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USSU candidate profiles and interviews

By in 2011 USSU Election/News

With only days to go before the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union election, here are quick profiles of the candidates and their answers to a set of questions sure to shape next year’s executive. Voting starts at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30 and ends at 4 p.m. the following day. All votes are cast through PAWS.


Scott Hitchings is the current VP operations and finance. A political science major, he wants to lobby for students in what he says will be an important year.

Pressing issues:

  1. Representing students’ voices in the upcoming provincial and federal elections.
  2. Creating new childcare spaces.
  3. Finding a replacement for Peter MacKinnon.
  4. See the USSU return to a fiscal surplus.
  5. Figuring out how they put the caramel in a Caramilk bar.

Scott Hitchings spent the last two years as the VP operations and finance for the USSU, which has allowed him to accrue “a significant amount of knowledge about all business the USSU has its hands in,” he said.

He assured us that his bid for president wasn’t for the name recognition on campus.

“I don’t particularly like seeing my name in print. I am running because this year has the potential to be an important year for students.”

A whole slate of new duties have been transferred to the president with the elimination of the VP external job, including governmental lobbying, but Hitchings isn’t worried about the workload.

“I choose to look at it as an opportunity for cooperation among the executive.”

This year’s executive made a serious push for more childcare on campus. Hitchings wants to see that through if he’s elected. Calling the current situation “dismal at best,” he says he will work with the university’s task force on childcare and continue to lobby for funding.

If the creation of a social justice centre is approved by council, Hitchings will make that a focal point of his year, along with the push for childcare and lobbying for students in the upcoming provincial election.

Vice President Academic Affairs

Kelsey Topola has a double major in English and political studies and is the current VP academic. She wants to keep helping students weave their way through their university careers.

Pressing issues:

  1. Improving procedures for dealing with academic grievances.
  2. Implementing a co-curricular record.
  3. Maintaining an early release of the final exam schedule.
  4. Continue to promote the office of the confidential student support officer.
  5. Continue to hold and improve upon academic events such as Academic Integrity Awareness Week and Be Book Smart.

Kelsey Topola knows what she’s getting into with her bid for the VP academic job — she’s filling that position right now.

Not only that, but she’s spent three years working with the Arts and Science Students’ Union as a councillor and as their VP external affairs. The English and political studies student also did a year on the Political Studies and Public Administration Students’ Society.

“I enjoy my job and the opportunities it affords me to make change for the better for us students,” she said. Among the job duties are handling academic grievances, sitting on university committees and, by Topola’s reports, wrestling large land mammals.

At the beginning of her current term, Topola said she’d be working on a co-curricular record, which would be a formal portfolio of a student’s involvement and volunteerism. The pilot record will be a priority next year.

Vice President Operations & Finance

Saeed Bashi is studying chemical engineering, has been a student volunteer for the past three years and believes he can better the USSU’s financial process.

Pressing Issues:

  1. Housing.
  2. Balanced budget.
  3. Control tuition fluctuation.
  4. Completion of Place Riel project.
  5. Child care.
  • Bonus: Make sushi affordable for everyone.

Saeed Bashi thinks his degree is the “second-most” important one out there.

“Everything around us involves chemical engineering — it’s a life essential. I left the first spot for you to choose,” he joked.

As an international student, he feels that he provides a unique perspective to the USSU.

As a test of his fiscal acuity, we offered him $30,000 to spend as he liked.

“Fly a plane and drop the money over the city: record that and I’m sure it will be the best hip-hop song video… or maybe something a little more useful and down to earth, like maintenance,” he quipped.

Bashi cited the importance of affordable housing, saying “if you think about it, students are a major income source for landlords, so more university affordable housing will help stable the rent increase rate in the city itself.”

Bashi has been in the city for three years and wants to use the job to make things more enjoyable for students.

Reid Nystuen is a fiscal conservative who wants to see the USSU spend within its means. He is studying finance.

Pressing issues:

  1. Social justice centre.
  2. Managing tenants and revenue from Place Riel.
  3. Courting the provincial and federal governments prior to upcoming elections.
  4. Organizing duties as a four-person executive.
  5. Getting students and clubs more involved to reduce student apathy.

With the USSU-backed Place Riel project finally taking shape, Reid Nystuen’s platform emphasizes strict financial restraint to ensure that student fees remain as low as possible.

“I have the passion for [the job] and the knowledge of finance from my studies,” says Nystuen.

We offered him an imaginary $30,000 to spend however he wanted.

“You don’t spend it, you save it. The budget this year already has an operating deficit of over $400,000,” he said.

Nystuen warned that the USSU must get back to a point where spending matches income.

Nystuen has served as the ESB student council representative since 2008, which, along with sitting on several USSU boards and committees, has given him valuable understanding of the budget.

Nystuen told us that he would rethink the Browser’s space if given a chance. With the addition of the Starbucks in the library, he says the space could be better used for childcare or other businesses.

Vice President Student Affairs

Alex Ferwerda is a political studies major, bent on creating a more comfortable student-executive culture.

Pressing issues:

  1. Seeing forward a social justice centre.
  2. Sustainability.
  3. Strengthening ties to the student centres.
  4. Creating a more inviting executive office by, for example, hosting a monthly “comment couch” session.
  5. Harbouring a well-kept beard, in order to utilize its staggering wisdom and morals.

Alex Ferwerda studies politics and religion, though according to him, both are deal-breaker topics on first dates. This results in a truly sad, basically non-existent sex life.

Throughout his three years on campus he has spent time working with both the Arts and Science Students’ Union and the Religious Studies Students’ Union.

“I have been a member of the USSU for three years now, and have paid close attention to the representatives decisions,” said Ferwerda. That is, every undergraduate is a member of the USSU.

The recent referendum to axe the VP external position sparked his interest in running for office, leading to a campaign centred on building an “executive environment that encourages students to become involved in the USSU.”

He considers the job’s focus to be the societal issues that specifically affect students. As for affordable housing, he feels College Quarter is merely a start in the search for adequate accommodations for U of S students.

He also says he will ensure something substantial is done to curb the childcare issue.

“Those with children should not have to choose between raising their kids and education.”

Leejay Schmidt is a computer engineering student focused on giving back to the U of S by making a positive difference in the lives of students.

Pressing issues:

  1. Ensuring that students have proper support through the centres.
  2. Improving student housing options and affordability.
  3. Increasing and improving childcare options.
  4. Sustainability.
  5. Ensuring that “people do not fall through the cracks” with social assistance.

Engineering student Leejay Schmidt is well versed in student politics, as he is currently a sitting representative to student council and student member of the U of S Senate.

He has worked closely with students on matters of racism, childcare and the housing crisis.

“I am running to ensure that a commitment to student wellbeing is the top priority of this position,” said Schmidt. Recently, Schmidt received the USSU Vera Pezer Award for Student Enhancement for his volunteer work done as an MSC, was honoured with a Saskatchewan Youth Award and was named Saskatchewan Junior Citizen of the Year for outstanding volunteerism.

According to Schmidt, the student affairs portfolio involves anything that directly affects students, notably, student housing and childcare.

He said that the College Quarter will not quite meet student needs, since the current shortage of childcare spaces has led to roughly a three year wait list.

“College Quarter is a very good start and it is good to see some commitment on the front of housing, but we will still be well behind the national average.”

If elected Schmidt will lobby for accessibility and affordability for both childcare and housing.

Justin Lasnier is majoring in Aboriginal public administration. He’s passionate about enhancing the U of S student experience.

Pressing issues:

  1. Affordable housing.
  2. Parking.
  3. Safety.
  4. Sustainability.
  5. Networking between students and alumni.

Justin Lasnier is dedicated to bettering the lives of his fellow students.

“Running for this position came naturally for me,” said Lasnier, noting he ran last year for this position as well.

As ambassador for the Aboriginal Students’ Centre and former VP operations and finance with the Indigenous Students’ Council, Lasnier built knowledge of a wide range of the student experience.

Lasnier says student affairs vary in range, but he lists housing and parking shortages as his top priorities.

According to Lasnier, “good housing is directly related to our academic performance so I think the next VP student affairs needs to put time on this.”

Additionally, Lasnier feels there is more work to do in improving campus sustainability, and would like to see students using mugs rather than paper cups to lessen the U of S environmental footprint.

As for one of this year’s hot-button issues — childcare — Lasnier sees a serious gap in service.

“It’s pretty much impossible to get childcare on campus. It’s totally unacceptable [for students] to be on a waiting list for years,” he said.

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