SMU presidential candidates debate salaries, levies

Students put questions to leadership before February referendum

Two candidates for president of the Saint Mary’s University Student Association faced off over accountability, student representation and how to get beer at the campus bar with a foreign ID.

More than 50 students attended the presidential debate between incumbent Jared Perry and SMU Women’s Centre coordinator Amanda Dickie Wednesday night.

Debate monitor James Patriquin stands between the candidates. Photo Andrew Mills
Debate moderator James Patriquin stands between the candidates. (Photo: Andrew Mills)

Saint Mary’s students will take to the ballots on Feb. 13 and 14 in order to elect the president, 18 directors of the board, and vote on which student society will receive levies over the next four years.

City councilor Waye Mason opened the debate with a call to student engagement in civic matters. He suggested student government should be run with the care of a business, and that work behind the scenes is often thankless. Mason used working for the water commission as an example:

“If you’re doing your job no one’s ever going to thank you, but when the water from the tap is bad for a single day, everybody notices,” he said.

Money was the recurring topic of the debate at the McNally Theatre, where the candidates used opening remarks to recap their platforms.

Perry emphasized stability, arguing that since he’s already learned the ropes his first year in office, he’s ready to “go full steam, keep that thing moving forward.”

The fourth-year commerce student highlighted the responsible spending of the association’s capital fund as a priority. The fund collects approximately $150,000 from the $20 per-student fee and is the only levy immune to referendum this year.

“Besides having arguably the best Movember ‘stache, I’m a super personable guy,” Perry wrote in a campaign statement, and he reiterated his connection to the student population Wednesday night.

Amanda Dickie, a women and gender studies masters student, would have to give up two of her current four jobs if elected president. But said she’s ready to sacrifice not just her time, but a large part of her salary as president.

Government accountability is Dickie’s focus with a plan for budget reform. She thinks the $23,000 presidential salary and $18,000 for the two vice-presidents could be cut and put back into student society funds. She’d also like to implement an election process for the VPs, who are currently hired.

According to the association’s 2012 annual financial report there is $59,767 allotted to governing salaries and a further $8,408 in benefits. Dickie argued for more transparency, by making the operating costs more explicitly available on the association’s website.

When an audience member mentioned that presidential salaries can’t be changed without a referendum and Dickie’s proposed amendments would have to wait until the following year, Dickie asked:  “Would SMUSA accept a voluntary donation of funds from their president?”

L-R: Jared Perry, Amanda Dickie, James Patriquin. (Photo: Andrew Mills)
L-R: Candidates Jared Perry and Amanda Dickie, moderator James Patriquin. (Photo: Andrew Mills)

Other items on Dickie’s platform were an opt-out of the U-Pass transit program for students with parking passes, accessibility on Husky team buses and more representation for international students, black students and aboriginal students.

The question of working hours and salary recurred throughout the debate. When asked how long an expected presidential work week might be, Perry responded with 40 to 50 hours while Dickie said she expects occasional 90 hour weeks — a demand she’s met in her non-profit work, she says.

Dickie’s part-time jobs include an additional 16 hours during the weekend and her combined schedule would leave less than nine hours a night for sleep, leisure and masters studies — a sum that didn’t add up for at least four people in the audience who returned to the question.

SMU is one of the only Atlantic universities that holds a referendum on the funding of its societies, Perry explained when the levy questioned was raised.

Dickie was able to list the per-student society fee’s in question verbatim: “Yearbook: $7; SMU Journal: $4, Women’s Centre: $2, World University Service of Canada, which helps refugee students: $2,” she said.

Dickie thinks the funding issue is vital to student life.

“I’d like to see students come out and vote on the levies even if they don’t come out to vote for the presidential race,” she said.

An audience member wondered if there could be more cultural nights at the Gorsebrook Lounge to showcase SMU’s diverse population.

“About the Gorsebrook being boring, I disagree,” said Perry, who went on to list several upcoming cultural events at the school. Dickie was challenged on her motion to educate bar staff on foreign IDs and passports, because the liquor commissioner could still shut down the bar without local IDs. She suggested a fee-return for international students unable to access the bar without Canadian identification.

Commerce student Hassan Juma is wary of campaign promises.

“I came to the debate last year. The things that were promised from all the candidates last year are yet to be changed. It’s more of a formal process. They really just focused on issues they brought up, instead of bringing the student vote to it,” he said.

Hamid Dhaduk, who is running for the board of directors, would like to see longer terms for elected leaders to allow their vision to come to life.

“I do see change but there isn’t enough time to implement it fully, because the terms too short,” he said.

The second-year commerce student thinks students are ready to vote in greater numbers this election cycle.

“I think they will — there’s more awareness going around the campus. I see a lot more people out this year,” he said.