The results of last week’s UTSU elections are in, and the incumbent Stronger Together slate came out on top. Aside from the relatively high turnout in this election, which stands unofficially at approximately 7,150 voters, the conduct of the two campaigns show that the UTSU elections process is a broken one.
Writing close to the beginning of the elections period, we were alarmed not only by the negative tone that the campaign had taken, but also by the abundance of non-U of T students who came to this campus to campaign on behalf of the status quo. While the election results show a win for the incumbents, Stronger Together should be troubled by the fact that this win was delivered to them by an army of campaigners who don’t even attend this university.
Throughout the campaign period, The Varsity, along with scores of eyewitnesses, reported that much of Stronger Together’s corps of volunteers was made up of individuals with strong ties to the Canadian Federation of Students who were based not at the University of Toronto, but at Ryerson and York. They include people like Toby Whitfield, Sean Carson, Caitlin Smith, and Rodney Diverlus from Ryerson; Krisna Saravanamuttu, Dashika Sekvasivam, Alastair Woods, Nadine Tkatchevskaia, and Nila Zameni from York; and non-students Faraz Siddiqui and Estefania Toledo.
The extent of their involvement was on full display during the ballot counting at UTSU’s office, when Stronger Together appointed a team of scrutineers comprised of almost all off-campus campaigners.
Halfway through the second day of counting, when it had become clear that the results were going to show a Stronger Together win, those very same non-U of T student campaigners began to put on buttons that said the following:
“Whose campus? OUR CAMPUS.”
CFS supporters from Ryerson and York are wearing buttons proclaiming U of T to be their campus? This kind of arrogance is just another indicator of a systemic problem at the union—one that will remain for at least another year under a Stronger Together UTSU. The CFS and their supporters perpetuate this idea of “ownership”—that the campus belongs to them. But the student union, which is supposed to belong to U of T students, now belongs to the CFS, a national lobby group.
Furthermore, our election campaigns are no longer about policy, and have devolved into a series of disgusting political tactics. There are well-documented instances of what can essentially be described as race-baiting on the part of Stronger Together. Shozab Raza, a core Stronger Together supporter, wrote the following to a South Asian member of the Change Facebook Group whom he did not know. “I was hoping we could talk sometime because I find it contradictory for desis (and for that matter all people of color) to be supporting the change slate.”
Not only is it highly offensive for a campaign that calls for unity and togetherness to engage in explicit identity politics, but it’s a corruption of the ideals that lie at the heart of a democratic student union, where we should be striving to tear down the barriers of race, means, gender, and sexual orientation that supposedly divide us.
These are the politics of personal destruction, the politics of fear, and they have no place in our elections.
With the campaign behind us, it is now up to the members of the Stronger Together slate to show us that they can govern. But as Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, said, “you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” If the Stronger Together campaign was one of poetry, we are pessimistic that U of T students will see an improvement in the tone of our politics as poetry is abandoned in favour of the tough, more prosaic choices of governing. But members of Stronger Together should have no fear if they want to run for re-election again—UTSU’s unblemished 100 per cent incumbency rate, along with an army of volunteers who do not go here, should deliver them another year at the top.