Dis-Orientation Week: UR POLIS hosts a political panel

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Eight political representatives range from left to right seated at tables facing the audience on stage at the UofR Lazy Owl. One representative near the middle is standing and speaking into a microphone
Okay everyone, play nice for the kids. Oh, and you kids in the audience, play nice too. mindy gregory

A baby, shoes, politicians, constituents with questions, and pizza

Dis-Orientation Week is an alternative orientation that offers students opportunities to learn about topics and issues relevant to them. Organizing the event is a long-standing tradition of universities with a Public Interest and Research Group. Regina Public Interest and Research Group (RPIRG) sent out a call in July inviting campus students and groups to collaborate on the series of events and workshops.  

Tayef Ahmed, RPIRG Executive Director, described the week as an important opportunity to explore university outside of the classroom. “It allows you [students] to be educated on issues that matter to students.”  

As part of Dis-Orientation Week, the University of Regina Politics and International Studies Student Association (UR POLIS) organized a “Meet Your Political Representatives” noon hour panel event in The Lazy Owl Bar on Friday, September 15. UR POLIS serves as the representative body of all students within the Department of Politics and International Studies, and their events seek to spread engaged citizenship across the university campus.  

It was evident from their well-attended panel, both in political representation and audience, that the group worked hard to create an event to forward their mission. The Lazy Owl provided a relaxed but professional-feeling venue. The seating area was already organized when the Carillon arrived twenty minutes early, and an UR POLIS member showed me a seat. Two of the panelists had already arrived: Meara Conway, MLA for Regina Elphinstone and Aleana Young, MLA for Regina University were chatting and rocking Aleana’s baby in a car seat.  

The panelists were seated onstage at tables facing the audience. Seated in the front row of the audience, the Carillon had a good view of panelist footwear. As Warren Steinley, MP for Regina Lewvan; Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina Qu’Appelle; and Carla Beck, Leader of Saskatchewan NDP and MLA for Regina Lakeview arrived, a footwear theme was noticed. The theme was confirmed upon the arrival of Gene Makowsky, Minister of Social Services and MLA for Regina Gardiner Park; Shanon Zachidniak, City of Regina Councillor for Ward 8; and last, Cheryl Stadnichuk, City of Regina Councillor for Ward 1. All representatives were wearing leather, or leather-look footwear except for one white pair of sneakers. The baby was not wearing shoes. 

Also wearing leather shoes, Eric Horbal, UR POLIS President, opened the event at 12:16 pm with a land acknowledgement. After the introductions were made, UR POLIS member, Matthew Merifield (yes, more leather, couldn’t stop noticing at this point) asked panelists to answer a question that had been sent to them beforehand. The question, “How does your level of government affect the lives of students and what advice would you give a young person getting involved in politics?” was answered by each panelist in approximately four-minute responses. Based on listening from the audience, the representative responses were informed and outlined general ways that each level of government – whether federal, provincial, or municipal – plays a role in your day-to-day life.  

However, when transcribing the recorded audio afterward, it seemed that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface. For example, Andrew Scheer’s response benefited the image of both federal and provincial Conservatives by focusing on how Conservative politicians at both levels are impacted by the federal social transfers allocated to the provinces for things like education.  

Scheer said, “So, obviously, that does have a direct impact on the lives of students when provinces have different levels of funding, it might affect the level of service or the tuition that has to be charged directly to students.” Later, Carla Beck, leader of a party in opposition, pointed out that levels of funding are not the only factors affecting students. Highlighting issues around minimum wage, mental health support, and access to health care, Beck emphasized that these decisions are at the provincial level.  

“Factors that very much impact the lives of students, your quality of life. And the role of leaders at the provincial level is to make decisions that improve the lives of the people we serve.” After which Beck cautioned, “Do not accept from any leader, when they say it’s someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility, because pointing fingers is not taking responsibility.”  

After all panelists had an opportunity to answer the prepared question, questions were taken from the audience. Students asked thoughtful, researched questions on topics such as how constituents’ values are handled when in conflict with party values, what socio-economic obstacles apply to redressing truth and reconciliation objectives with First Nations, and what type of consultation was done for the provincial governments new pronoun policy. Pizza and one-on-one conversations closed the event. 

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