This year, no slate appeared to make a bid for control of the students’ union. The only candidate who ran outside of S4S was an independent with differing policies from those of the dominant slate. That’s a healthy reason to run for a position in student government; a desire to promote policies you believe are good for students.
It’s important to note that a slate of candidates did turn up that was both qualified and experienced, but we need to think about why there was no opposition, and what it means.
The point of slates in recent years has been to gain control over the SU, elevating their priority to retaining political control and power. That’s not deceptive. Slates are honest about handpicking people, and they’re honest about wanting to retain political power. However, maintaining power isn’t the healthiest part of our political process.
When winning elections depends on your presence in a successful slate, it’s less important to articulate the policies and issues you consider vital than to show loyalty to the slate in order to ensure you retain your endorsement. Even though slates officially cease to exist after an election, that mentality of necessary loyalty doesn’t necessarily go away. You can fairly reliably predict who runs with S4S by who is participates in SU events. And if the slate is an unforced entity, if each candidate just happens to have the same policy beliefs, then a formal slate is redundant in practice.
And would we want a political atmosphere with so little variety? It’s important that student politicians stand for something, provided there’s something to stand united against. In an uncontested election, a slate only serves to obscure individual personalities and platforms for the sake of standing against nothing.
The situations in which slates are a good idea are no longer present. With no one left to conquer, the slate system is now only a marriage of convenience.
In a year like this, elections become more of a job interview. The candidate bios are largely impersonal stat sheets of things the candidates have done, not what they plan to do. When they stand for S4S, not themselves, we’re trusting S4S’s judgment on these candidates, not actively engaging in evaluating whether they’ll work the best for us. The winning S4S candidates form good SUs, but a system that allows members to slide easily into a spot, rather than give 100% to prove their worth to the student body, doesn’t force our SU to get even better.
Sometimes, what works best for us means going against people—going against your fellow councilors or executives or established wisdom—but that’s not necessarily unhealthy. The staff structure of the students’ union is there to ensure that it does not go off the rails, and the union is in good hands. Dissent and stability are not mutually exclusive.
But when necessary loyalty governs your chances of re-election, the consequence of going against the grain could be to get kicked off the slate. We have seen in this and past years that the resources, time, and energy required to create a slate worthy of challenging S4S is a daunting task. Meanwhile, independents don’t have the name recognition inherent to the reigning slate. Given the risks and rewards, it’s no wonder that the presiding mentality is not to rock the boat.
Politics are politics. But the process we build for ourselves as youth should not focus on solidarity, party politics, and the status quo. Those are hallmarks of the very same politics our demographic has turned away from. Our student governance should bring the ideas and colour those political arenas dearly lack. The best way to encourage is to eliminate politics for politics’ sake and let students tell us how they really feel. We may be surprised at the results.