The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election campaign is set to begin Monday, amid upheaval surrounding university operations due to the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
Only three out of seven executive positions are contested, with one uncontested and three without candidates, leaving uncertainty over what will happen to the remaining positions.
Joshua Bowman, current UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences, is running for president against Bryan Liceralde, a third-year student.
Lucas Granger, current Innis College Director, is campaigning for Vice-President External Affairs against Spencer Robertson, the President of the U of T Tabletop Gaming Club and a candidate for Vice-President Campus Life — now called Vice-President Student Life — in the 2018 elections.
Four candidates are running for Vice-President University Affairs — New College Director Sharon Ma, Christopher Chiasson, Avani Singh, and Ramtin Taramsari.
Second-year Engineering Science student Hanya Wahdan is unopposed for Vice-President Equity.
UTSU President and Chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee Anne Boucher has confirmed that there are no candidates running for Vice-President Operations, Vice-President Student Life, and Vice-President Professional Faculties.
Aside from the SCI, several other key issues are expected to dominate the campaign, including the elimination of slates in last October’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and the expected opening of the long-awaited Student Commons. Here’s a rundown of what topics students can expect to be discussed over the next week.
Student Choice Initiative
The next executive will have to deal with the Ford government’s SCI, which will give students the option to opt out of certain non-essential incidental fees.
Services such as athletics, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walksafe programs, and student buildings are considered essential.
However, there is currently a degree of uncertainty around the implementation of the SCI. At Thursday’s Academic Board meeting, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that the university had not yet received final guidelines for the SCI from the provincial government.
The opt-out option could cause severe changes to the union’s operations, including how it administers its health and dental plan and funds student clubs.
The long-awaited Student Commons, a proposed student-run centre on College Street that has been in the works for 12 years, is scheduled to open this summer after several delays.
At the January board meeting, UTSU President Anne Boucher wrote in her executive report that “unforeseen architectural challenges” reported by the UTSU’s contractor, such as aging pipes in the basement, meant that the opening date had to be pushed to June rather than April. Prior to this announcement, the building was supposed to open in January, already a delay from last September.
Students voted to implement a levy to fund the Student Commons in 2007, however the UTSU has faced many significant financial challenges since then that have delayed the opening of the new building. The incoming executive will likely face tough questions on how they will keep the project on track.
Another key issue is the separation of the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The two organizations have collaborated on many projects since they entered into an Associate Membership Agreement in 2008, but discussions started last year to formally split.
Representatives of both student unions have endorsed the separation, with a common message that the UTMSU is better equipped to properly serve its members as the on-site union.
Slates abolished last October
The UTSU’s membership voted to abolish the slate system at the AGM last October. Boucher, who ran as a part of the Compass slate last year and as an independent contender for Vice-President External the year before, supported abolishing slates.
At the time she said, “I think it offers [independent candidates] a lot more opportunity to give a fuller picture of who they are.”
Proponents of the system, however, say that slates can point to the ability of candidates “to work together effectively through the creation of campaign materials, slogans, and shared positions over major issues.”
Slates have long been a staple of student politics at U of T. In 2017, there were three full slates — Demand Better, We The Students, and Reboot U of T — and the partial slate of Whomst’d’ve. In 2016, two full slates, Hello U of T and 1UofT, faced off in the campaign.
Mandated leave of absence policy
Another major issue will be the university’s first annual report on the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy. The policy, which was passed by Governing Council last June, allows U of T to place students on a non-punitive but mandatory leave of absence from the university if their mental health is deemed to either pose a risk to themselves or others, or if it negatively affects their studies.
Several groups, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission, voiced concerns about the policy. Many student organizations, like the UTSU, noted the university’s apparent lack of consultation with members of the community.
The upcoming report, scheduled to be released sometime over the summer, is required under section VII of the policy. The section states that the “Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, shall prepare and submit annually to the University Affairs Board a report consisting of a narrative of the functioning of the Policy over the course of the preceding academic year.”
Disclosure: Avani Singh served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc. — the not-for-profit corporation that publishes The Varsity — from May 2018 to March 17, 2019. Singh has recused herself from the role of Chair and is taking a leave of absence from the board for the duration of the UTSU elections.