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The Breakdown: UTSU and UTMSU elections

What you need to know ahead of the campaign and voting period
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The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections campaign period will begin on March 19, with voting taking place from March 26–28.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections will run in a similar period, with campaigning set to begin on March 12 and the voting period falling between March 20 and 22.

Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about the upcoming elections.

What is the UTSU?

The UTSU represents all full-time undergraduate students at UTSG and UTM who have paid the membership fee of $18.76 per session. As the union represents around 50,000 students, this means that the UTSU receives well over $1 million in membership fees each year. In the 2017–2018 academic year, the revenue from student fees was projected to be $1,858,818.53.

Students also pay a variety of other fees to the UTSU, many of which are refundable. These include a $0.50 orientation fee, a $162.28 Health and Dental Plan fee, and a $10.24 fee for the Student Commons, which is set to increase in 2018–2019. In total, students pay $194.49 to the UTSU per semester, of which $163.28 is refundable.

The union uses its operating budget of over $3 million to advocate for students and provide services, such as “running the student health & dental insurance plan, funding campus clubs, and offering grants to students in need,” according to its website.

Recent advocacy campaigns of the UTSU include their initiative to create a Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) and its commitment to improve the proposed Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. The UTSU website also lists various campaigns, including food security, housing, and sexual violence.

The UTSU operates through an executive team of seven students as well as a 57-member board of directors. The Executive Committee consists of the President and six Vice-Presidents. A designate from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) also sits on the Executive Committee. The elected board members represent either a college, faculty, academic field, or the Transitional Year Programme.

What is the UTMSU?          

All undergraduate students at UTM are also represented through their own student union, the UTMSU. In the 2015–2016 academic year, full-time students paid a membership fee of $14.11 per session and part-time students paid $1.04 per session. The UTMSU received $2,565,974 in revenue during the 2016–2017 school year.

Representing over 13,000 students, the union’s mission includes safeguarding the rights of students, providing services and activities, and lobbying for student interests.

The UTMSU’s services include providing bursaries, running the Blind Duck Pub, and operating the UTM Food Centre, which provides for food insecure students.

UTMSU campaigns include Academic Advocacy, which seeks to help students accused of academic offenses; Know Your Rights!, which educates students on the rights they have; and No Means No, a campaign developed by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to fight against “sexual assault, acquaintance rape, and dating violence.”

The operations of the UTMSU are carried out by their elected 15-person Board of Directors and their elected six-person Executive Committee.

Key UTSU elections issues

The elections are sure to feature intriguing issues, board attendance and staff layoffs among them.

Attendance at Board of Directors meetings has been down this year, with an average attendance among directors of 49 per cent since November. It remains to be seen whether or not board restructuring to motivate higher attendance will play a role in the election.

The UTSU has also hired several Outreach Associates to assist with the You Decide campaign to leave the CFS. The CFS is a national organization that represents students’ unions across Canada, with provincial organizations such as CFS–Ontario, of which the UTSU is a member. Of late, the UTSU has been campaigning against the organization, which is where the You Decide campaign plays its role. Outreach Associates are responsible for collecting student signatures on a petition to defederate from the CFS. Last year, You Decide failed to reach the requisite amount and had to restart the petition. To hold the referendum, the petition must be signed by 20 per cent of students in the membership. Current UTSU President Mathias Memmel told The Varsity that the campaign is currently looking for 4,000 more signatures, which would exceed the requirement and provide a buffer.

The Student Commons, a project to create a building run by students to house student services and clubs, which has been in the works since 2007, is set to open its doors in September 2018. The project has put a strain on the UTSU’s finances, and the union will run deficits for the first five years after gaining occupancy of the building.

The extra expenses have motivated the UTSU to lay off staff such as the Health and Dental Coordinator and Clubs Coordinator, as well as to employ cost-saving measures to keep the union from going bankrupt. Memmel has said that the Student Commons financial plan must be followed with little to no deviation in order to keep the union afloat.

Of note, the election will feature a referendum for UTSG members to vote on a student U-Pass. The cost of a U-Pass could be as much as a mandatory $322.50 per semester, or $80.60 a month, depending on what is decided at a TTC board meeting on March 20.

The UTSU and UTMSU will also be renegotiating their membership agreement. UTMSU President Salma Fakhry told The Varsity in February that the goal of the UTMSU is to “strengthen the contract” between the two unions, as UTM students make up one fourth of the UTSU’s membership.