Policies & Personalities – The Voice Magazine Probes AUSU By-Election Candidates

Voting has started, and if you haven’t made up your mind yet, here’s six pages of Q&A with the candidates who responded to our call for interviews. Yes, six pages. We had a lot to ask, and they had a lot to say.

We had a tight turnaround on this, the call went out on Monday, and of the nine, five were able to respond in the time we had. Ordered according to first-responders, AUSU candidates Kevin Crouter, Joshua Ryan, Sarah Blayney Lew, Robin Bleich, and Mark Swarek state their vision and bear their souls to seal your vote in the upcoming by-election.

Let’s dig in:

Please provide a one sentence description (elevator speech) of yourself.
Kevin Crouter: I am a police officer for the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s like your everyday police officer, but for the military!

Joshua Ryan: I’m a strategic thinking, disciplined IT management professional who gets the job done and doesn’t take himself or life too seriously.

Sarah Blayney Lew: I’m an articulate, ambitious, and intelligent woman, who is making lemonade out of life’s lemons and gaining confidence and strength every day.

Robin Bleich: I am an active listener, who enjoys networking and learning about others; I am innovative and see tasks through until the end.

Mark Swarek: I am a student with disabilities in the Bachelor of Professional Arts- Human Services program with diverse experience, and am very passionate about the meaningful engagement of our members. I would speak for initiatives that give all members more opportunities to influence decisions and be involved in student government; and be a voice on behalf of LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities, etc. I invite student members to contact me at mjswarek@gmail.com (and would proactively make myself available to student members when I serve on Council, too).

What would your dream S.U. look like?
Kevin Crouter: A good student union is built on successful advocacy of student issues! I feel like a dream S.U would be one where innovative advocacy takes place!

Joshua Ryan: My dream student union is one That’s reflective of the diversity of our students and well-known to and accessible by its members.

Sarah Blayney Lew: A cohesive team working towards a common goal of providing excellent advocacy and support for students.

Robin Bleich: A dream SU would have members with different skill sets; this allows students to capitalize on their invested representatives.

Mark Swarek:
My dream Student Union would have much greater member engagement. At this time, we are engaging only a very small percentage of our members, and this is, in my opinion, a very big issue?if we are engaging only a very small percentage of our members do we even have the mandate to be making the decisions we are making, in particular spending the amount of money we are spending?

What is one of your greatest talents or skills, and how can this skill contribute to student’s union’s operations?
Kevin Crouter: One of my greatest abilities is planning and coordinating services! I currently do this in my role as a police officer, and I feel this could carry over to advocating for AU students!

Joshua Ryan: I believe I’m constantly considering the big picture, and believe this will help AUSU with longer-term strategic initiatives.

Sarah Blayney Lew: Excellent organization skills ? I’m always asked if I have work to do because my desk is so neat and tidy! My runner up skill could be researching all aspects of a new project or skill, so that I can be a resource for people. It’s part of what I do for a living so I’d better be good at it!

Robin Bleich: My greatest skill is communication on many platforms (emails, business plans, policies, legislation). Communication contributes to SU’s operations indefinitely because we need to be able to listen, understand, and resolve situations as they arise. Councillors advocate on behalf of the student body.

Mark Swarek: I am highly resourceful and very skilled at thinking outside of the box and creating innovative solutions. AUSU will benefit from this skillset because I will contribute original thought and creative, innovative ideas to discussions, etc.

If you had an enemy, what would they claim is the reason?
Kevin Crouter: I imagine my enemies would claim that I can be slightly impatient in advancing my goals.

Joshua Ryan: I’m unfiltered in the sense that I call it how I see it, and some people don’t like that approach.

Sarah Blayney Lew:
You would have to ask them ? I’m delightful!

Robin Bleich: They would claim that I’m too passionate.

Mark Swarek: I have enemies, some of them within this very organization. They would claim that I’m willing to fight for what I believe in, sometimes a little too easily. I have been working very hard, recently, to direct my energy to creating what I would like instead of fighting against what I don’t like and choosing (carefully) what I want in my space, home, life, work, etc.

What would you do if you felt uneasy with a particular action but were out voted?
Kevin Crouter: I have learned through years in the military that not getting your way is not the end of the world! You do your best to express your point of view and if It’s not adopted, you carry on.

Joshua Ryan: I would ensure my viewpoint is stated and captured in the minutes but support the decision of the council majority.

Sarah Blayney Lew: I would still vote with my heart. Part of a democracy is learning to live with whatever the majority decides on and figuring out how to cooperate with that outcome.

Robin Bleich: In this context, I’m assuming “uneasy” means that ethics is not in question. So if I felt uneasy because I was out voted, I wouldn’t let discouragement keep me from pitching the topic again in another form, or attempting a multi-faceted approach with an approved topic.

Mark Swarek: I would reflect on the reason for my uneasiness- Do I have a personal desire for a particular outcome? Is there an ethical, legal or moral principle I think is being compromised? etc. I may seek outside professional counsel (within the boundaries of applicable rules), if I felt it was necessary.

AUSU is currently budgeting for a deficit. Do you agree with this? And if not, what do you think would be a good solution?
Kevin Crouter: I feel its important to be fiscally transparent, so the budgeting of one is not a concern so much as why it was necessary. If elected I will look for savings and efficiency in the budget so we can return to balance without rate increases!

Joshua Ryan: I do not agree with this, It’s not sustainable. We need to rationalize costs and expenses, reduce where appropriate and stay within our means without depleting our reserves.
Sarah Blayney Lew: In healthcare, we frequently run a deficit. So long as it doesn’t impact essential services or programs, I support it. The issue is when you have substantial layoffs or can’t support the basic operations — then I would have a problem!

Robin Bleich:
The $3.3m deficit, in AU’s case, occurs when an individual, business, or government budgets more spending than there is revenue available to pay for the spending, over a specific period of time. I think budgeting for a deficit is an agreeable choice, because sometimes unforeseeable events occur, which requires unallocated funds to assist. Job loss, higher tuition, less financial awards are not a solution, this will create more issues.

Mark Swarek: A deficit should only be considered if there is a strong business case for it- in particular, there are needs that can only be met if a deficit is approved, there are no other reasonable alternatives to meet those needs and avoid a deficit, and a solid action plan to recuperate within a reasonable time frame. I’m not convinced the current situation meets that criteria- however, I’m open to obtaining more information and hearing from the Executive, etc. Potential solutions would be in two possible categories (that I can think of so far): reduce budgeted expenses or increase budgeted revenues.

For awards, do you think It’s better to have fewer, larger awards or many smaller ones? Also, should they be primarily needs based or achievement based?
Kevin Crouter: I feel its best to have a mix between the two. On one hand, a big award would have a big impact in the lives of a few students, whereas several smaller ones would spread the assistance to many students. I suppose it would depend on the historical need expressed by students, to best fit what works for our student body.

Joshua Ryan: More smaller awards (equivalent to a single course tuition for example). There should be a balanced representation in available awards of academics and needs.

Sarah Blayney Lew:
Fewer smaller awards, for both merit and financial need on a quarterly basis and then one larger award per program annually.

Robin Bleich: I think it depends on the AU student body voice. However, a collaborated effort of the aforementioned award options are practical because each student is different depending on their own situation. As for it being needs versus achievement, both of these are considered primary in my opinion.

Mark Swarek: This is one of the opportunities for greater member engagement- my opinion on this question should be no more (or less) important than any other member’s opinion. In most instances, I would prefer to support as many people as possible, so I would lean towards many smaller awards, some needs based and some achievement based.

Is there a program or activity AUSU does now that you think it should expand on?
Kevin Crouter: I would be interested in exploring the possibility of the mobile app!

Joshua Ryan: Continue our student advocacy efforts towards service standards and the e-text initiative.

Sarah Blayney Lew: AUSU does a fantastic job of student advocacy. I’m always impressed by the way issues are addressed so efficiently, whether it be turnaround times for assignment marking or issues booking exams.

Robin Bleich: Viewing the budget prepared by AUSU, the forecasted budget versus actual budget, the travel bursary paid a total of $771.77, when they budgeted for $4000.00 2015/2016. This award should be marketed harder to help students with related financial trials and tribulations.

Mark Swarek: AUSU’s tendency, when faced with feedback about issues that should be the highest priorities (such as human rights, information and privacy, etc), is to become defensive and reject any suggestion that there is room for improvement or that amends need to be made. I would like to see AUSU “expand on,” or improve, in this area.

Is there a program or activity AUSU does now that you think it should cut support for?
Kevin Crouter: I feel AUSU can cut the student handbook and move the service it provides to a comprehensive mobile app, with possible integration with AU itself

Joshua Ryan: None at this time.

Sarah Blayney Lew:
I don’t see any programs that would need to be eliminated from AUSU.

Robin Bleich:
No ? I support the current services.

Mark Swarek:
Any activity that AUSU does should be evaluated periodically using objective criteria to measure cost to effectiveness/value comparison. I think all programs and activities should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure AUSU’s resources are being directed to the programs and activities that will benefit the most members (generally, there are certain circumstances where some programs and activities should be considered even if they only benefit a few).

If you were able to make AUSU achieve any one thing, what would it be?
Kevin Crouter: Negotiated agreement with other Canadian provinces to eliminate the need for out of province fees!

Joshua Ryan: Raise the awareness of our student population that AUSU is there to help.

Sarah Blayney Lew: I would love to see AU profiled in Maclean’s Universities issue. We are the best at providing distance studies ? It’s the new age of post-secondary education and should be profiled alongside brick-and-mortar schools? distance programs.

Robin Bleich: Allowing the students the option to choose e-text or textbook when enrolling in a course. Mandating e-text isn’t practical for every student.

Mark Swarek: One goal that I would like to achieve in this term is to inspire and facilitate a discussion (member consultation) about equity: for example, (1) should we consider establishing a policy or mandate for equitable gender representation on Council? (2) should we consider establishing a policy or mandate for international students, students with disabilities, lgbtq+ students, etc. to have representation on Council? I would like to see a specific Council position for a representative of students with disabilities and a specific Council position for a representative of lgbtq+ students. (3) is the vast difference between honoraria for Executive officers and Council members equitable, taking into consideration the difference in commitments and responsibilities? (4) are there other ways we could increase equity and equality at AUSU?

What is your motto in life? In politics?
Kevin Crouter: Everyone has his/her burden. What matters is how you carry it!

Joshua Ryan: Life – Always be true to yourself, never compromise your principles. Politics ? Your constituents are why you are here, service before self always.

Sarah Blayney Lew: I’m not a politician (HA) but if I had a life motto, it would be “Just keep swimming”.

Robin Bleich: Love what you do.

Mark Swarek: As I said earlier, I’ve been working very hard recently to direct my energy to creating what I would like instead of fighting against what I don’t like. As a survivor of multiple traumatic experiences from childhood through to present day, I became entrenched in “defense,” and fighting against things that I saw as a threat or harming me- I am endeavoring to move from that place into one where my focus is on affirmation of a better me, a better community, a better society and a better Students Union.

What’s your favorite drink?
Kevin Crouter: This one is tough! Currently I am leaning toward Bulwark cider! But, traditionally I am a rum and coke kind of guy! As far as non alcoholic drink, I enjoy a good Perrier on a summer day!

Joshua Ryan: Alcoholic ? Guiness. Non-Alcoholic ? Coffee, 2 milk.

Sarah Blayney Lew: Vanilla latte.

Robin Bleich:
Birthday Cake (loose Leaf ) tea with milk and vanilla agave.

Mark Swarek: I love coffee. I’m a coffee snob, to be honest. I bought some coffee at a convenience store a few weeks ago and didn’t like it so I gave it away. Lol. My favorite coffee is organic and/or fair trade- some may think It’s all “propaganda” however it tastes cleaner to me. I also like fruit juice mixed with ginger ale or ginger beer.

What will the students get if you are elected?
Kevin Crouter: Someone who cares and who will work to make sure their interests are represented!

Joshua Ryan: Accessible, balanced representation on AUSU with your strategic interests in mind.

Sarah Blayney Lew:
Focus, due diligence and a friendly ear.

Robin Bleich:
Results.

Mark Swarek:
AUSU members will get a representative- I will proactively engage student members in dialogue about current events at AUSU, make myself available to answer questions and/or listen to concerns, and at every opportunity look to create more opportunities for members to be more engaged in decision-making.

Finally, what should we have asked you that we didn’t?
Kevin Crouter: If I was stuck on an island and only had one food choice, what would it be?
The answer is of course tacos! Haha I could never get sick of a good taco!

Joshua Ryan: Question: What do you think is a strength of AUSU?
Answer: The collective strength of our council and members in advocating on our behalf.

Sarah Blayney Lew: I could ramble on and on so I’m glad this is the last question!

Robin Bleich: What music I listen to when I study?Haha my five-year-old saying “mama, mama, mama, mom, mom, mommy” every ten minutes. 😉

Mark Swarek: I have always wondered about the feasibility of creating an AU student radio station to compliment the AU student newspaper. I would be very interested in participating in a discussion about this idea. Perhaps The Voice could facilitate it?

A star cast to choose from, wouldn’t you say? don’t miss voting for your favorite candidates on the upcoming Student Union by-election.

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