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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Reforms absent from AGM agenda

Union opts to hire lawyer to conduct
review of electoral policies

By Kaleem Hawa
Published: 3:57 am, 19 November 2012
Modified: 11 pm, 6 January 2013
Vol CXXXIII, No. 09 under
UPDATED

Several proposed reforms to the University of Toronto Students’ Union electoral policy were quashed Sunday after it was announced that the amendments had been submitted past the deadline — a deadline that, according to some, was intentionally obscured to prevent the  proposed changes from coming before next week’s annual general meeting.

The UTSU found itself on the defensive after student co-head of Trinity College Sam Greene charged that the union “deliberately attempted to stifle proposals and amendments” that he believes should be discussed during Thursday’s high-profile meeting. Trinity College will vote Monday on a motion calling for the resignation of union executives.

All UTSU constituents are eligible to attend the annual general meeting, to be held this Thursday. In recent years, the AGM has served as a de facto battleground for pro- and anti-union groups. (for more, see pg 5)

The amendments, which were developed by Greene in conjunction with other college leaders, were not added to the AGM agenda because they were submitted too late to be vetted by the Policy and Procedures Committee and the Board of Directors.

Some of the changes proposed by Greene included removing the ability to use proxies in voting at AGMs as well as reducing the minimum number of nominations needed to run as a candidate in future elections.

The amendments were developed in part to operationalize changes initially proposed by a  non-binding, non-partisan declaration circulated by the St. George Round Table. Various campus groups have endorsed the declaration, including the Trinity College Meeting, the University College Literary and Athletic Society, the Engineering Society and most recently, the St. Michael’s College Student Union.

Instead of entertaining the reforms at Tuesday’s AGM, union executives moved late last week to allocate $17,000 to hire a lawyer to perform an “independent and bipartisan review of elections procedure.” UTSU president Shaun Shepherd said that the review will be completed prior to the next election.

Absent Greene’s amendments, the union will discuss a largely uncontroversial agenda that tinkers with several components of UTSU bylaws.

Last year’s AGM mandated that the UTSU would be required to advertise future meetings in vaguely defined “campus publications.” This year, it is being proposed that “campus publication” be clarified to mean The Varsity and the newspaper.

The role of the vice president– campus life is also to be altered. The job currently calls for “one clubs day and at least one clubs resource session each semester.” The proposed change will describe the job as “chief liaison with union-recognized campus groups.”

Angered by the what he calls the union’s “obfuscation,” Greene took to Facebook, claiming that he had specifically emailed UTSU vice president-internal and Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) chair Corey Scott to ask if there was a deadline for proposal submission to the AGM.

The response, according to Greene, “was not forthcoming.”

In an interview with The Varsity, Scott maintained that he responded to Greene’s request by informing him about the policy for proposal submission, and specifically that “unfortunately, he would be unable to submit proposals to the AGM [this year]”.

Greene rejected Scott’s claims as a “lie”, saying he hadn’t received a response. Greene also noted that even if Scott had responded when Scott claims he did (allegedly on November 7), it would have come too late for Greene to have the time to react.

“Due to the nature of the bylaws surrounding reform, it is unlikely Sam would have been able to get his proposals in anyways,” Scott says. “Something that wasn’t understood is that the firm deadline for submitting proposals comes way in advance of the AGM and that [the proposals] need to be vetted by the Policy and Procedures Committee first.

“There is no malicious intent anywhere. In fact, I would say the approach that Sam took is disingenuous and a bit offensive.”

When pressed on the allegation that he had responded late to Greene’s email, Scott did say that “the end of October and early November is a hectic period, where we’re finishing up our budgeting cycle and we’re trying to get international student identity cards. So, I made it a priority to get those done and while I try to get to emails as fast as I can, I don’t have hordes and hordes of executive assistants working behind me.”

Greene believes the email conflict speaks to a larger issue.

“It’s obvious that the UTSU executive is deliberately trying to conceal information. They’re working as hard as they can to ensure that students’ voices aren’t heard,” says Greene. “I don’t see the point in having an AGM if its only purpose is to rubber stamp pre-approved Union policy. What Corey has done in this case is indicative of a broader culture of paranoia and non-transparency where requests for basic information by students are ignored or denied, and opposing voices are marginalized.”

Mike Cowan, president of the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), agrees. He believes the UTSU had a duty to publicize the deadline and procedures to the general public in order to ensure all prospective issues could come to light and be discussed at the AGM.

Asked about Cowan’s concerns, Corey Scott said: “Should we add that to the website? Sure. I think we can add that but people need to let me know what most of the concerns are.”

Cowan said he finds it difficult to believe that Scott hasn’t heard any of these concerns before. “The by-law amendments that Sam sent were not rooted in partisan-politics. [Our] amendments were drafted with the intention of bettering the system the UTSU works in, and they were shot down evidently out of spite for anyone who wants to do something productive for this university’s students, and to do it with legitimate representation of the general student voice.”

An “extremely frustrated” Cowan maintains that he is “not just expressing [his] personal views, but the opinions of the SMCSU.”

“Whatever we say, it’s going to be interpreted as something that is partisan,” Scott says. “It is going to be interpreted as the most evil thing ever. That’s why I think the best thing to do is get a legal opinion on it to make sure we have strong election procedures.”

Rishi Maharaj, president of the Engineering Society finds the move to hire legal counsel unconvincing. “The refusal to even discuss the most patently reasonable reforms to the UTSU — such as requiring sitting executives to actually be students or to institute preferential voting so that voters’ intentions can be captured more accurately — demonstrates that the current executive opposes anything that would dilute their power. Their defense is singularly shallow: it is not illegal for them to do this.

“They may very well be right about that, but it is certainly unethical, and most importantly, destructive of the aims that the UTSU was founded to promote.”

  • Derp

    Election policies aren’t a legal issue. Instead of wasting $17,000 for a lawyer to rubber stamp their current electoral policy, let’s look at best practices and discuss the issues together. The problem is the UTSU is clearly disinterested in engaging in any discussion that is critical their policies and agenda, and is banking on as few students as possible in becoming politically involved in their own union. Voter turnout (5%) at last year’s election is definitely proof of that.

  • A Reasonable Student

    “Their defense is singularly shallow: it is not illegal for them to do this.” Right on – they are spending $17,000 of students’ money to tell them what they want to hear: it is not illegal for them to suppress electoral reform. Well that’s great, but their structure is rigged against any input for students, and the organization is only interested in re-election to keep their cushy paid positions while doing nothing of value for students. Sure, it’s not against their bylaws – but the bylaws *are* the problem that students are trying to change.

  • Anonymous

    What does “bipartisan” mean when the “union” has been run by a single party for nearly the entirety of the last decade?

    • http://twitter.com/9x19 Rishi Maharaj

      Bipartisanship is impossible because the Elections Procedure Code makes it an offence for opposition slates to organize in any way outside of election periods.

      The incumbents are paid to promote their partisan aims while the opposition is outlawed from participating in political discourse. Sounds more like Zimbabwe than Canada.

      • Concerned Student

        The larger point *should* be that partisanship should end – entirely – upon an election and all sides should work together for the benefit of the membership. Neither ‘slate’ should organize during an non-election season and to see the notion of successful candidates’ terms as only preparation for the next election is beyond disturbing.

        If this is the twisted perception folks have, perhaps slates should be abolished all together. That would solve this problem pretty swiftly.

        • Kevin P. Siu

          Good luck getting the CFS to abolish slates or parties.

  • A Student

    Can we just change the bylaws that some individuals have concerns with and allocate $17 000 to my club? Why are we hiring lawyers instead of opening discussion.

    - A student.

  • Henry Kissinger

    ‘University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small’

    - Henry Kissinger