The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are off to a dramatic start. For the first time in five years, two slates are battling for the executive positions.
Just three days into the start of the campaign period, UTM Rise and UTM Reform were disqualified when the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) assigned both slates an excess of the 35 demerit points needed for disqualification. Both teams appealed the CRO’s rulings, though neither had been officially re-qualified before the All Candidates’ Debate Forum took place last Thursday.
Both teams were asked to meet on the evening of March 4, the night before the All-Candidates’ Forum, where they were informed of their disqualification.
According to Maaham Malik, the presidential candidate for UTM Reform, her slate accumulated demerit points over allegations that their slogan and hashtag, #timeforchange, constituted a malicious or intentional violation of election procedure code or policy.
“The UTM Rise slate is not disqualified from the elections,” said the candidates of Rise in a collective statement to The Varsity. Rise confirmed that they had received demerit points but did not elaborate on the reasons for which they were given.
According to CRO Ashley Toste, the Rise slate was given demerit points for unsanctioned use of union resources. Toste further ruled that Rise was campaigning in unauthorized areas such as libraries, and that Reform used high-gloss campaign posters, which are not permitted.
Both teams were penalized for improper distribution of campaign materials, and individual candidates were also issued demerit points for unapproved campaign material. When both slates appealed, Rise had their demerit points reduced to 15, and Reform’s were reduced to 14.
“[The] CRO made it very clear that this election should not be about submitting allegation after allegation, and making the election environment so hostile between the two teams,” said Malik in an interview with The Varsity.
Malik says that the CRO encouraged both teams to appeal the allegations, but forbade any further campaigning until the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) had ruled on the appeals of both slates.
The ERC was not scheduled to meet until Thursday evening. The candidates were thus permitted to participate in the forums “conditionally,” meaning they could promote the forum online on Wednesday night but still could not campaign any further.
Neither of the teams had been officially re-qualified before the All Candidates Forum.
All Candidates’ Forum
Rise and Reform went head-to-head at the forum, held at UTM’s Blind Duck Pub on March 5.
Ebi Agbeyegbe, the presidential candidate for UTM Rise and current UTMSU vice-president external, faced Malik, currently a director for the UTMSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors, in the opening segment of the forum.
“I want to increase access to education,”Agbeyegbe proclaimed to the crowd at the forum. Agbeyegbe referred to the high level of parking, meal plan, and residence fees at UTM, noting student dissatisfaction.
“When we talk about access to education, we’re talking about fees. Fees are the main things that distract us from our lives. As a union, we’re here to fight fees,” he said.
For her part, Malik said that the relationship between students and the student union troubles her. “The reason I decided to run is because the relationship is quite weak,” she said, recounting her conversations with students who expressed that they felt left out. “I believe that this is because there is a wall that exists between the students and the students union. One of my main goals this year is to break that wall.”
When asked to name their top three platform points, UTM Rise stated that transit services, food services, and communication with university administration were their goals.
“For transit services, our team has committed to consulting students on the various services that run through the Mississauga Campus,” read a portion of UTM Rise’s statement. The slate also committed to identifying issues with the shuttle service to the St. George campus and improving services provided by MiWay Mississauga Transit.
Regarding food services at UTM, Rise hopes to increase the number of food providers at UTM. “[We] hope to add more healthy, authentic and affordable food options by continuing discussions on the overall campus food quality,” the candidates said.
Referring to the recent strike on campus, Rise candidates noted that students are frustrated by the lack of information and direction provided to them, and have pledged to improve communication between students and university authorities. “[We] hope to raise all the concerns brought to us by the undergraduate membership,” they affirmed.
UTM Reform, on the other hand, said that they would like to implement a more transparent hiring process, a new forum called Union Ear, and an expansion of the UTMSU bursary programme and more accessible financial aid.
Malik says that job opportunities with the UTMSU are not advertised enough and that many feel that they would be unsuccessful even if they tried to apply. “Many students have shared their concerns with us stating that they don’t believe they can be hired by UTMSU without being “friends” with people in the office,” Malik claims.
Malik believes that an applicant should have the right to know why they were accepted or rejected from a job at the union.
In her speech at the All Candidates’ Forum, Malik also mentioned that students were turning to social media such as Spotted at UTM, to ask questions and share their problems. “People [wouldn’t] resort to posting about life’s depressions on Spotted at UTM if they had an actual open and safe environment within the Union which could provide all students with advice and comfort in their time of need,” she says of her proposed service.
Expanding UTMSU bursaries and making student aid more accessible remains a cornerstone of Reform’s platform. “Let’s create more student aid programs, acquire sponsors for annual student grants, so that students who need help paying for books and living accommodations can apply for aid while tackling financial struggles,” Malik said.
Voting will take place on March 10, 11, and 12.
With files from Nicole Danesi, The Medium.