The results are in and the Hello UofT slate has taken all but one of the executive positions in this year’s elections for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). As someone who has previously written about the dubious influence of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) on our union’s politics, I can’t say I’m unhappy with these results. Even the campaign season itself was relatively lacking in scandal, which was a relief in light of previous years’ shenanigans.
Some have raised questions about the appropriateness of slate campaigning in UTSU elections. Although it’s fair to say that slate politicking discourages independent candidates from running, that hardly seems reason enough to stop a team of people who share similar goals from aligning themselves under an umbrella platform. The fact that this year’s election was very much a contest between two slates, however, does raise very interesting questions about the results.
There was a great deal of variation in the votes for executive positions. Jasmine Wong Denike, president-elect; Shahin Imtiaz, vice president, campus life-elect; and Farah Noori, vice president, equity-elect, all received over 400 more votes than their 1UofT counterparts. Meanwhile, the race for vice president, external saw Hello’s Lucinda Qu win by a mere 18 votes.
Hello’s candidate for vice president, internal and services, Mathias Memmel, lost to 1UofT’s Carina Zhang by a similarly slim margin of 37 votes, resulting in what might be termed a mixed executive. It might be assumed that the executive candidates of a slate would receive relatively similar votes, so it’s interesting to see this degree of variance.
In any case, the election procedure reforms that came into effect this year were certainly a welcome change. In previous elections, staff of the York Federation of Students and the Ryerson Students’ Union could be seen campaigning for their CFS-backed counterparts. Under the new Election Procedures Code, the use of external campaigners is prohibited.
The 1UofT slate was investigated for its campaigning on an Instagram account managed by Guled Arale, who was found to not be a fee-paying member of the UTSU. In fact, Arale is the former vice president, external of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency is still prevalent in our student politics.
Other peculiar violations of campaign procedure were investigated by the CRO, including a blog entry that was circulated on a Chinese social media website called WeChat, which appeared to be an endorsement of the 1UofT slate. According to The Varsity’s translation of this post, the blog contained “bizarre” descriptions of the candidates’ physical appearance, comparing Lera Nwineh, vice president, campus life candidate to American president Barack Obama, as well as describing vice president, external candidate Andre Fast as the “hot guy.”
Of course, discussion of a candidate’s physical appearance has absolutely no relevance to what they promise to do for the students of this university. It also showcases nauseating pandering to Chinese students that’s reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s recent attempt to show Hispanic voters why she’s just like your abuela.
I’m almost reluctant to mention the abysmal turnout of this year’s elections, which was 9.7 per cent. What is perhaps more worrying is the abstention rate of many of the votes. The abstention rate in each of the executive races was between 27.3 and 37.7 percent, demonstrating that even many of those students who take the time to vote do not have a preference of candidates or platforms.
As the slogan goes, we’ll be saying “hello” to a new UTSU next year, but whether or not this represents real change in the health of student democracy remains to be seen.
Disclosure: Shahin Imtiaz is a former associate science editor for The Varsity.
Reut Cohen is a first-year student studying international relations at Trinity College. She is The Varsity’s associate arts and culture editor.