Students took full advantage of a question period at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting, asking the executives about topics ranging from the operations of the Student Commons to the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
Immediately prior to question period, UTSU President Anne Boucher delivered her presidential address. Boucher reflected on the tumultuous relationship the union has had with its constituency in the past, citing, in particular, how 95 per cent of engineering students voted to leave the UTSU in 2013.
She stressed that the UTSU is focused on building strong financial relationships and wants “to be the best UTSU possible in absolute terms rather than relative ones.”
Following Boucher’s address, the floor was opened up to questions from members.
Canadian Federation of Students
Joshua Bowman, Academic Director for Social Sciences, asked about the executives’ campaign promise to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student association representing over 70 post-secondary student associations across the country.
Boucher said that, through her personal experience with the CFS, she feels that there is no room for internal change in the organization. In the past, she has been a strong supporter of leaving the CFS.
In response to another question from Bowman about You Decide — a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the CFS — Boucher stated that the UTSU is not actively collecting signatures for a referendum, and added that any petitions are independent of the UTSU.
In one of the more notable parts of the AGM, Vice President, Operations Tyler Biswurm revealed that the opening date for the Student Commons has been pushed back — again — from January 2019 to April 2019.
The Students Commons is a proposed student-run centre at UTSG that is 11 years in the making. The building was originally scheduled to open in September 2018 but was delayed to January 2019 over the summer.
Biswurm gave similar reasons for this delay as he did for the last one, saying that the building’s age as well as contracting complications have caused problems in the renovation process.
On this point, member Tom Yun asked about reports that The Newspaper, an independent campus publication, had been denied office space in the Commons.
Former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel responded that despite covering issues relating to U of T, The Newspaper does not have status within the university. As such, the UTSU made the decision to prioritize U of T clubs.
Boucher assured the union’s membership that other student groups that were promised space in the Student Commons were told about the delay and have spaces elsewhere until the opening.
New College Student Council President Madison Hönig raised a concern about a lack of preparedness during orientation, specifically regarding students’ access to water.
Hönig said that the UTSU did not provide a sufficient supply of water to students, which posed a health problem on Parade Day, as it was especially hot.
In response, UTSU Vice President, Student Life Yolanda Alfaro acknowledged that they were not prepared for the extreme heat. Alfaro stated that more needed to be done in creating contingency plans for unexpected events like weather.
Following that, Arts and Science Students’ Union President Haseeb Hassaan asked about who was taking on the responsibilities of the UTSU’s General Manager (GM) position, which has been vacant since mid-July.
Boucher responded that the union has brought in Memmel to help with financial management while the UTSU searches for a new GM, which they hope to have by mid-November.
Explaining the rationale behind Memmel’s hire, Boucher acknowledged that “people tend to jump to certain conspiracies,” but that “when you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization… it’s a good resource to have.”
“It’s unfair to assume that having a presence of someone who has been a past executive would be something that is worth discussing,” she added.
With regard to the empty GM position, 2018 UTSU Junior Orientation Coordinator Dhvani Ramanujam asked about who was handling the union’s human resources concerns. When Biswurm responded that he and Boucher were filling the role, Ramanujam asked if it was a conflict of interest that the person who handles paycheques also handles complaints.
Biswurm responded that he did not think it was a conflict of interest. He said he believes it is the “default arrangement” in other employment contexts, as “the boss telling you how to do your job is also the person who signs your cheques.”
However, Biswurm acknowledged that there were gaps that he and Boucher could not fill, which is why the UTSU is aiming to hire a GM soon.
Near the end of the question period, a student asked the executives if they would endorse a college for the U of T Memes for True ?lue Teens meme bracket, a competition in a Facebook group that is pitting the university’s colleges and faculties against each other.
Boucher responded that while “there is not an official UTSU take on the war going on… my heart is in engineering.”
— With files from Ilya Bañares, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi
Disclosure: Tom Yun is The Varsity’s former Managing Online Editor (2017–2018) and News Editor (2016–2017).
Editor’s Note (December 13, 5:18 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Boucher about the UTSU being the best in absolute terms rather than relative ones.