After it was initially postponed from September 29, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held the first portion of its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday, October 26. For six hours, members of the student body debated bylaw amendments to eliminate proxied votes and altering the structure of the UTSU board of directors (BOD), cutting it down to under half of its previous size. They also discussed a proposal to create an additional body of student representatives called the Senate. At 12:07 am on October 27, the meeting adjourned with a motion to reconvene at 4:00 pm on October 30.
On October 30, members reviewed the union’s financial statements and voted to adopt all proposed amendments to the UTSU bylaws. The amendments came into effect immediately.
Board of directors structure
In August, the UTSU’s BOD approved a full revision to the UTSU bylaws, which outline the union’s structure and guidelines. The proposed changes included the introduction of a student senate and a smaller BOD, which would jointly govern the union. However, the student body must approve any bylaw changes at the AGM for those changes to take effect.
On October 27, meeting speaker Justin Pappano called the AGM to order at 6:01 pm. Present were 78 student members who held 50 proxies between them, for a total of 128 votes.
During the meeting, students approved Article 1, a group of bylaws which pertains to the UTSU members, and Article 2, a group of bylaws focusing on the elected and appointed officers involved with the UTSU. Following these approvals of the proposed bylaws, they launched into heavy discussion of the proposed Article 3, which governs the BOD. In Article 3, the UTSU proposed that the BOD be composed of the president, the vice-president, finance and operations, and 10 directors-at-large.
Prior to the AGM, the UTSU’s board was composed of 44 seats, including the union’s executive members and other representatives from multiple undergraduate divisions and constituencies. However, the UTSU has had difficulty obtaining enough board members to hold meetings. For instance, the UTSU initially adjourned its August BOD meeting and rescheduled it to the next day after failing to reach quorum.
The UTSU has also faced issues filling the BOD’s 44 seats. Just over 20 per cent of seats on the BOD were vacant at the start of the meeting, including seats slated for University College, St Michael’s College, Woodsworth College, and New College, as well as seats for representatives in the Transitional Year Programme, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Computer Science programs.
Students raised concerns about the proposed structure. According to one of the student members in attendance, Rayan Awad Alim, “12 directors is way too small for 40,000 people.” Another AGM attendee, Harrison Chan, pointed out that the decisions made by the UTSU can be “legally binding,” and that the proposal would rob other faculties of their representation.
Dermot O’Halloran, the UTSU’s vice-president, finance and operations, explained that the BOD’s proposed new structure was based on the recommendations of a consultant and lawyer. He said that having a smaller BOD will help future elections run more smoothly, and will allow BOD members to be more thoroughly trained prior to taking office.
Although members finished discussing the proposed Article 3 at the end of the October 26 session of the AGM, the change had not yet been formally approved. It was tabled until October 30, when the meeting reconvened.
Some AGM attendees also objected to the proposed Article 3 Section 8, which would eliminate proxy and absentee voting. Before this AGM, students were allowed to hold a maximum of 10 proxies for voting and quorum purposes at UTSU meetings, including at AGMs.
“Proxy voting should always be a function of the student union because it empowers more students to be able to have a say,” said Alim. Alim also noted that students have other obligations and may not be able to attend these meetings.
According to O’Halloran, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act permits proxy and absentee voting, but it is not encouraged in the “pre-procedure” sphere.
Omar Gharbiyeh, the president of the UTSU, proposed a motion that would retain proxies, but require each person requesting a proxy to write 400 words to explain why they were not able to attend the meeting. The UTSU could use this information to determine why the UTSU meetings “are proving so inaccessible to students that so many need to proxy their vote.”
Some individuals attending the meeting held up to 11 proxies. Gharbiyeh himself held seven proxies, while O’Halloran held four. Gharbiyeh argued that individuals can just ask others for their proxies, allowing them to execute a disproportionate amount of power. “Frankly, it’s just undemocratic,” he said.
One student in attendance, whose name The Varsity was not able to obtain, noted that proxies may be inequitable because they disadvantage commuter students. They explained that other students who are able to live downtown or near campus have more time to join clubs and attend social events — time that commuter students spend going back and forth from home to campus. “I unfortunately didn’t have that [in] my first three years being [at] U of T,” they said.
At the time of the meeting, the commuter student still did not hold any proxies. “I do think this gets abused. I think that [attendees] do use proxies to favour whatever side they want.”
At the end of the October 26 meeting, over six hours after the AGM was called to order, members voted to temporarily adjourn and reconvene on October 30. The vote on whether or not to retain proxy voting was also tabled until the AGM reconvened.
At the start of the second session of the AGM on October 30, 73 student members were present, who held 161 proxies, for a total of 234 votes.
The October 30 session began with the approval of the union’s financial statements from the past year. O’Halloran highlighted that the total revenue for the year ending on April 30, 2022 was $16,751,135, which left the UTSU with a surplus of $931,336 after expenses.
After the financial statements, discussions turned to the bylaw amendments regarding proxy and absentee voting. Students adopted O’Halloran’s amendment proposal to strike the ability to hold proxies after another highly active discussion.
In addition, students adopted an amendment that reduced the total amount of attendees needed for quorum. The new quorum for the UTSU’s AGM will be 50 members; for the Special Membership Meeting, 100 members; and for the Spring General Meeting, however many students end up attending.
The UTSU also adopted the amendments to cut the number of seats on the BOD from 44 to 12, and to initiate a Senate. The Senate will be composed of somewhere between 51 and 75 students representing a variety of specific student populations, including students from each of the colleges; professional faculties students; first-year students; commuter students; students living in residence; mature students and student parents; international students; first-generation students; and students from small and specialized programs.
The bylaws specify the number of Senate seats allocated for each student population, but allow the Senate to vote on adjustments, as long as the total number of senators doesn’t surpass 75. The bylaws do, additionally, include a provision for ex-officio members, which would not count toward that total.
The updated bylaws were adopted at the end of the meeting, when the membership moved to vote on the bylaws as they were presented. The bylaw motion was passed with 100 votes in its favour and 46 against.
Following the adoption of the bylaws, the meeting was forced to adjourn due to the new proxy and absentee voting bylaw. Once the new bylaws were adopted, the proxies had to be struck and did not count towards the quorum. This then left a total of only 49 votes among students present at the meeting, where the minimum quorum was 50.
All bylaws have now come into effect, and will remain in effect for the Spring General Meeting.