This cycle of University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections has seen the lowest engagement and fewest candidates in recent history: no one is running for three of the seven executive positions and only 10 people are running for the 28 board of directors seats that are centrally elected. In order to fill the positions that will remain vacant after this election period, the union has approved a spring by-election, with nominations opening April 1, campaigning from April 8–12, and voting from April 13–15.
Crucially, there are no candidates for Vice-President Operations and Vice-President Student Life. Both of these portfolios oversee important work during the summer — the VP Operations drafts the union’s operating budget and the VP Student Life runs orientation. In addition, as per the union’s own bylaws, a board of directors lacking most of its representatives would be inquorate and unable to function.
Not only are few people running in these elections, but the races themselves are overwhelmingly uncontested. While three of the four executive positions are being contested, none of the board seats are. Victoria College, Woodsworth College and the Faculties of Architecture and Visual Studies, Pharmacy, and Law are all holding their own internal elections for board representatives.
The Elections and Referenda Committee voted on the dates of an April by-election on March 22, and the union’s board of directors approved the committee’s recommendation in an emergency online board meeting on March 24.
Anne Boucher, the current UTSU President, said that despite the low turnout for elected positions, “it is encouraging to see that most students running have no prior experience with the UTSU, bringing with them a diversity of perspectives and ideas.”
“Much of the UTSU’s motivation behind our slate ban was to make our election process more accessible by allowing all students the opportunity to run on an equal platform, whereas slates were ostracizing and often limited to those already involved,” Boucher said. “Candidate turnout was low this year, but I’m confident that we’ll see more participation once the UTSU commits itself to both organizational and student-facing strategies.”
As Boucher noted, this is the first year that slates — groups of students running together, with shared campaign strategies, platforms, and materials — are banned from the union’s elections.
Boucher added that while the absence of slates “may be a contributing factor” to the lack of involvement in these elections, she does not think it is to blame.
“I believe the reasons go beyond our election structure, into the way the UTSU governs itself. The current UTSU board structure does not promote engagement due to its size,” Boucher said. “If the UTSU wants to see active participation in elections moving forward, we’ll need to make the positions both attractive and engaging to start.”
— With files from Adam A. Lam