Muntaka Ahmed elected UTSU president in close race

UTSU health and dental referendum failed, student aid program Fund passed

Muntaka Ahmed elected UTSU president in close race

Muntaka Ahmed has been elected president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for the 2020–2021 academic year. The race for UTSU president was a tight one, with runner-up Bryan Liceralde losing by only 156 votes by the final round.

The third presidential candidate, Arjun Kaul, was eliminated in the first round with 745 votes. Ahmed was elected with 1717 votes.

Neeharika Hemrajani was elected VP Student Life, Alexandra McLean was elected VP Equity, Tyler Riches was elected VP Public and University Affairs, and Dermot O’Halloran was elected VP Operations. The latter two ran uncontested. 

The VP professional faculties position remains open as there were no candidates.

The referendum to increase the fee for the health and dental insurance plan by an additional ten per cent has failed. The vote saw 2135 students vote no and 2133 students vote yes, thereby not meeting the two thirds majority requirement for referenda to pass.

However, the referendum to establish a Student Aid Program Fund with a $1.00 fee per semester did pass with 68.8 per cent of students voting yes. The program will come into effect this fall semester. 

Ahmed’s presidential platform focused on equity and she hoped that by running she would provide a pathway for others who do not see themselves represented in leadership positions. 

In addition, Ahmed wishes to implement more engaging programming beyond Orientation, Frost Week, and Unity Ball and also improve upon the union’s consultation with student groups.

4818 students or 12.7 per cent of the electorate voted in this election. Academic and division directors were also elected in this voting period. Full results are available here.

Op-ed: Why you should run in the UTSU elections

Tackling a culture of exclusivity means removing barriers to student elections

Op-ed: Why you should run in the UTSU elections

All members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — including more than 38,000 students in colleges, academic divisions, and professional faculties at UTSG — have the opportunity to run in the UTSU’s spring 2020 elections and effect change at both the UTSU and in the U of T community at large. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of students simply do not run.

The UTSU’s Spring 2019 elections turnout was an abysmal 4.2 per cent, which necessitated an immediate by-election, as only three executive seats and just over one-third of the Board of Directors were elected.

One of the reasons for this low voter turnout is that there are negative perceptions of the UTSU across campus. This includes a belief that, painted dome and all, the UTSU is an ivory tower smack-dab in the middle of campus that students only venture to if they have an issue with their health and dental coverage.

I have run in two UTSU elections and a handful of other elections throughout my time at the University of Toronto. The incentives in place to impassion individuals toward candidacy can also be seen as possible barriers. Yes, if you run you’ll have a much larger platform to advocate for the change that you want to see, but the platform is accompanied by an equal, if not larger, spotlight that will amplify every mistake you make along the way. Campaign promises are temporary; Varsity headlines are forever.

Despite barriers like this, I am writing to you as someone who has faced the challenge and persevered. I recognize my privilege as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man and that there are vastly fewer barriers for me than there are for students who come from marginalized communities. But these are the voices we need to amplify the most. These are the voices that need the platform the UTSU is afforded. With that in mind, we’ve made progressive changes on a number of fronts to make our elections more accessible to students.

We’ve doubled the length of our nomination period from last year to allow students who are either unsure or not as well connected on campus to collect their signatures and get their campaigns together.

We’ve ensured that candidates get reimbursed for all of their campaign expenses, not based on the percentage of votes they have received.

We have increased the hourly rate for executives to $19 per hour for the upcoming year so that students who have the courage to take the leap into these positions will know that they’re being paid a fair wage.

We’ve tried to open doors for the next group of students who want to see more from their elected representatives. And even though we’ve tried to tackle the culture of exclusivity that has been perpetuated by our union for years, it is a constant effort that will need to be taken up by our successors. All this being said, I wish you the best of luck this upcoming election cycle. Create a platform, manage a friend’s campaign, put out a Facebook post with one too many emojis; just remember that this student union is yours.

Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.

SCSU election recount ends with VISION UTSC victory

WENITED wins one executive race, VISION UTSC sweeps remaining executive seats

SCSU election recount ends with VISION UTSC victory

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has released the final results for its 2020 elections, following a delay in results for a number of positions due to an automatic vote recount that was triggered following small victory margins. VISION UTSC, one of the two slates in the running, swept the executive positions, with its candidates elected in the contested and recounted Vice-President Equity and Vice-President Operations races — won by Kanitha Uthayakumar and Bruce Chan, respectively. WENITED, the opposing slate, won one executive position with its Vice-President Campus Life candidate TJ Ho.

The vote recount was triggered automatically in races within a five per cent victory margin. Uthayakumar won by 867 votes, 18 more than her opponent, and Chan won by a slightly larger margin of 37 votes, with 898 in favour.

Ho won the race for Vice-President Campus Life with 882 votes, which was 45 more than his VISION UTSC opponent.

Two positions were uncontested in the election for directors, both of whom were on the WENITED slate: Aimen Kashif representing anthropology and Angelesha Nandini Mendis for English. The recounted director positions went largely to VISION UTSC candidates, including the directors representing health studies, biological sciences, and human geography. WENITED claimed the French & linguistics directorship in the recount.

President-elect Sarah Mohamed’s slate, VISION UTSC, had already claimed victories with Lulu Gemma elected as Vice-President Academics & University Affairs and Eesha Chaudhry as Vice-President External.

Editor’s Note (February 23, 11:49 am): This article has been changed to correct the margin by which Chan won.

VISION UTSC slate wins three executive positions in SCSU election

Vote recount triggered for half of executive positions due to small margins

VISION UTSC slate wins three executive positions in SCSU election

In a victory for her slate, Sarah Mohamed, current Vice-President Campus Life, will be the next president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) after a three day election from February 11–13. Mohamed’s slate, VISION UTSC, also claimed victories with Lulu Gemma elected as Vice-President Academics & University Affairs, and Eesha Chaudhry as Vice-President External.

The three remaining positions of Vice-President Equity, Operations, and Campus Life are still unfilled since there was a less than five per cent margin between the candidates for each position. This has triggered a recount in accordance with the SCSU’s Elections and Procedures Code.

The results, which need to be ratified by the SCSU Board of Directors, show that Mohamed won with 944 votes in her favour; 693 votes for her opposition, WENITED slate candidate Carly Sahagian; 145 votes for independent candidate Claire Caluag, and 160 spoiled ballots. Sahagian is the SCSU’s current Vice-President Academics & University Affairs.

Gemma took the Vice-President Academics & University Affairs position with the narrowest margin of 148 votes, up against WENITED Yathu Uthayan. Uthayan had the highest number of votes for a candidate on his slate. The race also had 205 spoiled ballots.

Chaudhry, the Vice-President External elect, won by 154 votes over WENITED candidate Annie Sahagian, who had 697 votes in favour, with 224 spoiled ballots and 156 votes in favour of independent candidate Jordan Mirembe.

For director elections, WENITED candidates won a majority of the positions not currently in a recount, including directors for arts, culture & media, critical development studies, historical and cultural studies, philosophy, political science, and psychology.

VISION UTSC candidates were elected into director positions for computer & math sciences, physical & environmental science, international students, and management studies. An independent candidate, Anto Resurreccion, was elected to the director position for sociology.

Average turnout across the three executive positions was 1,940 votes, which translates to a 13.85 per cent voter turnout of the 14,000 members in the SCSU, according to its website.

Nominees for Governing Council positions to be announced tomorrow

Eight student positions up for election

Nominees for Governing Council positions to be announced tomorrow

The official student candidates for Governing Council will be announced tomorrow, January 20 at 10:00 am. Nominations opened on January 7 at noon and ran until January 17 at 5:00 pm. There are eight student positions that must be re-elected each year to Governing Council. These students will have the chance to sit on U of T’s highest decision making body and oversee the university’s academic, business, and student affairs.

According to Governing Council’s webpage, effective council members are expected to be informed about important campus issues and processes, ask relevant questions, and exercise their right to vote at council meetings  — which usually occur six times per year. These council member votes will decide the direction of university policy. Recent policy changes approved by Governing Council include the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy and U of T’s stand-alone policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Governing Council’s chambers has seen significant unrest from unsatisfied students fighting for better mental health services over the past four years, including an occupation of Simcoe Hall and frequent protests outside of the hall during the council’s consideration and eventual passing of the university-mandated leave of absence policy. Council meetings also present an opportunity for questioning President Meric Gertler and other senior administration to clarify various issues from the university’s weather policy to confrontations on allegations of Campus Police misconduct.

Of the 50 members on Governing Council, only 30 are elected. Elected members consist of teaching staff, alumni, administrative staff, and a variety of students. Four full-time undergraduate students, two part-time undergraduate students, and two graduate students will be elected for one-year terms come the end of the campaign period.

Equity among Governing Council has been a contested issue for years — international students were ineligible to run for Council positions until 2015 when the University of Toronto Act was amended. In 2019, The Varsity’s own analysis of governors found that the council was largely male-dominated.

Students will have the chance to vote for their preferred candidates online starting February 3 at 9:00 am. Online votes and mail ballots must be received by February 14 at 5:00 pm. Nominees will be able to campaign up until the end of the voting period, but may only begin their campaigns on January 27.

Election results will be released on February 18. There is a three-day appeals process to protest any of the election outcomes, while the official declaration of the winners will not be released until February 21 at noon.

Editor’s Note (January 19, 7:06pm): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the University of Toronto Act was passed in 2015. In fact, the Act was passed in 1971 and amended to include international students on Governing Council in 2015. The Varsity regrets the error. 

Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

Executives report on mental health advocacy, freeze honoraria in anticipation of funding cuts

Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

An investigatory committee was commissioned by the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to evaluate the integrity of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA) elections, during a UTGSU General Council meeting on April 23.

The committee’s mandate is to assess whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution, following the alleged firing of its Chief Returning Officer (CRO), according to a GSU member at the meeting. The CRO is responsible for overseeing elections.

Five council members volunteered to join the committee, which is authorized to assess the possible constitutional violation until June 1.

According to a UTGSU representative who spoke at the meeting, the committee lacks the power to compel testimony through subpoena. However, it does have the ability to interview witnesses willing to testify, review meeting minutes of the OISE GSA, and present an assessment to the Council on whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution.

In an email to The Varsity, the OISE GSA Executive wrote that they “never had doubts about the integrity of following the elections process as outlined by [their] Constitution.”

The Executive noted that their elections had not begun by the time of the General Council meeting when these allegations of election fraud were brought forward, and that they are following regulations set by its Constitution to “re-set the Elections process.”

The UTGSU Executive Committee verified that the committee was struck before having a chance to “invite and receive a statement by the [OISE GSA] Executive and Council,” but also wrote that it believed it would be “inappropriate for the UTGSU Executive to ask the OISE GSA for a statement prior to the striking of the committee, as this would have constituted the beginning of an investigation.”

UTGSU executives also report on advocacy work towards expanding mental health services

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal also reported on work by the executive team on responding to U of T’s mental health crisis.

Jaimungal spoke on the launch of the first webpage specific for U of T graduate students to access mental health resources, which has received 5,000 visits so far. She also reported on the addition of a graduate-specific accessibility counselor at the School of Graduate Studies, as well as the expansion of a bursary to allow part-time professional students access to U of T gyms over the summer.

UTGSU executives further vote to freeze honoraria increases, following cuts due to Student Choice Initiative

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto also introduced a motion drafted by the executives to freeze their own honoraria.

Rizzuto explained that the executive honoraria has been tied to a CUPE 3902, Unit 1 Collective Agreement, which has caused the executive honoraria to rise with increases of Teaching Assistant wages. CUPE 3902 is a union for U of T education workers.

The honoraria were slated to increase by two per cent the following year. However, in anticipation of funding cuts to the UTGSU as a result of the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative, the executives introduced the motion to cancel the raise and freeze their honoraria.

The motion passed in a vote by members of the General Council.

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

A message to the student body from a UTSU presidential candidate

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

My name is Bryan Liceralde, and I ran for president in the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. First, I want to congratulate the executives and directors for their impeccable victories in the spring elections. The UTSU is going to face many challenges this year, especially when it confronts issues caused by the policies of both U of T and the Ford government. Going forward, President Joshua Bowman must face the biggest issue in student democracies: voter apathy.

When I looked over the by-election positions in April, it was heartbreaking to see how many seats — both of Directors and Vice-Presidents (VP) — were vacant. It was all the more heartbreaking when I found that the election’s turnout rate stood at just 4.2 per cent.

From my brief experience in student politics, I can surmise that this lack of engagement is the fault of both the UTSU and the student body. It is our fault as student voters for ignoring the issues that will affect us, and it is the UTSU’s fault for not sufficiently promoting its elections.

If we collectively do not get our act together, students may choose to opt-out of UTSU fees through the Student Choice Initiative, greatly hindering the abilities of student governance. As a result, there would potentially be no organized student body to defend students from potentially harmful U of T policies. Had the UTSU done a better job in promoting its elections, the three VP positions left vacant from the elections may have been filled by March 25.

In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman said that the UTSU has “a lot of relationship-building to do.” He is right. The UTSU must do a better job marketing the clubs it funds and the services it provides to all students, not just to those in first year.

The UTSU VPs must make themselves more relatable to the student populace through engagement on social media. Of course, the executives reserve the right to keep some aspects of their lives private. Nevertheless, they should try to socialize with their constituents as much as possible. Doing so would bring us closer to realizing outgoing president Anne Boucher’s goal of making UTSU “more human.”

More importantly, the UTSU should demand changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which, according to The Varsity, currently “allows the university to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from U of T if their mental health either poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.” If U of T refuses to amend the university-mandated leave of absence policy, the UTSU must demand its repeal.

On U of T’s part, it should increase funding to its mental health services and do more to encourage its students to use these resources. Any changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy should be approved by both the UTSU and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Overall, the UTSU must work in tandem with the U of T administration to make our campus a more welcoming place.

As for students, the most important duty we have is to vote to keep our student democracy alive and our rights protected. I also strongly encourage students to run in the UTSU elections. We are all prepared for any UTSU position through our shared campus experiences — including both the struggles and triumphs that all students face. I know that we all have creative solutions to the most pressing problems in our student lives, so step up to the plate and run. We must confront a campus environment of ignorance with a spirit of optimism. Overall, we must reform student politics today so yesterday’s mistakes will not be repeated tomorrow.

Before I end off, I’d like to thank all the students who inspired me to run. Although I faced defeat, I’ll forever appreciate the support you gave me. As long as I’m a student here, I’ll always be on your side.

For 118 years, the UTSU has always been a beacon of hope for students. It is thus our responsibility to ensure that it keeps on burning.

Bryan Liceralde is a fourth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College. He was a presidential candidate in the 2019 UTSU executive elections.

Joshua Bowman wins UTSU presidential election

Lucas Granger, Avani Singh win remaining executive positions

Joshua Bowman wins UTSU presidential election

The results of the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections are in: Joshua Bowman has been elected as President, Lucas Granger as Vice-President External Affairs, and Avani Singh as Vice-President University Affairs. All 10 Board of Directors candidates, none of whom were challenged, have been acclaimed.

A total of 1,602 people voted in the election, out of roughly 37,000 eligible voters, a turnout rate of 4.2 per cent.

Bowman won 686 votes, while runner-up Bryan Liceralde received 220 votes.

Granger won 567 votes, while runner-up Spencer Robertson received 213 votes.

Singh won her race on the third round of voting with 484 votes. Sharon Ma was the runner-up, Christopher Chiasson ranked third place, and Ramtin Taramsari came in last place.

Arunoshi Singh, Lina Maragha, Tyler Riches, Sing-Yan Ng, Tiffany (Tsz Wing) Tiu, Honesty Senese, and Disha Mittal were all elected to the board for their respective constituencies.

Incumbent University College Director Artur Khasanov was voted down, with 128 ‘no’ votes and 81 ‘yes’ votes.

Due to a glitch on the Simply Voting website, the elections for the two Director of Applied Sciences and Engineering seats did not show up on students’ ballots, which explains why the two candidates, Eran (Shankeran) Vijayakumar and Hasma Habibiy, received zero votes for their races.

According to current UTSU President Anne Boucher, the union is planning on holding a by-election for this seat, alongside one for the multiple other uncontested positions.

This UTSU elections season has seen the lowest engagement in recent memory — there were no candidates for three executive positions and 18 Board of Directors seats.

Due to this lack of engagement, the union will be holding a spring by-election for the positions that remain vacant. Nominations will open April 1, with an April 8–12 campaign period and April 13–15 voting period.

Crucially, there were no candidates for Vice-President Operations, Vice-President Student Life, and Vice-President Professional Faculties. The former two 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.

The election for Vice-President Equity has not been held yet due to ongoing discussions around whether candidate-hopeful Michael Junior Samakayi will be allowed to run. The Elections and Referenda Committee directed that the VP Equity election be held during the by-election period, but the UTSU’s elections notice does not include this position. It is unclear when the election for the position will be held.

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 election period.

Editor’s Note (6:50 pm, March 25): This article has been updated to correct that Vijayakumar and Habibiy received zero votes. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly stated that Khasanov won his election. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s Note (7:28 pm, March 25): This article has been updated to correct vote counts for the executive positions.