A concerted effort by opposing factions on campus to gather proxy votes in advance of Thursday’s UTSU annual general meeting is underway, with thousands of votes potentially in play.
Routine votes that take place at the meeting have become increasingly polarized in recent years. Students opposed to the UTSU have consistently been outgunned when it comes to voting, and appear determined to change the status quo this year.
“For the first time in as long as I can remember, we’re actually collecting proxies,” said Sam Greene, student co-head of Trinity College.
Proxies are forms enabling students who cannot attend the meeting to have other students vote on their behalf. A fully completed form can confer one student with the votes of up to 10 others.
This year, approximately 375 forms have been signed out, meaning that up to 3,750 votes are in play. Equivalent estimates from last year vary from 20 to 50 forms.
The race to gather votes is motivated in part by the opposition’s experience at previous annual general meetings.
“They limited debate to three speakers for and three speakers against,” said Brett Chang, a fixture of the opposition movement on campus. “It allowed them to force votes quicker, and power through the agenda. Students with legitimate concerns were silenced.”
According to Greene, allies of the union tend to come prepared with a “massive number of proxies” that, when deployed in combination with students that the union “buses in from UTM for the meeting”, ensures the passage of all agenda items.
Engineering Society president Rishi Maharaj says he thinks that anyone who attends the meeting will see the problems confronting the opposition.
“I want as many as possible to attend, to see how the union actually functions,” says Maharaj. He estimates that engineering society members have submitted between 40 and 60 completed proxy forms.
Opposition efforts to collect proxies are concentrated at St. Michael’s College, Trinity College, and the Faculty of Engineering. According to Maharaj, however, all members of the SGRT are working on increasing their presence at the meeting.
The union and its allies, aware of this effort, have engaged in a campaign of their own. Student groups with connections to the current UTSU executive have been actively soliciting proxies.
There are allegations that their strategy has been to suggest that without support, in person or through proxies, clubs funding and even the very existence of the union could be endangered.
Others have complained that these suggestions are misleading attempts at scare-mongering.
Kerri Tingling, vice-president of the Black Students’ Association, urged supporters on Facebook to collect proxies: “If you truly love the BSA, we need you to stop by the UTSU office ASAP and pick up a proxy form … support our beloved UTSU by dropping by their office”.
At a Hindu Students‘ Council Diwali event, students were asked to sign a “petition” which was in fact a proxy form.
“The students were told that “15,000 to 16,000 Trinity students had signed a petition to abolish the Hindu Students’ Council, and they needed to collect signatures to stop them,” said Sanchit Mathur, a director on the UTSU board.
“Around this time of the year cultural clubs often feel the most targeted when people are going after the UTSU,” said Mathur.
In another instance related by Trinity director Calvin Mitchell, a student stood up in her Swahili class on Thursday and asked her classmates to sign her proxy form. “I was just sitting in a NEW280 class and at the break a student representing the UTSU came in and said everyone needs to sign their proxy form if they don’t want the union to be abolished,” says Mitchell, who is also enrolled in the class.
It remains unclear which side has collected more proxy votes. The meeting room’s capacity is 273. With approximately 375 forms signed out, it is possible that all form-holders will not be able to fit into the room. Tensions are high across campus, and a controversial meeting is now expected by both parties. “People are just going to get frustrated and angry,” predicts Laurel Chester, New College director for the UTSU. “And things aren’t going to go well.”