Well before this year’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) campaign season began, students were given notice of the existence of a decidedly anti-establishment slate dubbed Reboot UofT. Reboot’s leaked platform included promises such as dissolving the executive, cutting the number of full-time staff, and avoiding “political involvement/virtue signalling pet projects.”
All of this seemed to indicate that the slate’s members were capitalizing on a wave of anti-establishment sentiments that have been growing in U of T’s student population since this past fall, at the latest. Yet it is now clear that the self-proclaimed ‘outsiders’ will remain as such for at least another year, having failed to secure a single position on the Executive Committee.
How is it that Reboot did not garner adequate support in a year that saw such divisive debates over the role of the union on campus? The truth is that throughout the campaign season, Reboot displayed a profound disregard for the procedures that govern UTSU elections. Its members routinely demonstrated unfamiliarity with issues pertinent to students, in addition to exhibiting a degree of unjustified vulgarity.
It is certainly possible that there are problems with the way UTSU elections are run, including with respect to the jurisdictions of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) and Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC). The fact that members of these governing bodies have working and personal relationships with the candidates to whom they are supposed to be issuing rulings raises all sorts of questions, all of which deserve to be investigated in their own right.
Many students found it opportune, for instance, that the demerit points issued by the CRO and ERC with regard to comments made on Reboot’s Facebook page resulted in the disqualification of several members of the slate. However, pretending that these members were disqualified purely because of the slate’s political bent, as some have done, is silly and dishonest.
Many of the offences for which members of the Reboot slate were issued demerit points were entirely avoidable, such as several incidences of pre-campaigning, including by the slate’s former presidential candidate, Micah Ryu. While the Facebook comments may have been the tipping point, it was certainly not a single incident of refusal to adhere to standards of ‘political correctness’ that disqualified these candidates — it was their sustained lack of discipline in running their campaign.
The Reboot campaign also reflected a lack of familiarity with pertinent issues. In an interview with The Varsity, Reboot’s candidate for Vice-President Equity Keelie Shay-Eaid displayed a profound lack of understanding of the equity issues surrounding the UTSU, such as the allegations by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) that the union contains elements of anti-black racism.
Shay-Eaid said that the BLC’s narrative was “pretty aggressive,” but also said she supported their demands. One such demand is the discontinuation of the lawsuit against the union’s former Executive Director Sandra Hudson, and Shay-Eaid was unable to clarify whether or not she supported it. A day later, she commented on The Varsity’s webpage where her interview was published, stating that this representation was inaccurate and that she fully supported the continuation of the lawsuit.
Ryu himself was disqualified hours before the presidential debate hosted by The Varsity on March 13, but decided to participate nonetheless. In response to a question about UTM students feeling disconnected from UTSU elections, Ryu responded, “Frankly, UTM students should fuck off.”
It is entirely possible that the relationship between UTM and the UTSU should be called into question, but there was no need to so crudely discount a significant portion of U of T’s student population. UTM students are certainly not responsible for the details of the legal relationship between their campus and the union — and all of them pay fees directly into the UTSU’s pockets.
During the same debate, as well as the prior executive forum hosted by the UTSU itself, Reboot representatives constantly defaulted to increased funding for clubs as the ultimate solution to the union’s problems — a solution that could, they argued, solve everything from equity disputes to advocacy to concerns about free speech. Such an approach is neither logical nor pragmatic.
Ultimately, Reboot’s downfall can be traced to the slate’s refusal to follow the rules, even for the purpose of being empowered to tear them down. It is a disservice to students to pretend to offer an alternative to corruption within the UTSU and then run a campaign that lacks organization, thoughtfulness, and respect.
It remains to be seen whether the UTSU’s next year of governance will bring with it significant changes to the status quo. Issues like the future of the Hudson lawsuit, contract negotiations with the union’s permanent staff, and the UTSU’s relationship with the CFS are among the items that will define the incoming executive team as insiders or disruptors.
I hope I am not alone in considering my vote something to be earned. While Reboot certainly had the chance to do so, it squandered that chance by failing to follow procedure and displaying a lack of forethought on many of the issues that are of importance to students.
One thing that is clear from Reboot’s failure is that if students want to challenge the establishment, they should not expect to be exempted from its rules.
Reut Cohen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying International Relations. She is The Varsity’s Arts & Culture Editor. The views expressed here are her own.