The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its second executive debate on March 21, featuring the candidates for President, Vice-President Internal, Vice-President Campus Life, and Vice-President Professional Faculties — positions most concerned with the union’s operations. The first executive debate, featuring candidates for the union’s advocacy-oriented positions, was on March 21.
The debate was moderated by The Varsity’s former Managing Editor and current Toronto Star reporter, Jaren Kerr, who was paid $400 for his work moderating both the March 21 and 22 debates.
The presidential candidates
The debate began with a heated exchange between Compass candidate Anne Boucher and independent candidate Michelle Mabira. The spark for the exchange related to Mabira’s allegation from the previous debate that Boucher had mocked Mabira and other members of the Save our services, Support our staff campaign in a photo Boucher posted. Boucher denied the allegation, telling Mabira, “I would appreciate if you stuck to the facts,” while Mabira defended her original assertion.
The clash continued when the recent legal settlement between Sandra Hudson and the UTSU was brought up. Boucher said the agreement “was not in the best interest of the students,” while Mabira said she was “okay with it” after reading the documents made available to the public, calling the lawsuit a polarizing issue.
The tension dissolved when Kerr turned the attention of the debate towards operations. Neither candidate expressed support for combining the role of VP University Affairs and VP Internal, saying it would reduce the services offered to students. Boucher and Mabira both listed lobbying for tuition fee caps for international students and the reduction of domestic fees as key priorities if elected.
Mabira expressed that the union should play a bigger role in advocating for students with the administration and ensuring that the needs of students are at the centre of decision making. Boucher argued that there are student groups who effectively advocate for the people they represent, and that the UTSU “shouldn’t duplicate their work.”
When asked about leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Mabira said she would stay neutral on the issue. Mabira explained she would seek student opinions on the CFS and hold the CFS publicly accountable for problematic behaviour like the hidden bank account. Boucher called the CFS an “awful group,” and called a neutral stance on the CFS “unprincipled.” If elected, she would run a campaign against the CFS, citing that most students do not know about what the group does.
Student involvement and accountability were reoccurring themes in the debate. Mabira said she would lobby for the administration to hire student consultants for the policymaking process. Boucher sees the UTSU as an advisor and would remind the administration that the UTSU cannot fill their quota for student outreach.
In terms of increasing student engagement, Mabira said that awareness and club outreach are key to increasing engagement. Boucher emphasized making the UTSU more human and transparent.
The VP candidates
Discussion on the union’s finances sparked heated debate among the candidates for VP Internal. Alyy Patel, who is running with 🅱️oundless, proposed opening a student pub in the Student Commons as a source of revenue to be used for student bursaries. Patel also pledged to get rid of the budget for candidate reimbursements, reduce the phone allowance for executives, and move orientation retreats onto campus. While Compass candidate Tyler Biswurm agreed that the UTSU should cut unnecessary expenses for events like the Unity Ball, he called Patel’s pub proposal unrealistic, citing deficits run by many other student union-run pubs around the country.
Biswurm also pointed out that during Patel’s time as one of the UTSU orientation coordinators, the orientation team went on a separate retreat, costing the UTSU $3,000. Patel defended her stance, pointing out that she “wasn’t the only orientation leader” making the decision.
When asked about accountability, Patel said she would eliminate Robert’s Rules of Order, which are the rules of parliamentary procedure that the UTSU abides by for its board meetings. Patel views Robert’s Rules as outdated and inaccessible and also pledged to make the UTSU less “generally toxic.” Biswurm said that humanizing the UTSU would increase engagement. He argued that Compass is running candidates that fulfill the requirements of the positions, not students chosen for their political advantages. He said he initially intended as a Director for Victoria College, but Compass approached him because he “was a good person.”
The VP Professional Faculties debate centred around increasing engagement for students in professional programs, as well as advocacy and mental health. Gallop Jia Le Fan from 🅱️oundless said he would “hire associates that are just around to talk to people at faculties” to gauge interest and search for student leaders in professional faculties. Compass’ Yasmine El Sanyoura thinks the position of the VP Professional Faculties should ensure the UTSU is “more human” to the professional faculties. Both candidates said they would consider the busy schedules of their constituents students when planning events. Fan said he would move “events to different buildings” to counteract scheduling difficulties.
Sanyoura wants to carry out a “mental health audit” of the faculties, and use the results to lobby for specialized mental health care from the university. Both candidates think that representing 10 professional faculties with one VP is ineffective.
Sanyoura pledged that bursaries and scholarships would be more widely available by loosening their criteria. Fan said that students who do not meet current criteria are “out of luck” and would focus on outreach rather than increasing available awards.
The VP Campus Life debate focused on orientation, club funding, and the funding of controversial clubs. Compass candidate Yolanda Alfaro said the UTSU increased exposure for clubs last year by combining the orientation carnival with the annual parade. She said she would work towards accommodating commuters and increase billeting during orientation by working with colleges.
Spencer Robertson, who is running independently, envisioned the Student Commons a a “central hub” for commuter students. He proposed implementing a rotating schedule for orientation events so students with conflicting schedules can participate fully. Both candidates want to make the process for booking rooms simpler, and relax the guidelines for club recognition so funding is more easily accessible. Alfaro proposed a clubs’ summit, where leaders “learn from each other.”
When asked about funding controversial groups, such as anti-abortion groups, both candidates expressed opposition. Robertson said, “they have a right to exist, not a right for funding” and would rather spend the money on more spaghetti days. Alfaro concurred, explaining, “I, and the Compass slate, would not feel comfortable funding clubs that would take rights away from students.”
The Varsity’s own debate with the candidates for President and VP Internal will take place in our newsroom, on the second floor of 21 Sussex Ave, at 6:00pm on March 23.