Following the election of the 2016-2017 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executives and Board of Directors, The Varsity’s Editorial Board wrote about the “bankruptcy of substance” that seemed to have befallen the elections process and the candidates’ platforms.
With the UTSU having recently taken a public stance on decertification from the Canadian Federation of Students and the You Decide campaign, we are glad to say that the situation has improved in this respect.
Last year’s elections were disappointing when compared to the previous year’s elections. In 2015-2016, the Brighter U of T slate had succeeded in sweeping a victory over a largely incumbent pro-CFS slate by promising transparency and accountability on issues that mattered to students and that were within the purview of the UTSU, which included decertification.
A year later, neither of the presidential candidates — including current UTSU president Jasmine Wong Denike, a previous member of the ostensibly reform-driven Brighter slate — took a strong position on the union’s membership in the CFS.
But CFS membership has continued to matter greatly to a large number of U of T students, many of whom believe that a referendum on decertification from the federation is overdue. The You Decide campaign that launched this fall, which prompted this newspaper to encourage students to critically evaluate the federation’s value, is just the most recent of a long line of initiatives that illustrates how dissatisfied students are with the status quo.
Many who are currently attending U of T will not remember the attempts made by divisional societies to defederate from the UTSU in 2013. These attempts centred largely around perceived ‘undemocratic’ processes within the UTSU, including accusations that the CFS had played an inappropriate role in UTSU elections. This action precipitated the Student Societies Summit and the creation of the university’s Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations.
Coupled with the election of the Brighter U of T slate, it would have been reasonable to expect that the past years would have comprised, at the very least, robust discussion about the role of the CFS at U of T. While these discussions were conspicuously absent last year, up to and including the election of this year’s executives, it is fortunate that some UTSU leaders seem to be committed to bringing this matter to the forefront once more.
At the beginning of January, UTSU Vice President Internal and Services, Mathias Memmel told The Varsity that he didn’t “have any reason to think that the CFS is capable of reform,” and that he hoped revelations regarding the handling of a hidden bank account by the CFS would energize the You Decide campaign at U of T.
These sentiments were reiterated in a joint statement signed by Denike, Memmel, Vice-President External Matthew Thomas, and Vice-President Professional Faculties Ryan Gomes this week. “The time has come for the members of Local 98 to pursue a future outside of the Canadian Federation of Students,” a portion of the statement reads.
Whatever your personal thoughts on the CFS, this stand by the executives should be seen as a bold, courageous move, and a commitment to students, showing that they will not shy away from issues that matter to them. It has the ability to inject much-needed substance into student union politics at this university, and to spark important debates ahead of the UTSU elections this spring.
Denike, Memmel, Thomas, and Gomes should be commended for taking this step. Consequently, students should watch closely to see what action — if any — this statement will lead to, particularly as it pertains to to the You Decide campaign. The budding relationship between the UTSU and You Decide will need to be clarified and refined in the coming weeks to ensure that the referendum proceeds smoothly.