By Joe Friesen
Nursing students Bernadette Bujnowski and Areta Rusyn were surprised last week when an enthusiastic politician — more than a month before election day — interrupted their conversation to ask how RyeSAC could better serve their needs.
“I’m going to win this election,” he said. “How can I help you guys?”
Ronney Young, a second-year international economics student, got the campaign season off to an unusually early start last week by making a series of classroom speeches in his bid to be elected RyeSAC vice-president finance and services.
Young’s election strategy is based on tireless work. He intends to speak to two classes every single day, while also seizing every opportunity to chat with students individually.
“Right now, I just want to operate at the grassroots,” said Young. “By the end of one month if people don’t recognize me as a familiar face, then I’ve not done my job.”
A relative newcomer to Ryerson politics, Young is not a typical candidate.
Young came to Canada in 1997 and lived a jet-set life for several years, flying from Toronto to the Indian resort island of Goa, where his family owns a renowned Chinese restaurant.
“Back home,” said the thirty-year-old student, “I was wasting my time. I was a playboy.”
For four years, Young split his time between working in Canada and partying in Goa.
“I started my day being a playboy and ended it that way,” he said. “I came here, worked for the West, and whatever I made I always blew the money.”
There was no shortage of temptation.
“I did everything a playboy does. I was in the food business. I entertained people, and a lot of women came [to the restaurant] every night, and every night my girlfriends were my customers,” he said. “That was my life. I’d run my restaurant at night, and the womanizing and the alcohol and the smoking … you name it, I did it.”
Young said that he now recognizes the opportunities available to him in Canada and he has no regrets about leaving his carefree life behind him.
“That was my final decision, whether I really wanted to continue living the life of the playboy,” said Young. “What I thought was partying, what I thought was living was actually all emptiness.”
Like many mature students, Young faced a number of obstacles in returning to university, including the need to overcome some of his own prejudices.
“I thought going to university was for a bunch of losers,” he said. “How wrong I was. Coming to university has opened up my mind tremendously.”
Although his political experience consists of just one term as a class representative, Young says he has achieved a great deal in his current office. Last fall he successfully lobbied the department for an increase in the number of course options available to international economics students. Young said it’s concern for students’ welfare that has pushed him to seek an executive post.
“You’ve got to be able to genuinely serve the needs of the people,” he said. “I’m all about results. At the end of the day it’s all about action and all about results.”
RyeSAC President Darren Cooney said that Young’s lack of experience won’t necessarily be a hindrance to his campaign.
“I don’t know a lot about him,” said Cooney. “I recall him asking me about the position as early as September. He has expressed interest and has been passionate about achieving the position for a long time.”
Politically, Young is difficult to categorize. Unlike most candidates, he does not yet belong to any cadre or espouse any policies which might identify him as a candidate of either the right or left.
On the one hand, young has said that “having a business background, I’m biased towards business. Very biased.”
But he has also come out in favour of expanding the women’s centre and the community food centre, improving security to make the campus safer for women as well as freezing tuition fees.
“I will certainly push a lot of buttons to make sure these things get funding because you need the basics,” he said. “I would be pushing for a tuition freeze because I’m affected as much as any student is affected and that’s a priority on any student’s list.”
Young, who speaks three languages and has a GPA of 3.1, believes that his economics background and his people skills make him a good candidate, and he couldn’t be happier about the way his campaign is progressing.
“The feedback I’ve got has been phenomenal. I’ve literally captivated people’s attention,” he said. “When I speak, there’s pin-drop silence.”
Cooney said that Ryerson students should look for a vice president finance and services with a combination of skills, including the ability to communicate with fellow executives, in order to avoid the scandals that plagued the office this year.
“They call the position vp finance for short but the financial aspects are only about a third of the job,” said Cooney. “A highly qualified candidate would be able to do the finances but also the services aspect.”
Cooney, who has not yet decided whether he will be endorsing candidates, advised voters that “you need the skills of a social worker and a business student to do well.”
Young said he understands the issues students face because he has lived a difficult life.
“I was in the school of hard knocks,” he said. “Trying to make ends meet, trying to pay my rent, living it tough. I mean, I’ve tasted life. I’ve seen the hard side.”
If elected, Young said he intends to be fiscally conservative, but not too conservative.
“In my entire life I’ve always taken risks. I’m a risk taker,” he said. “I don’t believe in playing it safe. I don’t believe in following the way things are being done all the time. I believe you learn more from failure than success. Failure is such a great teacher.”
Ryerson students will have several weeks to decide how to cast their ballots. Elections will be held from Feb. 10 to 13.
“It’s serious,” said Young. “You need a person with a serious mind because it’s a $1.2 million budget, a huge amount of funds. You want that money to be in responsible hands.”