The UTSU’s annual general meeting, held two weeks ago, was brought to an abrupt end when the agenda for the meeting was soundly defeated. Critics of the UTSU hailed this development as a major victory for their side after years of “opposition” slates running unsuccessfully in UTSU elections. While the rancor that preceded the AGM has continued, including on the pages and website of this newspaper, there are signs that reforms might be in the offing ahead of this spring’s elections; UTSU president Shaun Shepherd and vice-provost, students Jill Matus have reportedly discussed using the university’s online voting system for UTSU elections.
Despite these encouraging signs of reform, it seems likely that the discord and division that have characterized campus politics this semester will continue into the new year. The UTSU has called a new AGM for late January. This gives UTSU members, including its critics, a little over a month to submit amendments to the union’s by-laws, including those that dictate how its elections are run. The UTSU’s critics should take advantage of this opportunity to bring forward concrete proposals for how the UTSU’s election procedures can be improved. The UTSU leadership would do well to consider these proposals on their merits.
But there will be a strong temptation on both sides to use the meeting to their advantage. If they are not satisfied with the UTSU leadership’s reform proposals, critics of the UTSU might be tempted to, once again, block the meeting from proceeding using procedural tactics — including preventing the meeting agenda from being ratified. Likewise, the UTSU leadership might be tempted to pack the meeting with its supporters in order to prevent reform proposals from having a chance. However tempting these tactics, both sides should refrain from using them. To do so would be only to divide the campus further.
Instead, both sides need to show leadership. President Shepherd and his colleagues have already done so by scheduling another AGM in January and by discussing the possibility of using online voting for this spring’s UTSU elections. It is time that the UTSU’s critics show the same degree of leadership by taking steps to make sure that the next AGM can successfully conduct business. Above all, both sides need to avoid the personal attacks and venomous vitriol that have characterized the past few weeks in campus politics. They owe it to themselves and to the students they hope to represent.
The priority going into the January AGM needs to be ensuring that this spring’s elections are not only fair, but also perceived to be fair. While accusations of bias and wrongdoing are often exaggerated, there are some real concerns surrounding the way in which UTSU election procedures work. It is unlikely that all of these concerns can be addressed before this spring’s elections, but it is crucial that the most significant of them be resolved as soon as possible. Online voting would go a long way to doing this, but it alone would not be enough.
What we need is a broader agreement from the UTSU leadership to implement some changes to election procedure immediately and to create an open, transparent process to review its election procedures following the upcoming elections. Hiring a lawyer to review these procedures, as president Shepherd has done, is a step in the right direction, but does not go nearly far enough. The lawyer’s advice should be complemented with the findings of a commission, which would be empowered to hear testimony and receive submissions or better yet, a randomly selected students’ jury. The outlines of a compromise are clear; the hard work of campus politics is to get us there.
Patrick Baud’s column appears every two weeks