UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

Future union elections can no longer have cross-campaigning

UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has banned the existence of slates in its elections following a lengthy debate at its Annual General Meeting on October 30.

Slates are defined groups of candidates running together, often sharing branding and platforms, and have been a staple in UTSU elections.

The amendment to the Election Procedure Code detailed that no candidate will be allowed to campaign for another candidate, that no campaign material would solicit votes for multiple candidates, and that any cross-campaigning would be limited only to elections governed by the code.

UTSU President Anne Boucher spoke in favour of banning slates, saying that although there were pros, such as having a clearer vision and a more discernible platform, there were also cons, such as voters not having a clear sense of who they are electing.

“Having seen both sides, I can definitely say that I prefer having independent candidates run,” Boucher later said in an interview with The Varsity. “I think it offers them a lot more opportunity to give a fuller picture of who they are.”

Boucher ran in the 2017 elections as an independent candidate for Vice-President External, and in the 2018 elections as the presidential contender for the Compass slate.

She also noted the importance of knowing who people are voting for. “You can’t just base it off of a very catchy two- [or] three-point slate platform,” she said.

Mathias Memmel, former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor, noted at the meeting that there was frustration around the culture of slates in student politics. He claimed that the most popular idea to hate at U of T is the slate system itself.

Slates have long been a fixture in UTSU student politics. In the 2017 elections, there were three full slates — Demand Better, We The Students, and Reboot U of T — as well as the partial slate of Whomst’d’ve. In the 2016 elections there were two slates — Hello U of T and 1UofT.

— With files from Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

Re: “Uncontested One UTM slate sweeps UTMSU executive elections”

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

According to the unofficial results of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections, held from March 20–22, 2018, the One UTM slate has won all five executive positions. Given that all executive candidates on the One UTM slate ran unopposed — a first in my three years at UTM — their victory was unsurprising.

The lack of opposition against One UTM discouraged me from voting during the elections, because their victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. Though I was approached to vote by both student volunteers as well as by members of One UTM, I still doubted whether my one vote would make a difference. I suspect many students had similar thoughts — the votes cast for each executive position was around 1,930 students, which accounts for approximately 13.5 per cent of over 14,000 students who represented by the UTMSU.

Though I agree with many of One UTM’s platform points, I still wish that there had been at least some competition, in the form of another slate or independent candidates, to allow for debate. Debating would allow the student body to see how exactly One UTM candidates would reach its goals, namely by exposing any flaws or inconsistencies in their claims or plans.

Hopefully future UTMSU elections will not be plagued by such a lack of competition.  For now, however, I look forward to seeing what changes One UTM will bring to UTM, and especially whether it will deliver on the promise of eliminating the $55 Student System Access fee that was central to its platform.

 

Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication.

U-Pass referendum fails

65.6 per cent of votes against establishing transit pass

U-Pass referendum fails

The referendum to establish a $280 per semester U-Pass transit fee for undergraduate UTSG students has failed to pass. A total of 12,428 students voted in the referendum, 306 of whom abstained. Of those who voted ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ 7,946 students — 65.6 per cent — voted against the proposed pass, and 4,176 students — 34.4 per cent — voted for it.

If passed, the TTC would have established a semesterly universal transit pass. The UTSU Board of Directors would have been able to increase the fee by up to five per cent per year to cover rising administrative and transit costs, up to $322.50 per session.

The U-Pass would not have had an opt-out option except for those students whose needs were protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code and restricted their ability to use transit.

“The outcome of the referendum is a strong indication that a UPASS without opt-out provisions for those students living near campus is not sellable,” said University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Mathias Memmel in an email to The Varsity. “Transit and housing remain significant barriers to affordable and accessible post-secondary education for our diverse student body.”

“We look forward to working constructively with both provincial parties and City Council in advance of the upcoming election. We also hope to continue our productive conversations with the TTC Board,” he added. 

Donald Wang, speaking on behalf of a ‘no’ campaign against the pass, wrote to The Varsity that it’s clear students do want a U-Pass, but not in this form. “The U-Pass, proposed and pursued with the best of intention by a group of student leaders, aimed to bring cheaper transportation to all students. However, in this referendum, the student body has spoken loud and clear – the U-Pass in its current form is unacceptable.”

“These election results show that it can’t just be subsidization of Toronto residents. The students want options to opt-out and the integration of the GO transit system. A better approach would see greater consultation and a slower, more thorough process. I hope the UTSU executives, current and incoming, are able to listen and advocate for the best of our collective student body.”

Speaking on behalf of U-Commute, which ran a ‘yes’ campaign, U of T student Aidan Swirsky told The Varsity, “We respect students’ decision, which was heard loud and clear, and hope the newly elected UTSU will build off this result and address the many criticisms heard during this cycle and throughout the year, if they wish to further explore the U-Pass.”

Compass slate sweeps UTSU executive elections

Elections see 25.3 per cent turnout, a significant increase from previous years

Compass slate sweeps UTSU executive elections

UTSU elections results were released shortly after 6:00 pm on March 28, revealing a clean sweep by the Compass slate of all executive positions. Of the 50,405 students eligible to vote, 12,734 did, a 25.3 per cent turnout. The majority of votes in all races were abstentions, with the exception of Nursing Director.

President-elect Anne Boucher received 2,376 votes; her opponent, Michelle Mabira, received 1,191. In this race, 9,167 voters — 72 per cent — abstained.

Boucher said she was “beyond grateful” upon hearing the results. “I’m so excited to begin, especially with the amazing team I’ll have with me. You probably hear this year after year — but expect change, because we’ll work our butts off.”

Vice-President Internal-elect Tyler Biswurm was elected with 1,946 votes; his opponent, 🅱️oundless’ Alyy Patel, received 899. There were 9,889 abstentions, constituting 77.7 per cent of voters.

The VP Campus Life race saw winner Yolanda Alfaro receive 1,668 votes and independent opponent Spencer Robertson take 1,140, with 9,926 abstentions.

VP Professional Faculties-elect Yasmine El Sanyoura received 535 votes to 🅱️oundless’ Gallop Fan’s 310, with 3,280 abstentions.

The three executive positions were uncontested and received over 70 per cent abstentions. VP University Affairs-elect Joshua Grondin won with 2,390 votes for and 422 votes against. VP External-elect Yuli Liu received 2,990 ‘yes’ votes and 693 ‘no’ votes. Ammara Wasim, VP Equity-elect, received 2,597 votes in favour and 936 against.

In addition to sweeping the executive positions, all Compass candidates were elected except Tiffany Tiu. Tiu, who ran for one of two Professional Faculty Director at-large positions, lost to fellow Compass candidate Christopher Dryden and independent candidate Virginia Wong.

Michelle Mabira declined The Varsity‘s request for comment.

The UTSU executive candidates on the issues: The Varsity’s data analysis

Most candidates endorsed the CFS’ “mission and vision” while also advocating to leave the organization

The UTSU executive candidates on the issues: <i>The Varsity</i>’s data analysis

The Varsity has conducted a survey of all 11 candidates for the seven available University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executive positions by asking them to respond to certain issues on a scale of 0–10 or a no/yes. The executive candidates rated the union’s current social progressiveness an average of 6.8.

Almost all indicated a strong desire for the UTSU to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), with an average response of 8.4 out of 10 in favour of the union’s current efforts to leave. The Compass and 🅱️oundless slates were strongly inclined to leave the CFS, while independent presidential candidate Michelle Mabira and independent Vice-President Campus Life candidate Spencer Robertson were more neutral on the issue.


The Varsity also asked candidates to rate their endorsement of “a system of post-secondary education that is accessible to all, which is of high quality, which is nationally planned, which recognizes the legitimacy of student representation, and the validity of student rights, and whose role in society is clearly recognized and appreciated.” This is the “ultimate goal” listed on the CFS’ constitution. The data revealed that, on average, candidates rated this a 7.2.




Leave CFS: “The UTSU should increase its advocacy efforts to leave the CFS.”

Endorse CFS MS: Endorse the CFS’ mission statement.

The results of the survey also showed that, on average, the candidates favour a more cooperative relationship with the administration. Aside from its VP External candidate Yuli Liu, on average, the Compass slate said that the UTSU-administration relationship should be more cooperative. 🅱️oundless VP Professional Faculties candidate Gallop Fan also responded in favour of a close relationship with admin. Mabira, 🅱️oundless VP Internal candidate Alyy Patel, and Liu all indicated a strong desire for a more combative relationship with the administration.

With regard to position-specific issues, both presidential candidates Anne Boucher of Compass and Mabira noted that the needs of colleges, faculty organizations, student associations, and international students are of the utmost importance to the UTSU, ranking all issues a 10. They both indicated that the UTSU should not re-hire the two staff coordinator positions removed last year. On the other hand, Mabira strongly believed in the importance of a close relationship of the UTSU with the UTMSU, ranking the issue a 10; Boucher ranked it a five.

VP Internal candidates Patel and Compass candidate Tyler Biswurm both considered the attendance of Directors to Board meetings as important. Biswurm believed that 10 per cent of the union’s operating budget should go into the Student Commons, while Patel believed that 50 per cent of it should.




% of budget for Student Commons: “Percentage of the union operating budget that should go to the Student Commons.”

Importance of Directors attending board meetings: “How important is it for Directors to attend board meetings?”

VP Campus Life candidate Robertson responded that orientation is good as it is currently; Compass’ VP Campus Life candidate Yolanda Alfaro responded that orientation needs to be changed.




Uncontested Compass candidates Ammara Wasim, VP Equity candidate; Liu; and Joshua Grondin, VP University Affairs; also expressed their opinions on pertinent issues detailed in the survey. Wasim neither agreed nor disagreed when asked if the UTSU has internal issues with racism, Liu slightly agreed that the proposed U-Pass fee of $280 per semester is worth the fee increase for all students, and Grondin agreed that the needs of international students should be a top priority.

Candidate breakdown

Compass has a candidate for each of the seven executive positions while 🅱️oundless is only fielding candidates for VP Internal and VP Professional Faculties.

According to the survey, most candidates are upper-year students. Boucher is in fifth year, while seven candidates are in fourth year. Liu is a third-year candidate and Biswurm and Robertson are second-year candidates.




In addition, the data revealed a pretty even distribution of the candidates from the colleges and professional faculties. There is one candidate each from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Innis College, New College, University College, and Victoria College. There are two candidates each from the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design; St. Michael’s College; and Woodsworth College.




 

 

New College UTSU Directors elected in uncontested race

Sharon Ma, Manuela Zapata and Chengye Yang elected

New College UTSU Directors elected in uncontested race

New College elected its University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) directors in an uncontested race that ended on March 20. Sharon Ma, Manuela Zapata, and Chengye Yang were elected as New College’s three UTSU directors.

Ma, a third-year student majoring in Fundamental Genetics & its Applications major and double minoring in Biology and Music History & Culture, received 30 per cent of the vote with 135 votes cast. This is her second term as New College’s UTSU director, having been elected in fall 2017. She was also a member of the Accessibility, Campaigns & Advocacy, Finance, Elections & Referenda, and Executive Review committees at the UTSU during the 2017–2018 academic year.

In addition, Ma was also elected as Education & Philanthropy Commissioner receiving 81 per cent of the vote with 199 votes cast. The position was uncontested.

Zapata, a first-year Life Sciences student, received 24 per cent of the vote with 107 votes cast. She was also elected as one of two Off-Campus representatives, gaining 38 per cent of the vote with 133 votes cast. Zapata was elected as one of two first-year representatives of the New College Student Council (NCSC).

Yang is a third-year Life Sciences student and received 16 per cent of the vote with 70 votes cast. This is also Yang’s second term as New College’s UTSU director, having been elected in Fall 2017. In her candidate statement, Yang claimed that as one of New College’s UTSU directors, she aims to attend all of the UTSU and New College Student Council meetings. Yang missed enough UTSU board meetings in 2017–2018 to effectively abandon office, violating the union’s Bylaw X.

Nine per cent of the votes were spoiled with 39 votes cast. In total, 246 votes were cast in the 2018 NCSC spring election.

Running on a slate comes with clear advantages, especially this election season

Teamwork and cohesion between UTSU candidates can be integral to their success

Running on a slate comes with clear advantages, especially this election season

Campaign season can be incredibly confusing for voters. Trying to distinguish between seemingly similar campaign platforms can be frustrating. Campaign slates are a fantastic way of simplifying this process, allowing larger groups of students to consolidate their beliefs into one, united package.

Student governance is a collaborative effort, and the formation of slates indicates candidates’ ability to work together effectively through the creation of campaign materials, slogans, and shared positions over major issues. A slate is therefore a way to communicate an entire team’s cohesiveness and their confidence in one another’s abilities even in the face of the competitive nature of elections.

Articulating campaign promises collectively also tends to result in clearer campaign promises. Multiple candidates debate, organize, and construct a platform that encompasses different positions, resulting in ideas and initiatives that hopefully consider each aspect of university life.

Though Compass is the only complete slate running in the 2018 spring UTSU elections, the two-person 🅱️oundless slate has garnered considerable attention, in part due to tapping into student life through meme culture at U of T and seeking to be relatable and funny; this allows 🅱️oundless candidates to communicate their message more effectively.

Slates also help keep the candidates accountable to one another. In 2016, the entire 1UofT slate was disqualified after accumulating more than 35 demerit points per candidate, despite the major offense of non-English language campaigning on WeChat being allegedly committed by only one member of the slate. The threat of collective punishment in the case of student elections is more effective at deterring campaign offenses, ensuring that members of a slate keep one another in check.

As exemplified by the many independent candidates in this year’s election, not joining a slate remains an important alternative. Unfortunately, lacking the kind of collective support from fellow candidates that comes with slates, independents may find themselves at a disadvantage with respect to campaigning. Many independents this year have put forth less cohesive platforms than Compass candidates, and they also do not benefit from the kind of branding that sets 🅱️oundless apart.

Slates represent the collaborative effort that goes into governance, often resulting in better articulated platforms. Running in a slate is not the only option, but it clearly has perks, which will likely become evident in an election with only one complete slate.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Anthropology and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

First UTSU executive debate focuses on advocacy initiatives

Candidates for President, VP University Affairs, VP External, and VP Equity invited to speak at Tuesday debate

First UTSU executive debate focuses on advocacy initiatives

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held the first half of its executive debate on March 20. Centred on the union’s advocacy work, it featured candidates for the positions most concerned with student advocacy.

Debaters included the uncontested candidates for: VP University Affairs, Compass’ Joshua Grondin; VP External, Compass’ Yuli Liu; and VP Equity, Compass’ Ammara Wasim. Compass’ presidential candidate, Anne Boucher, and independent presidential candidate Michelle Mabira also debated. 

The presidential candidates

The only contested debate was for the presidential position. Boucher and Mabira debated issues ranging from staff layoffs to meeting disruptions to the union’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.

Both candidates pointed out that the UTSU has become unapproachable to students. Boucher is running a campaign focused on “humanizing” the UTSU; she said that the UTSU has become “corporate” in recent years and that though those years were necessary, the union must be brought back to the students.

Boucher also criticized the union for not being forthcoming with information, citing lack of clear information given on the Sandra Hudson lawsuit settlement.

In her opening statement, Mabira said, “I am running as a student activist, not a student politician.” Later, she criticized the UTSU for shutting down debate on issues such as the union’s recent service cuts, pointing to her involvement with the Save our Services, Support our Staff campaign, which has protested the UTSU at board meetings. She said that the UTSU needs to pause and engage with students.

Mabira claimed that after a Save our Services protest in which she participated during 2017 orientation, Boucher posted a picture “mocking” the participants. Boucher denied recollection of Mabira’s claim, but apologized if it did occur. 

Mabira did not support the UTSU’s decision to fire Vita Carlino and Maria Galvez, the union’s former Clubs Coordinator and Health and Dental Coordinator respectively, because she was distrustful of the financial report conducted by current UTSU President Mathias Memmel, arguing that Memmel does not have sufficient experience to be creating accurate financial reports.

If elected, Mabira said she would hire a third party to look at the union’s financials, though she reiterated that she would not immediately rehire the two staff positions until the finances had been thoroughly vetted.

Boucher, on the other hand, stated she would not consider hiring back staff. She noted that clubs funding went out ahead of schedule this year, and argued the union has “done fine” without the Clubs Coordinator position.

Another topic of the debate was the union’s efforts to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Mabira said it is “one of the most polarizing issues on campus,” and therefore she is choosing to remain neutral on the UTSU leaving CFS membership. This way, people with concerns on either side could approach her knowing that she is “going to listen to you no matter what you say.”

Boucher said that in her experience, she has found that most students are either ignorant of the CFS, or generally agree to leaving the CFS when they learn about the organization. She also argued that students who support staying in the CFS have been “poached” by the organization, and that they were not representative of the greater student body. Boucher argued that she and the union have a duty to support the majority over the minority.

The President portion of the debate exceeded past the slated 9:00 pm end time, but debate moderator and Toronto Star journalist Jaren Kerr assured those in attendance and watching online that they would continue to discuss the topics at the next debate.

The Vice-Presidential Candidates

Running for VP University Affairs, Joshua Grondin spoke about his plans to amend the credit/no credit system and improve health services at the university, especially opposing the mandatory leave policy that could remove students with mental health issues from campus without their input or knowledge.

The credit/no credit system as it currently stands does not give enough time for students to choose whether or not to use the option, said Grondin. An extension of that deadline would allow students to take courses that are “notoriously difficult” or courses that “they just find genuinely interesting. They would also be more likely to take risks with changing their programs without having to worry about being penalized for it forever.”

Grondin said that the mandatory leave policy, in its current form, does a disservice to students who were not made part of the decision. He would oppose any future policy that does not require students to be at the centre of such decisions.

Regarding how he would use his role to help students in conflict with university policies, he said he would use his connections as VP University Affairs to stand alongside student activism and work with such organizations to draft policies. He cited Silence is Violence as an organization that he hopes to work with in the future on sexual violence policy at the university.

VP Equity candidate Ammara Wasim talked about her trust in the concerns of the student body and said that if she is elected, she would listen to the complaints against the UTSU from student groups on campus and prioritize their needs and concerns. She said she would also lobby for affordable, healthy food to be provided to low-income students. 

Wasim also said she hopes to conduct an “equity audit” of services and departments at U of T to find “the gaps in those services and [try] to lobby the university to fix those gaps accordingly.”

VP External candidate Yuli Liu spoke about her views on leaving the CFS, her concerns for advocacy for international students, and her willingness to reach out in order to make change.

She said she wants to lobby for better policies for student housing and a cap on international tuition, of which there currently is none. Liu intends to seek out politicians that are willing to work with her and listen to the needs of U of T students.

“They have to view us as the first priority. I’ll send cards out, I’ll set up meetings. If they still don’t hear about us, that’s the moment when we can gather up and really respond loudly, and advocate loudly, because we have to get our problems solved,” she said.

VP Professional Faculties candidate Gallop Fan also gave a two minute introduction to the 🅱️oundless slate, which is only running two candidates. Some platform points included leaving the CFS, eliminating Wednesday classes so students can fully enjoy “Toonie Tuesdays” at Einstein Pub on College Street, and changing the official UTSU font to Comic Sans.

“Lets be honest, we’re running for the trolls,” said Fan of himself and his fellow 🅱️oundless candidate Alyy Patel. 

The President, VP Internal, VP Campus Life, VP Professional Faculties candidates will debate each other at the March 21 debate on Operations, and the relevant candidates will also debate at The Varsity’s President and VP Internal debate on Friday, March 23.