Only one candidate for chairperson in upcoming UVSS election

It’s the time of year again for students to exercise their democratic rights. Elections for the UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) open March 6, and students will be able to vote on the candidates hoping to fill the executive and director-at-large positions on the Board of Directors, as well as the Board of Governors and UVic Senate positions. The Martlet’s candidate questionnaires and responses will be available on Martlet.ca.

The chairperson candidate 

Fourth-year Biology and Environmental Studies student Kelsey Mech is running to be the next UVSS chairperson. Mech has a history of working for environmental and sustainability issues on campus, particularly as a director of student group Common Energy UVic, and has held one of the 11 director-at-large positions for the past year.

“I’ve learned how important it is to work with multiple stakeholders from all different backgrounds to achieve any progress,” says Mech. “I have really valued that experience as director-at-large.”

If elected, Mech says she wants to continue her work with sustainability and create a voice for students with the administration of the university.

In the last year, Mech chaired the environmental sustainability council of the UVSS, trying to ensure students have a say in the physical changes at UVic through campus planning — including the $2-million Student Union Building (SUB) renovation project — within the next year; she hopes to continue this as the chairperson of UVSS.

Mech, who currently holds a position on the UVic Senate, is also interested in social sustainability, which includes advocating for more gender-inclusive washrooms like the ones implemented in the SUB last August and reaching out to groups that may feel underrepresented.

“As chair especially, I need to set my own experiences and feelings aside and just really be fair and equitable to everybody,” she adds.

As director-at-large, she advocated for increased late-night study spaces and adding a second bus loop on campus, both of which will come up during campus planning in the next year and which Mech’s slate, EDGE, will continue to work on if elected.

There is a second slate in this year’s elections, IgniteUVic, which did not put forward a chairperson candidate. IgniteUVic’s platform includes lowering student fees by $20 and attracting major food and beverage outlets to campus.

During Mech’s time on the board, the UVSS made some decisions that resulted in controversy. Last December, the Catholic Student Association (CSA) distributed some booklets that the board felt were in violation of harassment policy. The board passed a motion that included asking the CSA to apologize, which raised accusations of censorship.

Mech says she believes the harassment policy is very strong and plans to uphold such policies as chair.

“ ‘What is harassment?’ is a difficult question to answer. It’s very much a case-by-case basis,” she says, adding that some complaints were filed about the booklets.

“I would really, really hate to have to feel the need as a board to censor a group in any way . . . beyond that, I really support a safe space on campus,” says Mech, who defines safety as “the ability to express your individuality in whatever shape or form that may be without feeling negative pressure from other people.”

Mech says she is just starting to dig her teeth into policy development, but looks forward to hearing feedback on policy from students. “To be honest, I do have a lot of learning to do in the next couple months . . . I haven’t thought about it a lot in detail what needs to be changed.”

The UVSS chairperson receives a $26 299 annual salary.

The alternative

While Mech is the only student in the running for chairperson this year, students may vote yes to acclamate her as chairperson, or no if they prefer another option. The last time only one candidate ran for chairperson of the UVSS was the 2003 election. Jude Coates was elected chairperson that year with 1 319 yes votes and 249 no.

In an interview with the Martlet and CFUV, the chief electoral officer of UVSS, Shawn Slavin, explained the electoral office is independent of the UVSS and oversees anything elections-related that involves the UVSS. This includes referenda and elections to the board of directors. The UVSS electoral office also assists with administering the UVic Senate and Board of Governors student elections, which happen concurrently with the UVSS board elections. Slavin says it is not the electoral office’s responsibility to encourage nominations.

Slavin notes a big drop in students running for elections beginning with last year’s election. This time, there are two sole candidates for executive positions: the chairperson and the executive director of external relations positions. This is rare, particularly for the chairperson role.

The sole candidate for chairperson still has to be elected, which implies she still needs to campaign to earn votes. In previous years, the chairperson candidates would participate in a debate and answer questions from the Martlet and CFUV. This will not happen this year because, says Slavin, “We felt it would not be a fair opportunity to all candidates to just be like, ‘We’re putting on this event for one candidate to promote herself.’ ” Instead of a debate, the electoral office will extend the Q&A period for Mech at the all-candidates forum at Cinecenta on March 4 at 12:30 p.m.

Nominations closed on Feb. 8 revealing only one chair candidate, but Slavin is still unsure what will happen if Mech is not elected.

“I believe what would happen is that a director-at-large might fill that position temporarily, and a byelection will have to take place in the fall. [But] I’m not positive about that,” says Slavin.

Voting will be done online only with a NetLink ID and password at webvote.uvic.ca. The voting period begins at 9 a.m. on March 6. For UVSS Board of Directors, the voting periods ends at 9 a.m. on March 7. For senate and board of governors, the voting period ends at 4:30 p.m. on March 8.

Voter turnout for the election was 21 per cent last year. This was higher than it had been since 2001, when voter turnout was 25.15 per cent.

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