TO say that the University of Toronto Student’s Union (UTSU) has had a rocky year would be an understatement. In an exercise of volcano management, the UTSU impeached its vice president, campus life in December, held a rather turbulent Annual General Meeting (AGM), and is currently negotiating an ongoing lawsuit that began in September. Even for the disengaged, this year’s student politics have been difficult to ignore.
Starting Tuesday, March 22, students begin casting ballots to elect a new executive team for the UTSU. Voting will remain open until the following Thursday at 6:30pm.
Voter turnout for these elections have traditionally been uncomfortably low. Last year, only 13 per cent of students voted, and prior to that, voting turnout has been as low as seven per cent. Regardless of the importance of issues — like rising tuition cost, deferred maintenance, and equity — that the candidates are expected to take heed of, the stances taken on these issues will not be representative of the students’ will as long as nobody participates.
Students need to engage in the democratic system through which our student government functions. While the UTSU’s presence isn’t exactly profound, it’s vital that our voices be heard through voting. The UTSU operates on a multi-million dollar budget and, voting is the most direct way to ensure that those funds are properly spent.
While the UTSU may engage in theatrics at its AGMs, their jurisdiction extends to medical coverage, the student dental plan, and formation of a Student Commons building. By voting, students get to select representatives who they want to dispense funding to campus clubs, organize orientation week activities, and oversee the food and clothing bank. The UTSU is also expected to lobby on our behalf; those who are elected to the UTSU executive are responsible for, among other things, fighting for lower tuition, improving resources for students with mental illnesses, and combatting sexual assault on campus.
At the very least, every full-time student — no matter how invested in student politics — paid the UTSU $190 in student fees this year. To who that money will go to, and how that money will be managed, is up to us to decide.
Political science suggests that the more people that vote in an election increases the likelihood of reaching a ‘correct’ decision. Yet if our current voting habits then only a minor fraction of students will be deciding which candidates are worthy of these positions.
Often, these minor fractions are comprised of hyper-partisan voters whose support stems from their personal relationships. It is sobering that people who are elected by these small percentages of students are receiving, according to Macleans, an average salary of $26,171.
It’s understandable that in the face of scandal and dubious governance practices the electorate may choose to distance itself from a seemingly dysfunctional system. In fact, this scenario would be somewhat of a déja-vu for the UTSU. Controversy surrounding an opposing slate in the 2011 election manifested itself in boycots and book burning (no, really). This and consequently resulted in a seven per cent voter turnout at the polls.
Yet, the times when people have minimal faith in governance are the times when it’s most important to establish good governance. Rather than removing ourselves from the political system, we should engage with it and demand change. If we want to avoid our student union’s theatrical tendencies in the future, and if we intend on selecting a team that is representative of our student body’s wants and needs, it is vital that a broad range of students select the candidates who represent us. Regardless of whether or not you think the UTSU impacts your university experience, 13 per cent of the student body should rarely be deciding for the other 87 percent.
Tags: UTSU elections