals are not the sole target of this proposed by-law but the Westdale Ainsley-Wood and Mohawk-Buchanan-Bonnington-Southam neighbourhoods were specifically identified in earlier planning discussions in 2008.

Both neighbourhoods cater to student populations and experience an influx in residency as a result of the short-term nature of student leases.

Because the by-law itself has yet to be drafted, there have been concerns that another provision may be included which would seek to limit the number of bedrooms in a dwelling unit.

The City of London is the only municipality in Ontario to have limited number of bedrooms to five per dwelling.

Because this type of inclusion falls under a different provincial act, the Planning Act, Councilor Brian McHattie believes that a limitation on number of bedrooms would be discussed under zoning or as a separate by-law.

“The focus is safe housing. We have unsafe and unpalatable housing across the city,” said McHattie.

MSU VP Education Huzaifa Saeed reiterated the positive intent of the proposed by-law and the benefits to students.

“From one angle … this is a good deal for students. This would avoid horror stories with absentee landlords,” said Saeed.

Saeed raised another important question: “From an economic standpoint…what would this do for affordability of [rental] housing? That depends on the licensing fee.”

However, he also noted that it is difficult to fully comment on how this by-law would affect availability of rental property to students until the Sept. 18 meeting. 

Both Councilor McHattie and Saeed stated that the MSU would be and has been a part of the consultation process in the discussion regarding regulating rental units.

A more concrete plan of action will be developed by the MSU following the report to the Planning Committee.

Until the by-law is officially before City Council it remains unknown how deeply this will affect students. While the goal is higher quality student housing, potential repercussions remain a latent issue.

 

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