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Student questions finance commissioner candidate’s political involvement

Photo: Lindsay MacMillan

A student raised concerns at last week’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) election debates about unopposed finance commissioner candidate Matthew Lafrenière’s involvement with the Liberal Party of Canada.

Lafrenière, who is GSAÉD’s current finance commissioner, is re-running for his position while also running for a federal Liberal nomination for Simcoe North.

Lafrenière said his political views wouldn’t affect his work as finance commissioner.

“I don’t disagree with the question, and I think it’s appropriate,” he said. “In the finance role, however, I don’t think political leanings are as big a concern, unlike if I ran for external commissioner, for example.”

Lafrenière added at the debate that if anyone could find evidence of him acting partisan during his time at GSAÉD, he would resign.

“My interest at GSAÉD is to advocate for the interests of graduate students, no matter their political leanings,” he said. “It’s my job to represent them and manage the budget, even if it goes against a party line.”

Other candidates at the debates expressed agreement. University affairs candidate Giancarlo Cerquozzi, the only independent running in the election, said the executive is there to keep checks and balances on each other.

Internal affairs candidate Antoine Przyblak-Brouillard agreed that political beliefs aren’t an issue. Board of Governors candidate Robert Head noted that “we all wear different hats, and often more than one at a time.”

If he were to win both races, Lafrenière said he would resign from his GSAÉD position, citing the need to properly represent 100,000 people.

“Obviously as an MP candidate or an elected MP I would not be the finance commissioner for GSAÉD,” he said.

Lafrenière, a doctoral student in chemistry at the U of O, is competing for the Liberal nomination against former Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital president and CEO Elisabeth Riley, and former riding president Ryan Barber.

He said his lower-middle-class upbringing is what will make a difference in the race.

“I didn’t grow up in the best economic circumstances, and I think it’s important to have an MP who comes from a blue-collar background,” he said. “We have politicians from white-collar families, and that’s great, but we need to have a diversity of backgrounds. I want to be the voice of the people working in factories or trying to raise families on a low salary.”

He said he’s the son of a nurse and a contractor. A lack of nursing jobs forced the family to move to the United States in his youth, where they faced rough conditions and lost their home.

Lafrenière expects to know whether he’s won the Liberal nomination by May.