Students at the Mississauga campus will be allowed to vote in-person in the UTSU spring elections from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm tomorrow, March 14.Voting was originally scheduled to close at 6:30 pm on March 13. However, UTM students were allowed more time because the campus closed at 1:00 pm on March 12 due to inclement weather. “The Elections and Referenda Committee [ERC] has ruled that since UTM students lost the ability to vote on campus for 5 hours, accommodations needed to be made,” said Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU and chair of the ERC. St. George students will not receive any additional voting time because the UTSG campus did not close. The online voting service at utsu.simplyvoting.com will also close at 6:30 PM today as scheduled.Election results will accordingly be announced after all votes, including those from UTM’s additional voting hours, are counted.
Voting hours extended at UTM due to weather closure
In-person voting will be open at UTM for 5 extra hours on Friday
Student union executives from York and Ryerson campaigning for U of T Voice
Team Unite says having outside campaigners is inequitable
Student union executives from York and Ryerson are campaigning for U of T Voice in the ongoing UTSU spring elections.Melissa Palermo, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Julian Jasniewski, vice-president campus life of the York Federation of Students’ (YFS), and Rajean Hoilett, vice-president equity of the RSU, have all been spotted campaigning over the past two days.
Palermo has been encouraging U of T students to vote for U of T Voice at the Bahen Centre and Sidney Smith. In an email, she explained that as a friend of presidential candidate Yolen Bollo-Kamara and someone who supports her campaign, she chose to take “personal vacation time” to support the campaign.“We have worked together on campaigns to stop homophobia and transphobia on campus, and on affordable transit in the city and I support Yolen’s vision and the vision of her team,” said Palermo.Palermo asked that a photo showing her campaigning for Voice in Sidney Smith not be posted for personal safety reasons.In an in-person interview in the lobby of Sidney Smith, Jasniewski described himself as a friend of incumbent VP internal candidate Cameron Wathey. Multiple reporters have seen Jasniewski at Sidney Smith throughout much of the voting period on Tuesday and Wednesday — encouraging U of T students to support U of T Voice.
When approached by a reporter who identified herself as working for The Varsity, Hoilett originally identified himself as a U of T student, repeating the claim that he went to U of T multiple times and refusing to answer any more questions in person.Neither Hoilett nor Jasniewski have responded to follow-up emails as of press time.“These are execs that are receiving salaries from their respective constituents and its not fair to students of Ryerson or York that their appointed executives are being paid to help an election here” said Vip Vigneswaran, campaign manger with Team Unite.Vigneswaran argued it is inequitable to have non U of T students, who are experienced campaigners, support one slate and questioned whether students would even be aware they were being convinced to vote by someone who does not attend this university: “The average U of T student could have an interaction with these people and be none the wiser and be swayed to vote one way or another.”U of T Voice campaign organizer Danielle Sandhu — who served as UTSU president from 2011–2012 — said she was proud of the many people who have come out to support U of T Voice. Sandhu acknowledge that Palermo, Jasniewski, and Hoilett had been “helping out” with the campaign.For many years, The Varsity has received reports that executives from Ryerson and York are campaigning for the slate that includes incumbents. When contacted for comment, the executives often deny involvement.This year reporters were dedicated to investigate if York or Ryerson executives were on campus campaigning, and to interview and photograph them if they were.With files from Iris Robin, Emma Compeau, Trevor Koroll & Theodore Yan
“Robotext” from U of T Voice asking for votes sparks student backlash
Unite campaign manager, vice-president, other students, speak out
On Tuesday morning, Vip Vigneswaran, the campaign manager for Team Unite, along with four other students, received an automated text message telling him to vote for U of T Voice’s executive candidates.The use of automated spam texting may be a violation of campaigning regulations. The Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Alex Flor declined to comment as she is looking into a number of complaints on the subject.In an unsigned email, U of T Voice stated that they aimed to be strict about who was sent these texts, saying that they were limited to students who signed a form asking for more information — a point that Voice presidential candidate Yolen Bollo-Kamara reiterated in a Facebook comment on Vigneswaran’s screenshot of the text in question. In her comment, Bollo-Kamara posted a photo of Vigneswaran’s information on a Voice form, which he claims he does not remember signing.In a subsequent interview, Vigneswaran said that he did sign up for information from Voice, but this is the first and only campaign information that he has received from the slate. “They didn’t say that I would receive texts,” he remarked.Another recipient of the automated messages, Nav Nahal, said that she did not give out her number and has been unengaged throughout the campaigns. She added that the only reason she believes the UTSU would have her number is from her involvement with a separate campus group. “The only reason that UTSU would have my number is because I am a primary contact for Take Action – a recognized campus group” she said, adding: “I have not even been involved in any part of the campaign process.”Other recipients also claimed they never signed up with Team Voice. Alex Parent, who says she is also not affiliated with any campaign, received an unsolicited text, which he and others referred to as a “robotext.” “I was not contacted or asked for consent to use my information,” he said, “and frankly I’m somewhat offended that they were both able to get my information and that I was unaware that they planned on sending me messages.”The suggestion that texts were sent without express consent of students would contradict U of T Voice’s stated position on the subject, according to the unsigned email. Danielle Sandhu, an organizer with U of T Voice, said she was unaware of unsolicited texts being sent out.
Only independent candidate drops out, others field student questions at executive forum
Students question candidates on campus inclusivity, student life, accountability, and defederation
Members of both Team Unite and U of T Voice participated in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executive forum on Thursday, March 6, as part of the ongoing spring elections camping.
The most surprising development of the forum was Luis Moreno announcing that he was ending his candidacy for VP External. Moreno, previously the only independent executive candidate in the election, cited the potential for vote-splitting should he continue his candidacy, and his agreement with Team Unite’s platform. He then endorsed Team Unite in general and urged students to vote his previous opponent, Nicky Bhatty, for the position of VP external. “I believe in equal opportunity, I believe in fairness, unity, and most importantly, honesty. I am ending my candidacy because I share Team Unite’s vision of commitment to improve relationships with colleges and divisional student bodies, which have been strained over the past years. I am confident that Team Unite is ready to bring change to the Union” said Moreno.After the debate, Bhatty thanked Moreno for his endorsement. “For Luis to run as an independent, that’s definitely commendable. I’m gracious that he was willing to support us.”The forum was largely subdued, with candidates delivering their planned opening and closing remarks, followed by responses to questions fielded from students. Yolen Bollo-Kamara, current UTSU VP equity, and presidential candidate for Voice, highlighted her previous achievements with the union, including changing the structure of flat fees, and listed her goals for next year, which included eliminating some ancillary fees and regulating fees for professional faculties and international students next year.Team Unite’s presidential candidate Ye Huang outline his slate’s desire to “change UTSU into a better organization for students” by advocating for transparency and increasing funding for clubs.Questions for the presidential candidates ranged from working to eliminate rape culture on campus, to improving accessibility, and the ongoing Student Societies Summit — in which Bollo-Kamara participated as a UTSU representative. When asked about her participation in the summit, particularly questions about her knowledgeablity raised in a letter from Innis College Student Society (ICSS) executives, Bollo-Kamara responded that she could not speak to ICSS president Mary Stefanidis’ intentions, but explained her take on the summit.“The Student Societies’ Summit was good to have a discussion with all the various college and faculty councils, but I think it was problematic in a number of different instances, in that it excluded a lot of members of our community from the discussion, for example the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students was not there…all of our clubs and levy groups were not there as well,” she said.Huang also responded to the summit questions, addressing the absence of current UTSU president, Munib Sajjad, from the summit. “As a president, I know Munib is very busy. But I can say, if elected, I will go to Student Societies Summit meetings. I will be there,” he said.Bhatty and Grayce Slobodian, Voice’s VP external candidate, both articulated similar points on having a tri-campus bus services and increasing lobbying efforts to the government to address unpaid internships. When asked by Zack Medow, VP external of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), how they would repair relations with dissatisfied student societies, both candidates stuck to their respective platforms of collaborating with society heads and listening to the concerns of individual members. Meadow then responded, “With due respect to what’s been said, we’ve been meeting a lot this year. We’ve had a summit, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. So we know what the grievances are, and I’d like you to address them specifically.”The VP equity candidates addressed mental health awareness, Governing Council’s recent decision to merge the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) with Woodsworth College, and controversial men’s rights groups’ events on campus. Both candidates support TYP, with Voice candidate Najiba Ali Sardar calling for increased rallying and Unite’s Balaqis Hashiru stressing the importance of lobbying the administration.On men’s rights, Sardar and Hashiru had different views. Sardar said, “I don’t think we’re understanding sexism here. Reverse sexism doesn’t exist…I would like to address the fact that it is a power struggle, which is why the Men’s Rights Advocacy wasn’t supported.” Hashiru, on the other hand, condemned some of the activities the MRA has, but argued that, “they can host events as long as those events are inclusive of everyone on campus.”Both candidates for VP university affairs largely stuck to their talking points. Voice’s Zijian Yang, who recently was awarded three demerit points for a printing error on posters, joked about his commitment to the “elimination of winter.” This was a truncated version of his real platform point, working to eliminate winter residence fees, which he discussed along with Yang advocating for a drop credit policy. Team Unite’s Pierre Harfouche pledged to restart the process for the university’s now stalled Student Commons and to change the policy on deferred exams.Yang touted his relative lack of experience in student politics as an asset, arguing that as an outsider he better understands the issues. Harfouche, who has been a figure in student politics for years, and is currently running for president of the Engineering Society — the result of which will be announced later today — highlighted his experience with finances, advocacy, and management of student groups as an asset.Finally, VP internal and services candidates largely answered questions regarding UTSU transparency, and finances. Incumbent VP internal Cameron Wathey, who is running for reelection with U of T Voice, highlighted his accomplishments throughout this year, from an updated UTSU website launched last month, to hosting a larger homecoming, and a policy town hall. Next year, he wants to rally for action on international student fees and change the structure of the UTSU Board of Directors, although he declined to offer any specifics on how he would accomplish either. Team Unite candidate Anna Yin stuck to her talking points, speaking about a desire to increase accountability at the UTSU. Yin pledged to release monthly financial reports online and reduce UTSU executive salaries by fifteen percent.After the debate Nishi Kumar, current president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society said she was impressed by both groups and pleasantly surprised by the quality of debate overall: “I think it will be an interesting race as they clearly have two very distinct platforms which is refreshing to see in student politics.” Voting for the UTSU Election runs from Tuesday, March 11 to Thursday, March 13 across campus and online.
UTSU elections lack substance
The Varsity calls on all candidates to address the issues
With the 2014 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election campaign well underway, it is encouraging to see two full executive slates and one independent contesting the election. It is troubling, however, that none of the candidates have substantively addressed many of the most important issues affecting U of T students; rather, most have offered vague goals without viable plans for how to achieve them. At tonight’s executive forum and for the rest of the campaign, The Varsity calls on all candidates to provide substantive answers to the important questions that the new leaders of U of T’s largest student union must face.
Most obviously, the candidates must address the ongoing controversy surrounding defederation and the Student Societies Summit. The complaints and grievances of some union members, expressed last year when three divisions voted to leave the union, will not go away. After seven months of summit meetings, the union membership appears even more divided than at the beginning of the year. Now, most divisional societies support in principle the right of division to leave the union. Anyone who wants to lead the UTSU must address the urgent danger of losing thousands of members.Unite deserves some credit for, at least, articulating a position on the subject — they oppose defederation but would allow it. Yet, this is far from a comprehensive policy. How will they try to conciliate disillusioned members and, more importantly, how would they compensate for the loss if divisions do leave? On the other hand, that U of T Voice has not addressed this controversy demonstrates a willful blindness to the political climate on campus. If they oppose defederation, what will they do to heal deep division within the union? Existing methods and rhetoric have obviously failed.In contrast, almost all candidates have something to say on the subject of university funding, tuition, and fees. Many candidates have laudable goals, but these are often vague and few have presented concrete plans to achieve them. The university already faces a significant deficit, and has accrued more than five hundred million dollars in deferred maintenance due to underfunding. U of T Voice says it will fight to lower tuition and eliminate fees. Where do they suggest that the university find the money to balance its budget? Team Unite says it will work with the administration to develop a budget that prioritizes students. What specific budgetary changes will they recommend and what does “prioritize students” mean in practice?All candidates should also address the details of provincial education funding. Ontario is considering a differentiated funding formula, and there are strong arguments for the outcome-based formula implemented in Tennessee. Candidates must tell voters whether they think the province should provide more funding, where that funding should come from, and how it should be distributed.Closer to home, U of T’s campus life often leaves much to be desired. Both UTM and UTSG face an increasingly urgent shortage of student housing. The UTSU has opposed the Knightstone housing development proposals over safety and accountability concerns, while the city has blocked the Waverly development. Meanwhile, U of T is proceeding with another development proposal on Spadina Avenue. Do our candidates agree that we face a housing crisis, and what solutions or changes would they advocate to fix the problem?More broadly, generations of students have complained that U of T lacks an overarching sense of campus community, and that many students are disengaged from campus life. Some argue that U of T’s many divisions, colleges, campuses, and clubs make it a community of communities, and that this works well for an institution of our size. Others contend that more should be done to foster and strengthen U of T’s school spirit and student engagement, with a view to building a campus-wide community. Candidates who agree with the former perspective should explain how they would adapt union services and structure to this reality. Those who take the latter view must provide specifics on how they will create a more cohesive student body and engage more students with the union.These are only a few of the many challenges that our new union leaders will have to face. Too often, debate about the union’s future, education funding, campus life, and a host of other issues is reduced to platitudes and bullet points. UTSU election candidates are lucky to have a well-educated electorate, who deserve substantive platforms.At the same time, we must not allow the discourse to degenerate into the petty personal and procedural disputes that often distract from the real issues in student election campaigns. All U of T students are asked to pay more in tuition and fees every year, while the university slides into deficit. Many struggle to find a safe and affordable home. Still more feel alienated from our university and lack a community where they feel welcome.These problems are complex, and they require complex solutions. Those who want to lead our student body should have solutions to propose, and be ready to convince students that those solutions are worth voting for.
U of T Voice posters vandalized
Voice executive and Candi Chin-Sang's posters defaced in separate incidents
Several posters promoting U of T Voice candidates in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections have been defaced. The posters, on display in the Gerald Larkin Building at Trinity College, have had some of their platform points altered and features drawn on the candidates’ faces with a black marker.“We’ve spent a lot of time developing our team’s materials,” said Yollen Bolo-Kamara, Voice’s presidential candidate, “so it’s unfortunate that the materials we developed were vandalized. We believe that the way to show your support for or against ideas is at the ballot box, rather than preventing other students from sharing their ideas with the campus community.”In a separate incident, some of former U of T voice director candidate Candi Chin-Sang’s campaign materials have been defaced, after she dropped out of the election and endorsed Team Unite.“People should stop vandalizing posters. Everyone has the right to campaign — people spend money on these posters, the UTSU spends money on these posters, and it’s not fair,” said Pierre Harfouche, vice-president, university affairs candidate for Team Unite.As of press time, the person responsible remains unknown. Munib Sajjad, president of UTSU, and Sandy Hudson, executive director of UTSU, were in the Larkin Building documenting evidence of the incident. The Chief Returning Officer, Alex Flor, declined to comment on the incident.
CRO assigns 29 demerit points to Team Unite members following interview with The Varsity
Cites four offenses allegedly committed by some candidates
Last night, Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Alex Flor assigned a total of 29 demerit points to five members of Team Unite for alleged violations of the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) following an interview with The Varsity.Ye Huang, Team Unite’s candidate for president, and Nicky Bhatty, the team’s candidate for VP external were each assigned 10 demerit points. Five for “failure to follow grievance procedure,” 3 for “intentional misrepresentation of facts,” 1 for “misrepresentation of fact,” and 1 for “unapproved material.”Pierre Harfouche, candidate for VP university affairs; Baliqis Hashiru, candidate for VP equity; and Anna Yin, candidate for VP internal and services were each assigned 3 demerit points, one each for “intentional misrepresentation of facts,” “misrepresentation of fact,” and “unapproved material.”An executive candidate who receives more than 35 demerit points is automatically disqualified.In the decision Flor stated that demerit points for failure to follow the grievance procedure and intentional misrepresentation of facts were assigned because the candidates contacted The Varsity and provided information which she says “was false and was descriptive of an unresolved situation.” The information in question related to claims that she had blocked Unite from releasing campaign materials and had been unavailable for much of the day.She went on to state that the demerit points for misrepresentation of facts and unapproved material were assigned for “using The Varsity to spread platform information that had yet to receive approval by the Chief Returning Officer.”Flor added that “these violations are serious as they undermine members’ faith in the elections,” but added that the number of points assigned was in light of the fact that the alleged violations took place on the first day of campaigning.When asked for comment, Munib Sajjad, current UTSU president and Chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee, responded on behalf of Flor, saying: “The Chief Returning Officer is unable to respond at this time due to other duties.”Sajjad explained the thought process behind the demerit points. “[Varsity reporter Theodore] Yan informed the CRO at 17:22 that he was told by Team Unite that their campaign materials were not approved. As provided for in CRO Ruling 001, the CRO found that this constituted a breach of the elections rules of fair play,” he said. “Additionally, the grievance procedure was not followed, as the CRO was not made aware there was a dispute with the conditional approval of campaign materials sent to members of ‘Team Unite.'”“Demerit points are meant to discourage behaviour that is in violation of campaign rule detrimental to the electoral process, or the electorate,” he continued.According to Vip Vigneswaran, campaign manager for Unite, the CRO suggested to Team Unite that Huang and Bhatty appeal the ruling. Bhatty plans to appeal the ruling, while Huang does not.“I’m going to be emailing the CRO, or whoever I need to email, to appeal the decision, just to understand why it was that I got 10 demerit points in comparison to the rest of my team,” said Bhatty, adding: “While talking to the CRO today, she suggested to both Ye and I that we lobby for an appeal, simply because some of the sources she may have received aren’t necessarily too trusted.”“It was an unfortunate situation,” Bhatty continued. “We’re working to either resolve it or continue on with our campaign.”Last night, the CRO also released a statement addressed to UTSU members. This statement lists a number of points from an article published last night in The Varsity which she believes are inaccurate. The Varsity has not issued any corrections to that article.Cameron Wathey, candidate for VP, internal on Team U of T Voice, commented on the campaign material approval process for his own slate. “We want to be clear that Team Voice did not receive approvals for all of our campaign materials, which meant the launch of our website and whole platform was delayed,” Wathey said, adding: “For example, we had indicated on our website that members of our team had helped “phase out flat fees in arts and science” and the CRO informed us that this claim was a misrepresentation because flat fees would still apply at a threshold of 4.0 credits.”Wathey said Team U of T Voice would leave it up to Team Unite to appeal the demerit point rulings. Wathey went on to add: “We believe there are two issues here — one is whether or not demerit points are warranted for a specific offense, which is up to the CRO and the ERC, and the second is whether or not the Elections Procedure Code is upheld and applied fairly to all candidates.”
Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay
Toronto's divisive political geography
We’ve certainly had an interesting few weeks in Toronto. Rob Ford has turned our proper and polite city on its head, introducing a scandalous cast of crack dealers, gang members, and potential prostitutes into the salacious drama that our municipal politics has become. To put it in Mad Men terms, Toronto has gone from Jackie to Marilyn — and if it were television, rather than real life, I’d say I like it this hot.Every day, there are Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail authors hailing the end of Ford as fanatically as Harold Camping preaches the Second Coming. They denounce him as “brazen and dishonest,” “shocking and embarrassing,” and a disgrace to the city.But let’s drop the rhetoric and be reasonable for a moment. Is it really Ford’s fault that he’s a fatuous drunkard? Probably. Is it his fault that he’s a racist crack head? Almost definitely. But enough of this was obvious before he ever came into office. How can we blame him for continuing to be exactly the man he was before we elected him with a whopping 47 per cent of the vote?When it comes to Rob Ford, the buck stops with the voters. The question we need to ask isn’t how we can get rid of the mayor, but how the hell we elected him in the first place. Thankfully, it is a question with an answer: Mike Harris.In 1998, Harris’s PC government proposed merging the old city of Toronto with five adjacent suburbs. The move was met with stunning opposition — referendums held in the regions opposed amalgamation three to one. Yet, flying in the face of democracy, Harris forcibly created the uncomfortable and incoherent sprawl we now call Toronto.If we look at the 2010 mayoral election results, the wards that voted Ford and the wards that voted Smitherman are divided almost exactly between the city and the suburbs. Simply, the old city said Smitherman, but the megacity said Ford.The 2010 election is a perfect, microcosmic representation of the reality of modern Toronto: two distinct ideologies, one suburban and the other metropolitan, warring for dominance of the city. In handing the political majority to Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York, we’ve given the suburban creed a serious advantage in that battle.Admittedly, we need to get rid of Ford. It isn’t right to have such a man at the helm of our city. But our basic problem is much, much larger than him — and that’s saying something. Ford might leave the mayor’s office, but the people who elected him aren’t going away. Like it or not, they’re not going to vote any more rationally than they did when they called themselves Ford Nation.The real problem is not Rob Ford, but the simple fact that the suburbs control the downtown core. Some have called for de-amalgamation as the answer — a nice idea, but probably unrealistic. The cost makes the idea politically unattractive, and somehow I don’t think Toronto wants to sacrifice its prestigious title as North America’s fourth largest metropolis.Realistically, our best chance is to adapt to the circumstances — to stand strong as a city behind a single progressive candidate. Even if Ford were to win 47 per cent of the vote again, 53 per cent is still up for grabs. It is by no means a perfect solution — Ford Nation is an intimidating beast. But in the jumbled reality that is Toronto, it’s just about the only hope we’ve got. Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.