What Happened at the Town Hall for LSS Candidates
Co-Editor-in-Chief Ethan Gordon details the questions and answers put to candidates for next year's LSS core
At Juris Diction’s annual LSS Town Hall events, the QL community usually hears from all of the candidates running for core student government, and while specific school issues change slightly, the tenor of these quasi-debates tend to be monotonous. Quotes about the family nature of Queen’s Law, calls to bridge the social gap between years, and the inevitable promise to install a coffee machine in the student lounge are talking points that seem to come up every semester. However, at Monday night’s event, the candidates, and the audience, discussed issues and harsh realities that reflect both the changing nature of Queen’s Law, as well as the climate of the society around us.
The featured candidates were 2Ls Shira Levine and Lucy Sun, both running for LSS President, as well as 2L Andrew MacDonald running for VP Finance, and 1Ls Dennis Do and Jessica Gahtan running for VP Academic and Activities respectively. The President position is the only contested race, a fact which factored into a specifically passionate discussion among the candidates in regards to student government engagement. MacDonald remarked that while ultimately students must decide to run, and that the relationship with the LSS is a two-way street, he criticized those who put the blame on an uninspired student body, and argued that a call for more candidates should come straight from the LSS. Do agreed, stating that the core could do more to reach out to the class. Both Presidential candidates countered by listing the positive things the LSS has done to stoke engagement, including the newsletter, opportunities for students to attend LSS meetings, and the possible creation of a new position, VP Communications, to be floated at the upcoming BAGM.
In terms of creating more excitement socially among the QL Community, Gahtan floated the idea of an interactive club calendar with all monthly events listed clearly on it, an instrument she used in student government in undergrad. She said such a calendar was helpful in keeping people informed about events and meetings, which could help some prioritize what they wanted to attend, and boost attendance for the various clubs. Much like last year, the issue of smoker attendance came up, with MacDonald stating bluntly that “the smoker model is broken”. He and Do both agreed that reducing the amount of smokers could help the increasing number of cancelled events. When asked if this is partly on students for not being excited by the school, Sun countered that club engagement has never been higher, pointing to new organizations like the LGBT law student’s club which can create inclusivity to many people who want to find ways to get involved in the school. Levine agreed that the more clubs the better, especially given that 1Ls could not choose their courses.
Where the discussion took a more unique turn from past years is how candidates responded to questions about how they could help to affect change with regard to specific social issues like Indigenous rights and the burgeoning #MeToo movement. Sun, who had cited recognition of Indigenous rights as a key aspect of her platform, said she looked forward to working with the Queen’s Indigenous student community, whether she was elected to President or wasn’t, and mentioned the possibility of an independent Indigenous student government working parallel with the LSS or SGPS as a positive step. Levine brought up the steps taken to teach more Indigenous focused classes and seminars in a way to diversify the curriculum and the QL experience, and also mentioning a current discussion revolving around whether using John A. MacDonald as a namesake for the school was sensitive to the life experiences of Indigenous students. Do approached it from an academic standpoint – stating that offering tenured positions to Indigenous professors would do a lot to change a “generally white” perspective, while Gahtan stressed the need to promote Indigenous events and outreach opportunities. MacDonald proposed doing more to recognize the unceded land that the school rests upon, while Sun also mentioned steps like promoting Indigenous art and recognizing said unceded land before each council meeting.
When asked about the current movement to do more to protect women from a prevailing aggressive culture, Levine mentioned that she had a significant hand in pushing the administration to come out with an official position and statement supporting the current #MeToo movement, while Sun advocated for more communication among students, both in black and white and “grey” issues. When one candidate joked that “according to Chief Justice McLachlin, this problem doesn’t exist in law”, referring to her comments at an appearance at the Law School earlier this year, all candidates chimed in and offered suggestions to improve education on the matter to incoming students, focusing on what many felt was a lacklustre session during orientation.
The discussion then moved on to more academic and professional issues, such as the need to offer more education on alternative law opportunities against what some felt was a dominant OCI corporate mentality. The debate fell between the two extremes, exemplified in part by the controversial Business Associations proposal last year. While all candidates agreed that the CDO should continue to do what it can to help those who want Bay Street positions to land them, more could be done for those who want to follow a different track, to help with the perceived and often constructed assumption that the only reason people do not go through the OCI recruit is because of poor marks.
Perhaps the most compelling section of the town hall was when current LSS President Emily Metcalfe raised her hand and asked the panel a question. She passionately responded to some of the quotes from that evening criticizing the engagement of the LSS, stating that it is a job that requires total commitment, with often very little tangible pay-off, and that promising lofty campaign goals and then putting minimal effort into the job was far more common from her point of view than those who really were dedicated to their role. She then tasked each candidate to explain why they should be relied upon to take up this demanding position, and specifically asked those who were on student government why their ideas weren’t acted upon already. What followed was an honest, stark, and personal response from each candidate, acknowledging short comings and difficulties of juggling various classes, clubs, and other academic activities and unofficial pledges from each one of their total focus to the year at hand. When they were then asked what realistic goals they sought to achieve that would have an impact a decade from now, each gave an individualized response, with MacDonald hoping to grow the savings of any surplus that was idly being used, Do dreaming of a standardized “B” curve to help students have consistent marks in 1L, Gahtan pledging to work on her extensive calendar proposal, Levine hoping to change the conversation about sexual harassment in the school, and Sun putting forward an idea to spice up event cuisine at the school with more than just Pizza Pizza and the usual wraps and sandwiches. The answers reflected a variety and honesty that made this specific Town Hall illuminating for those who attended