USSU’s Mayoral Candidates Forum brings student issues to the forefront

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A screenshot of Martin Gaal, top-left, moderating the Saskatoon’s Mayoral Forum which was attended by the cities mayoral candidates on October 20, 2020. THE SHEAF / Wardah Anwar

The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union hosted an event to voice students’ concerns and encourage political participation.

The forum was held on Zoom and live streamed on Facebook on Oct. 20. Over 30 students attended the event, which was moderated by political studies professor Martin Gaal. All six mayoral candidates Zubair Sheikh, Charlie Clark, Rob Norris, Don Atchison, Mark Zielke and Cary Tarasoff took part in the forum.

According to Gaal, the reasons for the debate included bringing student issues to the attention of the candidates and giving students a platform to voice their thoughts, as students represent 10 per cent of the voting population in Saskatoon.

“It gives students the opportunity to not only ask questions to the candidates, [but] to bring up the issues that they think are important or care about, but also for them to realize that municipal politics matters. And that this is an opportunity for them to get their viewpoint out,” Gaal said.

“Having students be able to talk directly to the candidates for the mayor of the city is fundamental.”

The forum began with candidates’ opening remarks, followed by two questions posed by the USSU. The questions were about candidates’ plans for the U-Pass system and, more broadly, about why students should vote for them and what candidates will do for students. 

Autumn LaRose-Smith, USSU president, says that these questions served as an opportunity for candidates to explain why they should be the one to advocate for undergraduate students, if elected.

“We just wanted to make sure that the future mayor of Saskatoon is going to commit to ensuring that students have access to U-Pass,” LaRose-Smith said. “And then [with] the second question … we wanted to allow the candidate to speak to undergraduate students specifically about why students should elect those individuals.”

As a political studies professor, Gaal believes that this practical application of political studies is important for students taking those courses.

“It’s crucial that we not only talk about politics in the class but that we connect to politics in the world,” Gaal said. “I truly believe that we need to continually seek the means to connect what happens in the classroom to the outside world, to show the relevance of what we’re learning.”

Gaal says that forums and debates are important for the university to foster. 

“It shows that people are committed to getting involved to making their cities and province and country and the places that they live in better,” Gaal said.

La-Rose Smith says she was amazed at the level of interaction between students and the candidates, as questions were posted on the Zoom chatbox periodically.

“It was just really awesome to see that people were commenting in the chat box and sharing different articles and news reports,” La-Rose Smith said. 

Although the forum took place virtually, Gaal says that it ran smoothly with no major technical issues.

“I think it was a positive experience, and that with the Zoom type of forums, each person can have the focus on them for a specific period of time,” Gaal said. “I think we made it work.”

La-Rose Smith hopes that the forum helped motivate students to vote and that students gained a better understanding of each candidate’s platform.

“Ultimately, I just hope that students were able to be more informed about who they were wanting to vote for,” La-Rose Smith said.

Wardah Anwar | News Editor

Photo: Wardah Anwar | News Editor