The first University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) I ever went to was a mess. People were angry, the agenda got voted down, and then everyone went home. Accordingly, most people don’t have high expectations for UTSU General Meetings. In fact, the AGM has become an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy: meetings that should be an orderly discussion of student desires for the UTSU slide into chaos because it’s what people have come to expect.
People who can’t concentrate because of the noise, or who become frustrated by procedural abuses stop coming. People who need to work, study, commute, or go home to take care of their families become convinced that it’s not worth the effort to come at all. I really don’t blame them.
Unfortunately, these are the people that need a functional students’ union the most. Better financial aid and job opportunities are integral for students, especially those that work long hours to fund their educations. Advocating for better transit helps students who will otherwise remember their undergraduate degrees as a string of TTC delays. A functional student union can get stuff done — our recent fall reading week referendum demonstrated overwhelming student support for a longer fall break with a historic turnout. Union work can change the status quo and improve the lives of all students on campus.
Right now, however, the UTSU finds itself in a unique situation that is preventing us from addressing these issues. The federal government has changed the law so that there is a new Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act. Because of this, some parts of the UTSU’s internal rules (the Bylaws) aren’t legal anymore, and must be changed. The most important of these changes concerns the list of seats on the Board of Directors, and which students those seats represent. This is contentious, of course, because it could affect the existing balance of power.
The government guide to moving to the new act says that compliant bylaws should be passed before the act comes into affect. The act began to apply to the UTSU over a year ago on October 14, 2014. After two AGMs and three proposals, the UTSU still does not have compliant bylaws. We have called another general meeting for mid-November, which has been the usual date for UTSU AGMs throughout the past decade, to resolve this situation.
On the agenda is a modified version of the proposal that was elected for approval during October’s AGM. It complies with the law. It keeps the balance of power, even between campuses, more or less the same. It even adds some equity seats, which are not perfect in conception, but are still a strong improvement over our current structure. We would like to pass this proposal so we can get back to work directly improving student life.
Advocating procrastination does real damage to our future as a union. We are currently planning a general meeting in January completely devoted to the discussion of, and voting on, student-submitted proposals on issues like transit, accessibility, and equity. Anything that prevents the success of this November meeting means that our January meeting will be monopolized by procedural debate, which will push student-submitted proposals even further into the future and continue to push students away from their UTSU. We will be in gridlock.
The solution to this problem is simple. We need to have this meeting now. We need to make these changes so we can move on. If you want the UTSU to serve its students, then you need to come to this meeting.
A meeting reflects the desires of the people attending it. If most of the people at our meeting genuinely want the UTSU to pass compliant bylaws and get back to our work improving student lives, then that is what will happen. If you are tired of the procedural chaos and showboating, come help us end it.
Mark Wednesday November 18, 5:30 p.m. in your calendar and join us in the OISE Auditorium. If you can’t, find a friend who is going and proxy your vote to them, starting tomorrow using utsu.simplyvoting.com; make sure to do it before 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday November 17.
Ben Coleman is the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.