At the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) latest board of directors’ meeting, a motion to strike an ad-hoc committee to investigate the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) was passed.
The mover of the motion, University College director Daman Singh, told The Varsity that the purpose of the committee is to analyze the union’s relationship with the CFS and the ways in which that relationship benefits the unions’ membership.
Singh explained that despite the fact that the UTSU pays around $750,000 in fees to the CFS each year, the union’s relationship with the federation has never been formally scrutinized.
“Members have been raising concerns about the cost of being in the CFS and it’s something that’s always been swept under the rug,” said Singh, adding, “It’s something that’s never been formally addressed by the UTSU. In no other scenario would the UTSU ever get away with paying $750,000 and not having that line item scrutinized by the board of directors.”
Despite a noted paucity of conversation at a governance level, the union’s relationship with the CFS has been the subject of controversy for several years among U of T students. The CFS is currently engaged in several law suits with other Canadian students’ unions looking to leave it’s membership; U of T’s own Graduate Students’ Union has been attempting to leave since 2013, the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society successfully left in 2014, and a vote of the membership of Cape Breton Students’ Union to leave in 2008 was invalidated by The Superior Court of Justice, forcing the union to pay $295,000 in unpaid fees to the CFS.
Vice president internal Ryan Gomes agreed with Singh’s sentiments. He explained, “I can’t think of any other partnership where we would be in such a partnership for over a decade and then not critically look at it, especially with the price tag that’s attached.”
The union’s vice president internal and the vice president external will co-chair the committee. One director from Division I, one from Division II, two from Division I or II, and the union president will serve as the general membership of the committee —Division I includes colleges, the Faculty of Arts & Science, and the Transitional Year Program; Division II represents the Professional Faculties; Division III represents UTM. In addition, ex-officio speaking rights will be granted to all Division I and II directors, the heads of all college student societies and faculty student societies, as well as the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU).
Division III and other student heads from UTM will not be part of the committee and will not have ex-officio speaking rights.
During the meeting, Singh explained that this is because contractually, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) members are a part of Local 109 while other UTSU members are a part of Local 98.
“It is clear that Local 109 members, the UTMSU members, are separate from Local 98 members, the UTSU members. Everything that we’ve defined between myself and UTM directors points to that assumption,” said Singh.
The vote for the motion was conducted using a roll call vote, in lieu of the secret ballot system that has been favoured for previous motions.
“Some people on the board of directors felt that we should be accountable to our members on how we vote on this. Because members have been raising concerns, we need to show the members that we’re taking into account the concerns that they have,” said Singh, who supported the motion. “That was my reason for voting yes on roll call.”
Gomes, however, abstained from Memmel’s motion, as he believes that voting by roll call can be used as a pressure tactic.
He explained, “When I was on the board last year, I saw roll call votes used as a pressure tactic to make people vote one way or another and some people felt so uncomfortable that they left the room. So, I am on principle opposed to roll call votes in pretty much any circumstance.”
Gomes went on to explain, “I feel like if people really want to know how their representative is voting, they should attend the meetings or they should email them and ask them either beforehand or afterwards. The responsibility then rests on the representative to represent themselves to their constituents and stand by the decision that they made.”
In the end, there were 16 votes in favour, four abstentions, and one vote against.
The meeting was adjourned before board members could be elected onto the committee. The election of members of the committee is expected to occur at the next board of directors’ meeting.