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With a referendum now inevitable on whether future Vice Presidents should be voted on by the student body at-large, the Student Representative Assembly met on Nov. 1 to determine if they would endorse or reject such a motion to the general student population.
However, with this opportunity the SRA made the tepid decision to make a neutral recommendation to students.
While any recommendation made by the SRA does not officially have any power over the outcome of the referendum, MSU President Ehima Osazuwa lamented the outcome and expressed his disappointment.
“In my opinion we didn't accomplish anything,” said Osazuwa. “I think we should have given the students a direction because that's why we got elected, to give students our opinions on certain things, and we did not accomplish that by remaining neutral.”
Osazuwa added, “I personally would have liked my assembly to take a stance on an issue like this. But I can't speak for the whole assembly, I can only speak for some members who voted for the positive and negative and took a stance. But some members thought it was more important to make a neutral decision.”
It is clear that the official recommendation from the SRA was not reflective of a unified voice but rather the difficulty assembly members found coming to a decision. Over the course of the four-hour discussion, various proposals in favour of a positive, neutral and negative recommendation all failed to reach a necessary majority.
Currently, the President and the representative assembly are elected at-large by MSU members. This is in contrast to the three MSU Vice-President positions — Administration, Finance, and Education — that have traditionally been voted on by the newly elected SRA each year.
Thus, the issue is centered around a debate about the merits of a direct or a representative democracy, and whether students can make an informed decision on the matter.
Osazuwa was one of several vocal individuals in favour of opening the vote to the students, citing his belief in the power of the general student body.
“I'm a big believer in direct democracy. I think it puts the vote in the hands of the people,” he said.
"With the current system in place, the SRA members who elect VPs don't have any prior experience compared to the general MSU member, because this is the first decision they make as SRA members . . . In my opinion, running at-large makes it more accessible and it limits bias by including a larger number of people.”
Yet a significant contingent on the SRA remained concerned with moving VP elections to a general vote. While the most recent MSU Presidential election boasted a strong voter turnout of 42 percent, evidence collected by an SRA committee pointed to voter fatigue amongst schools that had moved to voting for VPs at-large.
“We need to be honest with ourselves,” said VP (Education) Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, “I know that people have felt that we have pigeonholed the debate into just electoral turnout, but I do honestly think that that is a big discussion that we should look at.”
If the student body votes in favour of VP at-large elections, the SRA will also need to determine the best system amongst a plethora of options that range from a normal, open format, to a slate or pseudo-slate model where candidates form teams or "slates," and are voted on as a team or individually.
Nestico-Semianiw also argued that the role of the VPs is far more technical than the broader vision of the President, and that the complexity and jargon of their platforms is a barrier to having informed, student voters.
“It's not as accessible to put those things on a platform,” he said. “This isn't to say that the SRA is some higher level of intellect, or are more worthy of being able to vote; it's simply that, by having that opportunity to be an SRA member . . . you will have the chance to sit down with your VPs, and you'll be able to ask a lot more questions than a student will be able to.”
Despite the SRA failing to take an official stance on the issue, Osazuwa and Nestico-Semianiw both expressed a hope and expectation for the discussion to continue.
Osazuwa said, “That's why I'm very happy this is going to referendum, so we can clearly see [what students want], a sense of direction from the students.”
“Who am I to say my opinion is better than your opinion?” he asked.