Funding cuts from the provincial government and ideas on how to resist them took centre stage at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 27 in the Maanjiwe nendamowinan building. It was the union’s first AGM after splitting from the University of Toronto Students’ Union last year.
“I actually realized that we had quite a long year full of ups and downs, and a lot of different things happened, some positive, unfortunately some negative as well,” said UTMSU President Atif Abdullah, beginning his address. “I say that because there were many challenges that deeply affected our community here,” he added, going on to talk about the cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the mental health crisis.
He discussed several policies and initiatives that the UTMSU has worked on in the past year, including the course retake policy that was implemented in May and the pilot implementation of self-assigned sick notes over the summer. According to Abdullah, a new printing service that will allow students to print from their personal devices will become available next semester.
Some UTMSU-run initiatives, like the Food Centre and the Duck Stop, which is the convenience store on campus, have been well-received by the UTM community. According to Abdullah, the Food Centre serves over 150 students per month, and the Duck Stop has sold over 77,000 items in the past year.
Abdullah also submitted a motion to the agenda which was dubbed the “Student Action Motion.” It proposed that the UTMSU explore options for increasing activism regarding the cuts to OSAP, including “rallies, marches, sit-ins and strikes.” Abdullah called a walk-out earlier in the year a success, with “historic numbers for UTM.” While speaking on the motion, he commented that the UTMSU wants to hear the thoughts of its membership before going forward with any forms of protest. The motion passed.
Abdullah spoke at the UTM Campus Council on November 20 concerning the mental health crisis. During the meeting, Abdullah brought up recommendations on behalf of the UTMSU. These included conducting a review of campus police’s policies for dealing with mental health crises, and addressing the long wait times for students to access mental health resources on campus.
According to the financial statements, the cost of orientation doubled from last year, due to inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018. The costs associated with the Blind Duck Pub also increased, as renovations in the Temporary Food Court continued throughout 2018 and 2019. The Blind Duck Pub was also open for longer hours to accommodate students during construction.
Starting in September, full-time UTM students received health and dental care through Green Shield Canada. “Now that UTM students are in charge of their own health and dental plan, at the end of this first year we can actually look at some of the records and track what usage students have been doing, and based on that, we can either increase some of the benefits and offset that by decreasing what students actually don’t need and don’t want to use,” said Abdullah in an interview with The Varsity. He went on to call the new health and dental plan “a positive change.”
Vice-President Internal Sara Malhotra submitted the motion to approve Yale and Partners LLC as the auditors for the UTMSU and the Blind Duck Pub. The motion was seconded and passed.
There were two member-submitted motions. The first moved to offer billiard tables for free instead of $1.75. The motion was amended to have the cost absorbed by the Blind Duck, and passed. The second motion proposed to have the Blind Duck open on weekends. The motion was amended to move that the UTMSU explore the possibility of keeping it open on weekends, and it passed as well.
Two days before the UTMSU’s AGM, an editorial was published in The Medium criticizing the union for having close ties to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), alleging that this relationship compromises the UTMSU’s autonomy.
“Do we support a lot of the work that CFS does? Yes, because it is for students and it’s a benefit for students — fighting for accessible tuition [and] against the Student Choice Initiative… [are things] that… we see eye-to-eye with the CFS in,” said Abdullah.
“However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t criticize the CFS or [consider] where it could do better because everyone can do better.”
The UTMSU’s current Executive Director, Nour Alideeb, served as chairperson for CFS–Ontario for the past two years, a fact the editorial scrutinized. It also criticized her hiring, as she is married to the previous UTMSU executive director, presenting it as an example of “nepotism.” Abdullah defended Alideeb, noting that she was hired for her experience, particularly for progressive initiatives that she helped pass and her track record in building relationships with the administration.
Editor’s Note (December 4, 3:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that orientation expenses rose from inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018, not Sean Paul in 2019.