UTSU AGM rife with “procedural showboating”

Students argue over motions from the floor, voting thresholds
UTSU president Ben Coleman voting for a motion at the 2015 AGM. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY
UTSU president Ben Coleman voting for a motion at the 2015 AGM. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

Amidst voting on the highly-anticipated board structure proposals, the appearance of the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad and their subsequent eviction, and the chair’s constant calls for order, it was evident that procedural disputes were a prime source of controversy at the recent University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The disputes began during a motion to approve the agenda. This was the first time that such a motion has appeared at an AGM since 2012. The meeting took place on October seventh, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Adding motions to the agenda

Madina Siddiqui, president of the Afghan Students’ Association, challenged the chair when he ruled her attempt to add a motion from the floor to the agenda out of order. Siddiqui’s motion was to include UTSU clubs in the UTSU’s budgeting process.

Brad Evoy, the chair of the meeting and UTSU speaker, explained that the issue with the motion was its timing. He later clarified in an interview with The Varsity, that motions for the AGM require a certain degree of notice, according to the UTSU by-laws and Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA). “Any motion which violates these provisions would not be binding upon the Board or Union generally, if passed.”

Siddiqui argued that she had submitted the motion punctually and that it was rejected. “As a member and club president, I submitted my first AGM motion on time to the UTSU VP Internal to be considered at the AGM but it was denied because he felt clubs couldn’t be incorporated into the UTSU budget process,” Siddiqui said. “It’s really simple to include us — and I felt I had to represent clubs at the AGM.”

Siddiqui successfully challenged the chair, and the motion was added to the agenda.

A similar argument occurred when Jack Rising, a first-year student, also attempted to add a motion to the agenda. Rising’s motion called for the elimination of all tuition fees, but was ruled out of order by Evoy.

“This isn’t very democratic,” Rising said at the meeting. Much like Evoy’s ruling on Siddiqui’s motion, the ruling was once again overturned and Rising’s motion was added to the agenda.

The meeting adjourned before either motion could be discussed and with a substantial number of other items still on the agenda. These motions will carry over to the UTSU’s Special General Meeting later this year. Siddiqui affirmed her plan to continue to pursue her motion: “Now that the board structure has been defeated, we can vote on the clubs motion and other issues’ motions at the next general meeting… I will continue to fight for clubs to be represented within the UTSU,” she said.

Voting thresholds and “procedural showboating”

During the discussion of the election of a board structure proposal, Ryan Gomes, UTSU vice-president internal and services, called for a vote recount on a motion to call the question. A straw poll showed the motion to call the question had indeed passed.

A student then raised a point of order to claim that a two-thirds majority was necessary to call the question, leading Evoy to pause the meeting to review procedural guidelines.

Abdulla Omari, director for UTM, challenged the point of order, and a back-and-forth ensued between members in attendance and the chair to determine whether the vote to call the question was procedurally correct.

“It was clear that some students and UTSU executives tried to use procedure to stall and extend the meeting for their personal agenda,” said Siddiqui, adding that students did not get the chance to discuss motions on Black Lives Matter and sexual violence due to the long discussions on the board structure and agenda.

Auni Ahsan, director for Victoria College, added himself to the speaking list, asking that the meeting, “stop with the procedural showboating”, and that, “students’ time is worth more than this.”

The call to question eventually passed, but the motion to adopt the Zhuk-Singh proposal ultimately failed. Calls for a recount and a reconsideration of the motion followed, Afterwards, there were calls for orders of the day, which called for the meeting to end as it was past the 10:00 pm end time that was advertised on the UTSU’s social media outlets.

Gomes and Evoy debated the end-time, with Gomes claiming it was unofficial and not specified on the agenda. Gomes moved to overturn the orders of the day to allow the meeting to continue. Eventually, however, he moved to adjourn the meeting due to what he saw as a lack of productivity. “It’s clear that nothing is going to pass. We need to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

In a post-meeting interview, Gomes explained his part in challenging the chair and calling for a recount. “Part of that stemmed from frustration and part of that stemmed from believing that if the meeting was extended things might go more favourably, which clearly was not the case. I do apologize sincerely… it was a very confusing meeting for a lot of people and a lot of people felt disengaged from the level of procedure.”

Throughout the evening, students raised numerous points of information, points of order, and points of personal privilege in order to question lengths of speaking times, the order of items on the agenda, and to contest other procedural matters. Ellie Adekur, the anti-harassment officer for the meeting, stepped in to remind attendees that using Robert’s Rules of Order to prolong the meeting strategically alienates specific groups of students who are marginalized in terms of race and class.

Evoy echoed Adekur’s sentiments. “There is always, in student organizations, a disparity between those who follow the organization closely and those who want to newly engage. It is critical, then, that more experienced members keep this in mind and avoid the use of obscure terminology, esoteric motions, and acronyms.”

When asked for advice for those coming into the Special General Meeting, which is necessary following the failure to pass a board structure, Evoy said, “When considering procedure, we have to look beyond ‘the Rules’ and into the spirit of what will ensure a meeting runs successfully and fairly… If we conduct ourselves completely in accordance with the ‘legalisms’ of ‘the Rules’ but have even one member marginalized in the meeting space, then we have still failed and still have much to learn.”

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