We are about to begin elections for next year’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The at last October’s Annual General Meeting has made this year’s electoral period uniquely unpredictable, because slates have long been the main form of organization among candidates and successful candidates are usually aligned with one.
This sense of instability prompted an emergency meeting among UTSU members regarding the details of the elections. Above all was the concern that the nomination period — cut from 10 to five days — was insufficient for candidates to gather the necessary signatures. Joshua Bowman, the UTSU’s Social Sciences Director, proposed a motion to start the period one week earlier but was defeated in a close 6–5 vote. To Bowman, this extended period would have made the process more accessible.
The UTSU’s list of candidates is determined by the nomination period. During this time, director candidates must collect at least 25 signatures from their constituency and executive candidates must collect 100 signatures from UTSU members.
The decision to cut the time was done in an attempt to include a levy group’s requested referendum on the final election ballots. This required the submission of a petition to the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee three weeks prior to the nomination period. Had the nomination run for the full 10 days, the levy group could not have fulfilled this criteria.
Yet the centre of this debate was not so much the question of practicality, but ideas about what the nomination period is supposed to be. In introducing his motion, Bowman argued that the time allotted challenged the accessibility of the electoral process, making it more difficult for students who are not considered UTSU ‘insiders’ to run. Those particularly impacted include commuters and students affected by midterm season. As it is scheduled to run through the second week of March, the nomination period will overlap with written tests, essay assignments, and necessary study time.
Proponents of the five-day nomination period contended that Bowman’s argument was a nonstarter. According to Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm, the nomination period “is not really supposed to let everyone in” and acts as a screening process. The implication here is that the students who truly want and ought to be elected will put in the legwork to get the necessary signatures. Advocates of the five-day period argue that for those motivated students, five days will be more than enough time to secure a nomination.
This latter view is ultimately the more problematic one. Conceiving of the nomination period as a screening process seems arbitrary, since the actual vote on election day is already an all-encompassing process. This is already an effective measure that ensures that only one individual — ideally, the most qualified one — makes it through.
In this regard, Bowman and his cohort are correct in pointing out the problems with a shortened nomination period. However, the main problem with the nomination period is not its length — it is that it is altogether unnecessary and serves no purpose. The limits that it puts on student accessibility have no legitimacy. There is no give-and-take, no benefits that make up for its adverse effects.
Instead, it is a barrier to a process that is already challenging. In order to run for office, a student must put aside valuable time from assignments and studying in order to properly campaign and gain support for their candidacy. This is not to mention the fact that running for a position can even interfere with class time or work schedules. This is an inherent and unavoidable part of candidacy, and it seems unnecessary that candidates should also worry about getting enough signatures in a given period.
The UTSU should try to make the election process more accessible and less disruptive to the demands of student life, including academic pressures, work, and commute times.
That being said, the UTSU’s policy to provide financial compensation for individuals campaigning and who have demonstrable need is a step in the right direction. As a result, students cannot be barred from running due to insufficient finances. The policy has helped to ensure that students do not need to compromise their finances to put up a successful campaign, making the process more accessible. Nevertheless, it is necessary to make the same accommodations for time and its respective resources.
The nomination period ought to be abolished. It is an arbitrary hurdle that candidates must overcome in addition to the time, and potentially grades, that they sacrifice throughout the elections process. If the UTSU is truly dedicated to making its electoral process the most accessible it can be, then this is the next step.
Sam Routley is a fourth-year Political Science, Philosophy, and History student. He is The Varsity’s UTSG Campus Politics Columnist.