On February 28, the UTSU election campaign will officially be upon us. For students, this not only means finding creative ways to enter Sid Smith to avoid campaigners — it means making important decisions about their representatives in the student government. Despite consistently low turnout, election season is never without its share of controversy, and in recent years we’ve seen campaigns become more bitterly partisan.
Henry Kissinger’s oft-quoted maxim about the viciousness of student politics is not far from lips this time of year, and others look at the low voter turnout — 16 per cent last year, one of the highest turnouts ever — and wonder if any of it was worth it. Between midterms and essays, many wonder how we even have the time to run what is supposed to be a participatory democracy.
The Varsity has covered elections extensively in some years and in others more sparingly. Generally, our coverage reflected the tone of each year’s election — in some years unexcitable and matter-of-factly, in others, feverish and fired up. In this feature, The Varsity takes a look back at some of our coverage of past elections, hoping to provide some context for first-time voters and returning students alike.
In these articles there is enough drama, joy, excitement, and pathos to make for a good Hollywood movie. However, we hope this year the script will be written by Orson Welles and not George Lucas. All kidding aside, during this time of year there can be a great deal of pessimism – especially about the state of student democracy. Unresolved questions about the nature of student advocacy and of the overall efficacy of our student union are sure to reemerge.
February 27, 2007 — The Varsity speaks to three leading candidates for SAC chair. Notable is the presence of an independent, Andrew Mackay, who bills himself as a “third way” to the two polarized candidates.
March 5, 2007 — Mud-slinging starts between candidates in the elections. Trinity college director Gabe de Roche complains about the removal of a polling station within The Buttery and claims disenfranchisement. The same issue featured a detailed discussion of the VP internal platforms. Also, student politicians Dave Scrivener and Emily Shelton falsely identified themselves as Varsity reporters to gain access to a talk by the Minister of training, colleges, and universities. Scrivener apologizes and admits it was a “rash decision.” In an unsigned editorial, The Varsity explains why the matter went unreported in the paper and how it accepted the apology of SAC chairperson Jen Hassum.
Read: New deals, familiar foes and The contenders: VP internal race
Winner: Your Team
March 6, 2008 — Sandy Hudson and her Unite U of T slate wins the 2008 election. Interestingly, the only contested position is UTSU president. The other VP positions are acclaimed with the Unite U of T candidates only having to go through a Yes/No vote. This is a notable article as it brings up some themes that would be the central focus of future UTSU elections: voting accessibility, accusations of a higher than normal incumbency rate, and concerns over student political engagement.
Read: Heads up: It’s Hudson
March 20, 2008 — Some students hold an event called “Take Back Your Student Union” pressuring the union to take sides on issues of social justice. Before that the union was criticized for engaging in what was referred to as a “balancing act.”
Read: Breaking up UTSU’s balancing act
Winner: Unite U of T
March 2, 2009 — In this issue The Varsity runs a front page article breaking down the platforms of the two UTSU slates: Demand Access and Change. Demand Access included Sandy Hudson, current chair of CFS-Ontario and Adam Awad, UTSU’s current president. The article broke down their stances on various campaign issues, most vitally clubs, UTSU services, and CFS membership.
Read: Slates battle for UTSU
March 5 — The Varsity reports on the UTSU elections forum, which was noted for its unusually high attendance with students spilling onto the stairs and the hallway. Highlights include Jason Marin’s response to the accusation Change was not diverse (“I’m a gay Costa Rican Jew. I think that’s pretty diverse.”), which garnered booming applause, and also controversies over UTSU’s CFS involvement.
Read: Exec hopefuls duke it out at candidates’ forum
March 9, 2009 — The Varsity invites members of the Hart House debate club to comment on and analyze the debate between presidential candidates Jason Marin and Sandy Hudson. They deemed Hudson the winner of the debate though they noted she had a difficult time defending UTSU’s membership in the CFS.
Read: Analysis: Presidential debate
March 12, 2009 — The Varsity reports that Change presidential candidate Jason Marin has been given too many demerit points to continue running. Change challenged the decision and the CRO’s decision was overruled. It set a precedent for rulings concerning arms-length campaigners.
Read: CRO decisions challenged, overruled
Winner: Demand Access
February 16, 2010 — Nearly a month before the election, the Varsity reports that the Election Procedures Code has been amended to include a new ruling stating that candidates can be punished for criticizing the CRO. UTSU president Sandy Hudson and presidential hopeful Adam Awad resign from the Election Procedures Committee stating they are unable to be impartial. Steve Masse says that the change was undemocratic, but conceded it wasn’t “malicious.”
Read: UTSU elections jostling begins
March 11, 2010 — The Varsity runs an above the fold photo with a caption that reads “Orange You Glad It’s Election Season” with 100 word blurb underneath discussing the debate that took place on March 10. The blurb became controversial generating nearly 100 comments online some of which criticize The Varsity for alleged bias. The picture referred to the orange worn by supporters of that year’s Change slate.
Read: Orange You Glad It’s Election Season
March 15, 2010 — The following week, The Varsity reports on the hostile atmosphere at the candidates debate which took place on March 10, including a detailed recount of the most pertinent debate points. Highlights included Change supporter Gabe de Roche shouting “Lies!” after then VP External Hadia Ahktar accused Change presidential candidate Steve Masse of not being present during the Drop Fees meetings and Towards 2030 campaign, debate moderator Dave Meslin’s inability to enforce the ground rules set earlier for the debate, and one Change supporter’s call for “reality-based questions” from the opposition.
Read: Fur flies at UTSU forum
March 18, 2010 — The Varsity publishes a feature-length news article summarizing some of the campaign’s defining moments including the presence of then RSU president-elect Toby Whitfield, who was campaigning on behalf of the Stronger Together slate and the high number of demerits handed out to both sides. Whitfield attempted to avoid The Varsity and refused to identify himself when approached.
Read: Eye on the election
Winner: Stronger Together
photos by Tom Cardoso and Alex Nursall