BC Liberal leader hopeful comes to campus amidst confusion and protest
//Samantha Thompson, News Editor

George Abbott, BC Liberal Leadership hopeful, came to Capilano University on January 24 despite the debate that surrounded his planned visit.

The concept of having Abbott and Jane Thornethwaite, North Vancouver-Seymour MLA, visit the campus, first came to the Capilano Students’ Union executive committee for debate. David Clarkson, Senate and Board of Governors representative on the committee, was responsible for submitting the motion to the executive. The motion failed.

“The CSU is officially non-partisan,” said Gurpreet Kambo, chairperson of the CSU executive. “It’s also just a matter of having all of our members being able to participate.”

George Abbott is running for leadership of the BC Liberal party. In order to vote for him, however, people are required to become official members of the BC Liberals. This is different than a typical election, in which all members of the CSU would automatically be eligible to participate.

However, Clarkson re-submitted motions to the executive regarding bringing in George Abbott, this time including motions about striking a sub-committee that would focus on political action, and beginning a speaker series that would attempt to bring in various politicians throughout the semester. The motion to bring in Abbott failed, and the other two motions were referred to the Educational Issues Committee for further discussion.

“I think, with respect to what the CSU is supposed to be doing as an organization, it’s constitutionally mandated to effectively be an advocacy group for students. One of the primary groups we would be interested in navigating to is the provincial government,” says Clarkson. He accused the CSU of being “constitutionally negligent.”

In spite of the controversy, on January 24 Abbott and Thornthwaite arrived at Capilano University’s North Vancouver campus to meet with students.

Clarkson explained that upon notifying someone from Abbott’s campaign team that the CSU would not be hosting the event, the campaign team let him know “that it was not really a consequential decision that the CSU had made.”

Patrick Donahoe, VP of Student Affairs for the University administration, was there when George Abbott arrived, “representing the university to say welcome.” Although the university administration was not officially hosting the event, they did greet Abbott as a means of showing hospitality.

Thornthwaite mentioned during the visit to Capilano that she had received permission from Robin Brayne, chairperson for the Board of Governors, for herself and Abbott to be on campus. When questioned, however, Brayne denied giving approval and said that he had been notified that the event was occurring, but merely as a courtesy.

“I think he may have been wrongly under the impression that the students’ society was organizing it … when he had confirmed the meeting,” says Clarkson.

The event took place in the cafeteria, and attracted some potential voters from outside of Capilano. Several people travelled to speak to Abbott, asking him a variety of questions about his election campaign. Thornthwaite moved around the cafeteria tables, letting students know that Abbott was present in case they wished to speak to him.

When no students moved forward to talk to him, Abbott then began to approach various tables in the cafeteria in order to talk to students. He posed numerous questions, including asking about what students were studying and if Capilano was now designated a university. Students replied while his campaign photographer took many pictures of the interactions.

Many students expressed their concerns to Abbott about there being a strong enough economy to provide them with jobs following graduation.

“Given the economic downturn … there’s still a lot of challenges. Economically we’re still pretty fragile,” Abbott said.

“It wasn’t a bad visit,” said Clarkson. “It wasn’t great … it wasn’t bad though. A lot of students got a chance to talk about their concerns.”

Jeremy Hudson and his fellow Outdoor Recreation students were some of the people approached by Abbott. The group was fairly unimpressed by the interaction, with Hudson describing it as a “superficial conversation with a politician.”

“That kind of showboating is not effective,” said Hudson. “It’s dishonest.”

He pointed out that they still knew nothing about Abbott, as many of the questions were asking the students about their lives.

“[It’s a] good place for them to be … this age group tends to be more open,” said Hudson about bringing politicians onto campus.

The CSU did not have a problem with the event moving forward despite their primary rejection of the idea.

“It wasn’t under our jurisdiction,” said Kambo “and so I’m not entirely familiar with how that [Abbott coming to campus] happened, or whether or it was allowed or not allowed.”

Kambo also acknowledged that meeting with politicians was an important part of the role of the CSU. The meeting would occur on their terms and after consultation with their members to find out “about what is important to them, in terms of education, educational issues.”

According to Kambo, the CSU has held debates with politicians in the past, during elections. The debates would bring in multiple candidates simultaneously, and give an opportunity for members to voice their concerns. When the request for George Abbott’s visit was first submitted, there were no official plans to have the other candidates come at a later date.

“I think democracy is important,” said Kambo, “but it is important that people have access to all of the candidates and all of the views, and that they can have all of the available information.”

Although Abbott has so far been the only candidate to come to Capilano, students still seemed relatively unimpressed.

“If I was going to vote for anybody,” said Hudson, “it’d be anybody but him.”

//Samantha Thompson, News Editor

//Illustration by Arin Ringwald

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