After their second campaign — and second loss — organizers of the two Change slates by and large gave up. In the vacuum formed by their absence, a new group named the Student Political Action Committee (SPAC) emerged. By election season, SPAC had amassed a sizeable war chest and prepared to field a slate named Students First.
But Students First didn’t advance beyond the qualifying stages of the race, as three candidates were disqualified over their nomination papers. The entire slate resigned and pledged to boycott the election.
Today, many of the students who backed SPAC have taken issue with UTSU spending on executive salaries, wages, and benefits. They are working under a new name, Stop the Salaries, essentially an awareness campaign spread through social media. The group has produced a slick website and released a handful of campaign-style videos. They also maintain an active Twitter feed and a Facebook group that has many members in common with SPAC’s group from last year. “Their salaries up, your services down,” they are fond of saying.
But the suggestion that the UTSU is cutting student services is disingenuous. In an op-ed published in The Varsity last week, president Danielle Sandhu firmly dispelled the claim.
Strangely, accuracy is irrelevant to the people behind the campaign. They are working with a different playbook entirely.
Brett Chang, half of the duo behind Stop the Salaries, told me candidly that the campaign is an effort to import “American-style political strategy” to U of T. That would explain the relentless adherence to their talking points and the populist appeals to student wallets.
In the long run, it will likely prove impossible to win an election on campus using these tactics. What works well for the Romney or Harper campaigns will probably fail when transplanted to a university setting. Here, students that care enough to vote (15 per cent of the student population) demand a lot from their candidates: face time, at the very least, and a degree of earnestness towards a student cause that goes beyond an accounting error.
That is, ultimately, the redeeming strength of the pro-CFS candidates. It is also the likely reason for their continual victories.
In part enabled by their salaries, executives like Sandhu and her predecessors spend the year attending student-run events and building grassroots support across all three campuses. This, in turn, exposes their brand to students who vote in the March elections.
It is possible that the organizers behind Stop the Salaries are prepared to do the same, but they don’t act like it. Most are irritated with the way the UTSU does business, yet few seem committed enough to change it.
As we saw last year, SPAC/Students First foundered on an electoral system that is inhospitable to outsiders. Their story should be a lesson: it will take more than indignant rhetoric to win at U of T.
Rather than offering constructive critique, Stop the Salaries’ MO has been to occasionally antagonize the UTSU executives in public and otherwise bide their time discussing the UTSU’s activities on Facebook.
To mend what has become a lacklustre first impression, they must assume a more dignified role on campus.
Why not point out, for instance, that college-level governments dispense a roughly equal amount of money as the UTSU does to clubs while paying only a fraction in honoraria to leadership? Is an alternative method of governance possible? Maybe — but don’t rely on Stop the Salaries to tell you about it.