The race to lead the University of Toronto Students’ Union is well underway and both campaigns have come out in full force. Whether at debates or while pounding the pavement outside Sid Smith, attacks are flying back and forth between candidates as the Change slate takes aim at the student union’s top jobs, and the incumbent Stronger Together slate fights for their political lives, and their UTSU salaries.
Despite the talk over uniting students, both campaigns are evidence of a campus that has only grown more divided, and all the candidates have shown an unnerving willingness to bare their claws.
Students who arrived at the official UTSU debate on Wednesday night with the hopes of hearing an informative discussion instead witnessed a debate in which supporters of the Stronger Together slate launched character attacks against Change in the form of petty one-sided questions that didn’t even attempt to be impartial. They weren’t about policy, they were about scoring cheap points in front of a room of the already converted. One example was a questioner that asked Change’s Steve Masse to explain a 2007 Facebook post on the wall of Change’s Alyssa James. The absurdity of this campaign approach would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.
While debates have the potential for some good and detailed discussion on policy, it is campaigning on the ground that will actually lead to votes during election time. Taking this into account, the sea of orange scarves worn by Change supporters should make Stronger Together very worried. Campaigners for the Stronger Together slate have no such identifier. But maybe it’s better that they blend in since this year, as in years past, supporters of the Canadian Federation of Students have rallied their army of hacks to descend on U of T once again and campaign for the incumbents.
Toby Whitfield, VP Finance and Services and President-elect of the Ryerson Students’ Union, has been spotted campaigning for the Stronger Together slate at Sidney Smith. In a video uploaded to YouTube, he is accused of ripping down event posters put up by EFUT, the U of T French Club. The video shows Whitfield at Sid Smith and features shots of a pile of the torn-down posters in the trash. Despite several attempts to reach Whitfield for comment, he refused to answer any questions. If true, the allegations place the Stronger Together slate and their campaigners in a precarious ethical position. How can a slate that claims to be on the side of U of T justify this kind of outside interference? How can a slate that claims to care about the campus experience stand behind a campaigner who tears down posters advertising a clubs event?
Not only should U of T students be up-in-arms about the interference by students from other universities in our elections, but Ryerson students should be outraged that Whitfield is spending his entire workday campaigning for Adam Awad and the status quo slate at U of T, while collecting a salary of $27,000 from the Ryerson Student Union. Who does Whitfield really work for? It is shocking that so soon after being elected as their president, Whitfield would leave Ryerson to interfere in the U of T student election. More shocking still is that Awad and his Stronger Together slate would accept his help. Campaigning in U of T elections should be left to U of T students.
But Whitfield is not the only person campaigning for Stronger Together while collecting a salary upwards of $25,000. It has been confirmed by The Varsity that at least four out of the six executive members of UTSU are on paid vacation to campaign. Two of these members, Danielle Sandhu and Adam Awad, are running for re-election. Sandy Hudson and Hadia Akhtar have been campaigning nearly full-time, and Daniella Kyei has also been spotted campaigning. If there was any doubt about the status quo nature of the Stronger Together slate, one need only take a cursory look at their campaigners. The burning question remains: who is taking care of our executive’s duties while they’re managing Stronger Together’s campaign?
Henry Kissinger once remarked that campus politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low. The politics and tactics on display in this round of elections only serve to reinforce the first part of his remark. But we disagree that the stakes are low. Students spend at least four years of their lives as members of this community, and for the first time in a long while, they have a real chance to reject the status quo at the ballot box. They have a chance to reject a slate that will seemingly say or do anything to get elected, a slate that prefers character assassination to real debate. They have a chance to reject a slate that brings in off-campus campaigners to do their dirty work. They have a chance to show the incumbents that the era of taking U of T students for granted is over.