Amidst marching bands, samosas, and talk of financial crisis, the 2017 UTSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) focused largely on the details of bylaw amendments and the addition of a nineteenth bylaw aimed at increasing the union’s autonomy.
The meeting was attended by approximately 93 members carrying a total of 335 votes through proxies, and had notably more security than in previous years, the result of a new regulation created by the administration following disruptions and protests during previous UTSU meetings.
UTSU President Mathias Memmel provided dramatic opening remarks, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between unity and uniformity, stating that students are often urged to rally behind their leaders and trust them blindly without asking questions. He referenced a labour chant often used by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS): “the students united will never be defeated.”
Memmel’s remarks were met with pointed questions regarding service cuts and the UTSU’s relationship with UTM.
Student Julia DaSilva presented a petition to reinstate Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez and Vita Carlino, while Michelle Mabira asked what steps the UTSU will take to replace the services Galvez and Carlino provided.
Memmel emphasized that the decision was not subject to review and claimed that most of those students who signed the petition were not UTSU members. He added that the decision to eliminate the positions was necessary because the Student Commons will leave the UTSU with a $3 million deficit in the next 10 years.
Memmel stated that the UTSU executives will not reconsider their decision. “We have the option; we’re choosing not to,” he said in response to Mabira’s question.
President of the UTMSU Salma Fakhry subsequently noted the lack of UTM students attending the meeting, criticizing the UTSU for opening applications for proxy forms during UTM reading week, which she argued made it more difficult for UTM students to submit them.
Vice President Internal Daman Singh presented the receipt of the 2016-2017 financial statements. A motion then passed with a clear majority to have the union use a new auditing firm, Sloan and Partners LLP. Singh said that the UTSU had been working with Yale and Partners LLP for several years, and that Sloan and Partners is a reputable firm.
While the actual presentation of the financial statements failed to produce much debate, discussions about the union’s “financial crisis” became a topic of discussion during the first of three bylaw amendments that took up much of the rest of the debate.
Three bylaw amendments were put forward, including the formation of a VP Advocacy position, the formation of a Equity Collective under the VP Equity’s portfolio, and the submission of circumstances under which a director would be expected to resign.
Singh and Memmel argued the VP Advocacy position is a necessary step for cutting expenses in light of the union’s financial crisis. The motion, however, was met with heavy opposition from board members, executives, and general members.
Tensions running high, Singh argued that students should not oppose the elimination of old positions just because “they want to run for it.” The point was met with audible objection; former Board member Andrew Sweeny called the outburst a “personal attack” on certain members, and Singh later apologized for the comment.
The motion to dissolve the positions of VP External and VP University Affairs into the VP Advocacy position ultimately failed. Vice President External Anne Boucher, who was surprised by the outcome, expressed her approval of the final decision. “There are other ways [to] keep the lights on versus cutting such an important part of our mandate,” she told The Varsity.
The other two bylaws — the formation of a Collective Equity Committee and the establishment of stricter regulations for the abandonment of office — passed despite extensive debate both for and against them.
Bylaw XIX, the only motion on the agenda, looked to address the union’s autonomy in relation to external groups. Memmel blatantly spoke of his disapproval of the CFS and how this amendment would prevent future, similar binding engagements from occurring.
When asked whether the bylaw was about the CFS, his response was “yes and no.” According to Memmel, the bylaw was more about “future errors, like joining the CFS,” as well as ensuring that the board has full control over whether or not to join external organizations.
Singh approached the bylaw as a method of ensuring the autonomy of the UTSU. In an interview with The Varsity, he stressed the importance of the UTSU keeping itself out of a contract that is “either incredibly hard to get out of, or needs bilateral support [to get out of].”
Debate around the motion focused on the fourth statement of the bylaw: to reverse or amend it, at least ten per cent of the membership must be present and it must be passed with a three-quarters majority vote.
Students criticized a seeming paradox in the bylaw: that the bylaw aimed to make the executive and board more autonomous over its actions but, at the same time, functioned as a motion that would be practically impossible to amend or reverse. UTSU elections, let alone AGMs, rarely reach participation from ten per cent of the membership.
Bylaw XIX was ultimately carried as presented, as discussion on the matter was cut short to adjourn the meeting before the room’s booking time expired.