Student union executives from York and Ryerson were spotted campaigning for U of T Voice during last week’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. Melissa Palermo, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Julian Jasniewski, vice-president campus life of the York Federation of Students (YFS), and Rajean Hoilett, vice-president, equity of the RSU, were all seen campaigning at polling locations across U of T.
Jasniewski was spotted campaigning at Sidney Smith Hall for some of the voting period. The Varsity approached him in person. He acknowledges that he is a York graduate, and said he was taking the day off work to support Cameron Wathey, Team Voice candidate for vice–president, internal and services. When asked why he wanted Wathey to be re-elected, Jasniewski said: “Cameron is trying to do good things on campus, and is working very hard. I believe in what he is doing, and, as his friend, support him.”
Jasniewski does not believe he is doing anything wrong by campaigning for Team Voice. “Working for the UTSU is a full–time job. I don’t think that people appreciate the hard work that these people do,” Jasniewski added.
Palermo campaigned for U of T Voice at Sidney Smith Hall and the Bahen Centre. After Yolen Bollo-Kamara, presidential candidate for U of T Voice, asked for Palermo’s help, Palermo used personal vacation time to support the campaign.
“We have worked together on campaigns to stop homophobia and transphobia on campus, and on affordable transit in the city, and I support Yolen’s vision and the vision of her team,” said Palermo.
When approached by reporters, Hoilett initially claimed he went to U of T. On a separate occasion, he introduced himself to The Varsity as a friend of Bollo-Kamara. He then stated: “I don’t go to U of T, but I go to school in the city. I’m not doing anything wrong.” Hoilett did not respond to requests for further comment.
When asked whether it was acceptable for teams to have people who are not full-time U of T undergraduate students campaigning, Bollo-Kamara responded: “It is allowed and there is definitely nothing wrong with it. It is not against any rules.”
Ye Huang, presidential candidate for Team Unite, acknowledged that bringing in people from other campuses was within the rules, but does not believe in the practice. “Talking about fairness, according to the rules, it’s fine, but I feel like it’s a U of T election, so whoever is on this campus campaigning should be a U of T student,” Huang said, adding: “They are not U of T students and do not know what U of T students need. They are students who do not know the issues and in that sense, they are lying to students. Fairness is fine, but people should not lie to students,” said Huang.
Maha Naqi, an independent directorial candidate for Arts & Science, and current co-head of Trinity College, does not have connections to external assistance. “I think it’s been difficult for me to campaign and I think now I just fall into a long line of independent candidates who have faced that same struggle,” she said, adding: “There are so many barriers to entry and the odds are so stacked against independent candidates in particular… I was very cognizant from the beginning that not running as part of a slate would disadvantage me because there were other resources that other candidates had, in particular UTSU-backed candidates, that just wouldn’t be at my disposal.”
Naqi does not think it is fair for slates to bring in external campaigners to help them win elections, despite there being no rule prohibiting it in the Elections Procedure Code. “The principle of fairness shouldn’t be just conforming to the rules; the principle should be a level playing field,” she added.
The issue of external campaign involvement at U of T has been a long-standing. Sana Ali, who withdrew from Team Renew last year, revealed that Alastair Woods, current chair of the CFS-O and YFS alumnus, oversaw Team Renew’s campaign with Brodie Metcalfe, a veteran of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).
The Varsity has received reports for multiple years alleging that slates including incumbent UTSU executives use external campaigners.
CFS-affiliated groups often work together. In 2008, former UTSU president and current executive director Sandy Hudson and other executive members flew to Victoria, British Columbia to campaign at Simon Fraser University when it held a referendum to withdraw from the CFS.