For the second year in a row, opposition-driven proposals may not appear on the agenda of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). Newly elected engineering director Pierre Harfouche submitted three motions to the UTSU’s Policy and Procedures Committee (P&P) intended to encourage the union to permit those student divisions who want to leave the UTSU to do so. All three motions have been ruled out of order by the P&P. The UTSU’s Board of Directors, which is meeting on Tuesday, has the ultimate decision as to whether or not to allow the motions. It is unusual for the board to overrule the P&P.
Harfouche’s first motion called on the UTSU to support in principle the stances of Trinity College, the Engineering Society (EngSoc), and Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) with respect to fee diversion referenda, as outlined in a letter co-authored by those groups and addressed to the Student Societies Summit. Harfouche likened this to the stance taken by the UTSU in support of online voting and opposition to unpaid internships at the two-part Special General Meeting last year.
The second motion Harfouche submitted called for the appointment of two UTSU representatives to the Student Societies Summit. The third called on the union to support an amendment to its Charter for Referenda that would enable colleges and professional faculties to hold fee diversion referenda. The current structure requires all students to vote on any issue. The proposed changes would allow a single division to vote on a question that exclusively pertains to it, such as whether it wants to remain a part of the union. Harfouche believes that a student vote on these issues would “ensure that the union is something that students are willingly a part of and can contribute to in a way that isn’t forced.”
The P&P has reviewed the motions and ruled them out of order. As outlined in a recent UTSU report to its Board of Directors, motions one and three were rejected because they attempt to “circumvent existing union bylaws.” The second was ruled out of order because “the university administration has made it clear that Student Society Summit members cannot be changed.” UTSU president Munib Sajjad characterized the motions in general as being “in bad faith, given that there is a whole process set up by the administration to deal with all of this and these motions are an attempt to avoid that process,” noting further that “[Harfouche was told that] this kind of thing was against the bylaws at the policy townhall.”
Harfouche believes that no legitimate basis exists for the exclusion of at least his first and second motions: “These are not policy changes and there is no bylaw I know of that could prevent [the motions’] inclusion on the AGM agenda,” he said, adding: “I was told at the Policy Townhall that motions which contravene the bylaws would be ruled out of order, but these motions do not, and I did not at that time present these motions specifically.”
Meanwhile, UTSU director Ben Coleman argued that notwithstanding technical problems with the motions, their handling by the UTSU executive represents a “broader communication problem,” wherein, “the [UTSU] executive fails to explain to students what they are doing and why they are doing it.” Trinity’s Heads of College Ben Crase and Maha Naqi expressed support for Harfouche’s proposals, noting that, “We are always in favour of student efforts to reform the UTSU to better represent those they claim to represent.” The pair are concerned that “motions not made in accordance with the UTSU’s status-quo agenda confront logistical speed bumps that prevent their enactment.”
The rejection of Harfouche’s motions raises the question of whether organized support and opposition to the union will coalesce in advance of the AGM. Last autumn, students forced an early end to the meeting, voting not to approve its agenda. At that time, opposition centered on the exclusion of motions calling for electoral reform submitted by then co-head of Trinity College Sam Greene.
In a Facebook post, Harfouche makes clear that he is “not trying to start a proxy war,” although Aimee Quenneville, the seconder of Harfouche’s motions and one of the University College representatives on the UTSU Board of Directors, sees the possibility for a struggle for votes in light of the motions’ rejection.
Reached by phone, Quenneville stated that, “It could happen… Rejecting an agenda that deliberately denies students the right to discuss this issue would be a legitimate course of action.” For Coleman, the outcome is uncertain. “The UTSU board of directors is meeting on Tuesday. If they create an agenda that allows students to talk about these issues, I think [a fight for proxy votes] is much less likely to happen,” he said.
Also discussed and passed at the P&P meeting was a motion banning proxy voting at UTSU Board of Directors meetings to conform with new federal law, as well as a motion to investigate new possibilities for the structure of the UTSU Board of Directors. Harfouche will ask the board to accept his motions on Tuesday.
Correction Monday October 28: A previous version of this article referred to a motion that would ban proxy voting as designed to comply with new provincial law. It is designed to comply with new federal law.