When the going gets tough, the tough get voting? USSU executive elected amidst budget cuts

By in Features/News

From Marcg 22-23, undergraduate students at the University of Saskatchewan took part in the annual U of S Students’ Union elections, voting in an entirely new executive team. While a portion of the campus community expressed excitement and support for the election, voting parallelled the budget announcement in Regina from the Saskatchewan provincial government, and student morale was low.

Compared to last year’s 23.9 per cent voter turnout, only 3,240, or 18.6 per cent, of the eligible 17,381 undergraduate students took part in the election, the lowest percentage the USSU has seen since the 2012 election, when 16 per cent of undergraduates voted.

The 2017 voter turnout is also low in comparison to neighbouring institutions, such as the Students’ Legislative Council of the Students’ Union at the University of Calgary — with 25.2 per cent — and to the University of Alberta Students’ Union — with 29.5 per cent. However, more students at the U of S voted for the incoming executive than at the University of Victoria, the Canadian post-secondary institution with the closest comparable amount of eligible voters: 17,361, only 20 less than the U of S. Of these eligible students, 15 per cent voted in the UVic Students’ Society elections.

Just over an hour after the polls closed, the election results were announced in the North Concourse of Upper Place Riel, under the supervision of the chief returning officer Gillian Gough.

In a close race, David D’Eon secured the role of president, with 38.9 per cent of the vote, compared to Emmanauel Barker’s 36.7 per cent and Sajid Kabir’s 10.6 per cent.

With the recent announcement from the provincial government, the 5.6 per cent budget cut to the U of S will be of primary concern for the incoming USSU executive, a concern that D’Eon responds to.

“I think that the funding cuts are devastating. I don’t think that can be understated,” D’Eon said. “The most important responsibility of the USSU is going to be … reaching out to the colleges and reaching out to the Indigenous Students’ Council, as well. That’s a relationship, I cannot stress enough, that is going to be essential to getting us through this. There’s a lot of work that we have done in terms of Indigenization and reconciliation, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I will not allow those conversations to die off. Those are not things that we can drop now that things are going to be difficult.”

Deena Kapacila, attributing her success to her dedicated campaign team, took the position of vice-president operations and finance with 40.3 per cent of the vote, followed by Kosy Ugo-Okeke at 30.9 per cent and Stephanie Deptuch at 14.76 per cent. Like D’Eon, Kapacila is concerned about the budget cuts.

They’re incredibly difficult,” Kapacila said. “Being very active within the labour movement, I know that a lot of people are very upset. As a student, I’m very upset … trying to unite all of the colleges in solidarity against tuition increases is our plan and to be as vocal about that as possible.”

Running unopposed, Jessica Quan was named vice-president academic affairs, with a vote of confidence of 70.3 per cent. Quan’s approach to the budget cuts is similar to Kapacila’s, and she plans to address them as soon as she takes office.

“The first priority right now is myself, along with the executive, responding to the budget cuts and finding a way to be accountable to students, to let students know what’s going on, because this is the biggest budget cut the university has ever faced. So, we want to mobilize and get our efforts co-ordinated right away.”

With 43.1 per cent of the vote, Crystal Lau won the position of vice-president student affairs, overtaking fellow candidate Mackenzie Paradzik, who garnered a close 38.4 per cent. Lau hopes that by promoting free services on campus and focusing on her equal-access campaign for menstrual products, she can alleviate some of the strain caused by the budget cuts.

“I can’t do anything to change that budget cut or to change … tuition, but what I can do is to gather as much free stuff, free workshops, free access to things, mentors [and] opportunities for our students,” Lau said. “We have peer supports here, so promoting those events, workshops and services to make up for it.”

As the term draws to a close, D’Eon hopes that students will continue to discuss the cuts so that momentum for change is not lost.

“This is a conversation that needs to keep on happening during the summer and I think that would be my priority, is making sure that when everyone goes home from school, this doesn’t drop off of their minds.”IMG_3912

David D’Eon

incoming president

One word to describe the U of S:

“Proud. I’d say that when I talk with students across the campuses, they’re very proud of this institution … There’s an understanding of the position we’re in and an understanding of where our province is at, and that it’s going to be difficult, but that [students] have faith in this university to see it through and to continue to be a place where students can thrive.”

Message to students:

“Don’t stop talking. I think that’s important, that we don’t stop talking about this. When you go home for the summer, keep on talking about this institution. Keep on talking about the difficulties that we’re going to face, because my concern is that this conversation is going to peter out over the summer, and it can’t.”

Songs on the soundtrack to your life:

“‘Kid A’ by Radiohead, ‘Confusion’ by Vic Chesnutt and ‘Lore’ by Elder. I was worried that, during the campaign, I would have to confess to everyone that I’m a metal head.”

IMG_3902Jessica Quan

incoming vice-president academic affairs

One word to describe the U of S:

“Innovative. The U of S is always very responsive to new developments … We’re becoming more literate in technology and finding ways to integrate it into our classrooms … We always find ways to be responsive to students, and we always find ways to overcome different barriers or challenges. Even with the budget cuts, I know that it will be difficult, but we will find a way to innovate and … work towards something better.”

Message to students:

“Don’t give up. Keep pushing and keep trying, because if you truly believe in what you want to do and if you’re truly passionate about it, despite any potential failures you might have or discouragement you might have, just let your passion shine through your work and let it motivate you, and you will end up where you want to be.”

Songs on the soundtrack to your life:

“‘Mr. Brightside’ by the Killers. There’d be a lot of Beyoncé on there too … Yeah, just an entirely Beyoncé soundtrack with ‘Mr. Brightside’ in the middle of it.”

IMG_3915Deena Kapacila

incoming vice-president operations and finance

One word to describe the U of S:

“Sanctuary. The U of S has given me the opportunity to actually be who I am, and I am forever grateful to this institution for allowing me to do that.”

Message to students:

“If [students] have any concerns at all, bring them to [the USSU], and we’re going to be as open as possible … We do genuinely care about all [students’] issues and share those same stresses and those same issues.”

Songs on the soundtrack to your life:

“‘Locked in the Trunk of a Car’ by the Tragically Hip … I think the whole thing would basically be a re-creation of several tracks of the Tragically Hip that I really like.”


Crystal Lau

incoming vice-president student affairs

One word to describe the U of S:

“Community. It is my community now that once nurtured me to be who I am today, and so now is my time to give back to this community and work for the people in this community.”

Message to students:

“Don’t be shy to reach out. If you need help, you gotta reach out, and there are lots of services here for you, lots of people that want to help you. I am available if you want to ask for anything … Know your rights, know what is out there for you.”

Songs on the soundtrack to your life:

“‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ the Glee version. That’s my theme song … Every single time I get discouraged or upset … I gotta listen to it. It bounces me back, right back.”

Jessica Klaassen-Wright / News Editor

Photos: J.C. Balicanta Narag