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UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Censure resulted from alleged violation of equity statement

UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Tensions flared regarding mental health services and infringements of decorum during a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council meeting on March 26. What began as a discussion on the UTGSU’s Health and Dental Plan resulted in the official censure of a student union representative.

Debate on mental health occurs during discussion on approval of Health and Dental Plan

As the UTGSU began proceedings to approve their new Health and Dental Plan, Ben Hjorth, a proxy representative for the Comparative Literature Student Union, moved to delay the confirmation. He hoped that delaying the plan’s approval would give the union more time to lobby for the expansion of mental health services coverage.

The current UTGSU insurance plan provides $500 per year of coverage for mental health services administered by psychologists, licensed psychotherapists, or counselors with a master’s degree in social work.

Hjorth said that the provided coverage for mental health services was inadequate, so he recommended that the union delay the approval of the insurance plan. He believed this would be an effective way to leverage U of T administration and thus allow the union to expand mental health coverage in the plan.

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto spoke strongly against delaying the plan’s approval, saying that he did not believe that tabling the motion would be “the most efficient way to put pressure on the university.”

Rizzuto also said that a delay may put the insurance plan at risk, since it could result in prolonged negotiations with the U of T administration. This could ultimately lead to the insurance plan failing to be passed by the end of U of T’s governing cycle.

“What you’re asking for is basically to restart what we’ve done this year,” said Rizzuto.

In an email to The Varsity, the Executive Committee, which includes Rizzuto, wrote that it has seen increased claims through the Health and Dental Plan over the last three years, resulting in increased premiums. The Committee went on to write that the “burden of [expanding] mental health resources for students lies with University of Toronto administration and should not be met by increasing out of pocket costs for our members.”

“We agree that current access to mental health resources for U of T graduate students is inadequate, but [we] do not believe that the solution to this problem is to increase the Health and Dental Plan premiums and subsequently force larger fees on already financially impoverished graduate students.”

The Committee declined to comment in response to a request by The Varsity for justification for the claim that delaying approval of the plan would endanger the following year’s coverage.

The General Council ultimately voted to approve the Health and Dental plan, voting down Hjorth’s motion to table the plan’s approval.

UTGSU General Council member later censured for alleged equity statement violation

During the discussion on delaying the approval of the insurance plan, Hjorth spoke out of turn multiple times. These incidents violated Bourinot’s Rules of Order, which govern UTGSU General Council meetings.

Hjorth specifically interrupted Rizzuto with an out-of-order objection while Rizzuto was explaining his belief that delaying the approval of the insurance plan would risk the plan entirely.

Later, Hjorth requested to make a “point of order.” The Chair did not immediately address Hjorth’s point. In response, Hjorth sharply asked whether the Chair was purposefully ignoring him. The Chair then requested Hjorth to respect decorum.

Hjorth’s responses prompted an executive to request Hjorth to be conscious of his tone of voice when addressing the UTGSU’s staff. Hjorth said loudly that this was “not a point of order.” The executive agreed that this was a point of privilege, then repeated her request for Hjorth to settle down.

At the end of the meeting, after Hjorth had left, Internal Commissioner-elect Adam Hill moved to officially censure Hjorth, noting Hjorth’s alleged misconduct in the minutes.

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal added that she believed Hjorth’s actions were in violation of the meeting’s equity statement, since they were out of decorum and infringed on members’ abilities to speak in an inclusive environment.

The UTGSU Executive Committee, which includes Jaimungal, declined to comment on a question by The Varsity on what specific parts of the equity statement Hjorth violated.

Jaimungal recommended to the Chair that should future violations occur, Hjorth should be “asked to leave immediately.”

Addressing his censure, Hjorth wrote to The Varsity, “I will admit that these discussions got heated at times, but tone-policing should always raise at least an eyebrow, particularly when it is lead by those who have been called out.”

He further wrote that he believed discussion on his censure acted as a distraction from addressing the union’s limited mental health coverage in its insurance plan.

Hjorth added that the intention behind his actions was to hold UTGSU representatives accountable “for what they do as much as for what they fail to do.” He continued, “I’ll try to do it a little more politely, so that we can stop having these kinds of petty discussions and move on to debating what’s really important.”

One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part two

Reviewing work of President, Vice-Presidents Operations, University Affairs

One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part two

At the end of April, the 20182019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) term came to an end. In this second article of a two-part series, The Varsity reviews the work that the outgoing executives have done to fulfil their pledges.

President Anne Boucher

The role of President is to act as the chief executive of the UTSU and set the overall tone and direction of the union.

In her profile with The Varsity, Boucher pledged to ensure that the transition to the Student Commons is smooth and successful, lobby “to reintroduce the federal transit tax credit and to increase transit subsidies for students,” and change the Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) between the UTSU and University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

The Student Commons is a planned student-run hub previously expected to open last September, but it has been repeatedly delayed due to issues with construction.

From Boucher’s executive reports this year, she has consulted with U of T’s University Advancement division and conducted planning to manage the opening of the Student Commons. However, construction issues have prevented the opening of the building during her term.

She wrote that she was “glad… to contribute to the project, in ways that should help smooth the opening of the building for the incoming executives.”

On lobbying in favour of reintroducing a federal transit tax credit and increasing transit subsidies for students, Boucher wrote that her “lobby work happens through [the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU)].” However, the UCRU has not made either objective a priority to lobby for this year.

Since assuming office, the AMA between the UTSU and the UTMSU has dissolved, resulting in the UTMSU’s independence from the UTSU.

“I’m happy that UTM students now benefit from a student union that can serve them fully, and that UTSG students benefit from a UTSU that will have the ability to work fully for St George students,” wrote Boucher.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Boucher’s work include starting a Peers with Ears program which “connects peers who have struggled with mental illness with those currently experiencing similar hardships.” She also developed the union’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, which will support the “long term health” of the organization, she wrote.

Boucher has further led consultations with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities with respect to the Student Choice Initiative, which may result in a loss of funding for clubs and the union. To date, the results of the consultations are unclear.

Boucher did not respond to requests for comment on consultations between the UTSU and the ministry.

Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm

The Vice-President Operations manages the union’s finances, coordinates its full-time staff, and oversees the services that the UTSU provides to students.

In his profile with The Varsity, Biswurm pledged to improve the union’s financial transparency by publishing a “human readable” budget, prevent the disengagement of directors by altering the bylaws and internal structure of the union’s Board of Directors, and allocate 50 per cent of the human resources costs of the Student Commons project to student jobs.

Biswurm oversaw the publication of a newly formatted budget that was aimed to be more accessible than in previous years.

Addressing his pledge to prevent director disengagement, Biswurm wrote to The Varsity that he successfully “passed several amendments revamping the bylaws of the UTSU that govern director attendance,” to clarify expectations and enforcement, while also being “more forgiving of absences arising from exceptional circumstances.”

With regards to changes to the board’s internal structure, Biswurm wrote that he “will admit that the project of restructuring the board will not come to fruition in the 201819 term.”

He did note, however, that “a significant deal of thought and planning has gone into the project to date,” citing the union’s recent “all-encompassing governance review,” as well as a formulation of initial “recommendations and models” for restructuring.

Addressing his pledge to allocate human resource costs to student jobs in the Student Commons, he noted that the delay of the building’s opening has prevented him from fully implementing his pledge.

Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin

The role of the Vice-President University Affairs is to advocate on behalf of students to the university administration, as well as represent the union on several university bodies.

In his profile with The Varsity, Grondin pledged to lobby against the university-mandated leave of absence policy. He further pledged to lobby to introduce a grade forgiveness program, as well as improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems.

Grondin fulfilled all his pledges to lobby for these policy changes but noted that these efforts were met with varying degrees of success.

He has spoken against the leave of absence policy at key governance meetings, including the University Affairs Board, Business Board, and Governing Council. Drawing on his own experiences with mental health challenges, he appealed personally to members of the boards to vote against the policy. Despite his lobbying, the policy passed and came into effect in July.

Since then, Grondin has written a guide to the policy in language easier for students to understand, highlighting rights, resources, and frequently asked questions. He has distributed the list to every college and faculty society.

His advocacy for the grade forgiveness program “never got as far as [he] originally intended.” He and his assistant began “a thorough review of similar policies and procedures in other universities” at the start of his term, which resulted in “a 12-page summary of [their] findings and recommendations.” They also worked with administrative officials from the Faculty of Arts & Science to collect data specific to U of T.

However, he found that Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) representatives were already pushing a similar proposal. To respect the autonomy of ASSU, which already had strong ties with administrative officials in the faculty, he decided to defer advocacy to ASSU.

Referring to his advocacy to improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems, he wrote that he has worked extensively to improve supports. A significant achievement includes how he and his assistant “pushed for the expansion of hours in the Health and Wellness Centre,” which led to its current hours lasting “until 7pm three days of the week.”

He also worked with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students to lobby for 24-hour counseling services to be available at Robarts Library and in the Bahen Centre.

In addition to his pledges, Grondin has noted that the “bulk of [his] work throughout the year came from beyond [his] initial pledges.”

Highlights of his work include his help with coordinating much of the UTSU’s Pride programming for LGBTQ2S+ students, lobbying “for the provision of free menstrual products with students from various college societies,” creating a task force on sexual violence in the UTSU, and working on a report on microtransactions and Digital Learning Services, which has been presented to the Vice-Provost, Innovation in Undergraduate Education.

A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

Low voter turnout, uncontested positions mark elections period

A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

An average voter turnout of 8.7 per cent and uncontested positions across the board marked this year’s college student association elections — almost every candidate for president, or its equivalent, ran unopposed. The campaign period for the St. Michael’s College Student Union is still ongoing.

Woodsworth College Students Association

The Woodsworth College Students’ Association elections saw 305 votes cast for a voter turnout of around five per cent. Simran Sawhney won the presidential vote against Ali Aghaeinia and Shreyashi Saha. Sawhney previously served as the association’s Vice-President External and International Students Director.

The positions of Vice-President Social Affairs, Vice-President External Affairs, Vice-President Public Relations, Vice-President Athletic Affairs, Vice-President Financial Affairs, Mature Students’ Director, Associate Director of Social Affairs, Associate Director of Public Relations, Associate Director of Athletic Affairs, Off-Campus Students’ Director, Mental Health Director, Equity Director, and International Students’ Director all went uncontested.

Miloni Mehta and Andrea Chiapetta will be the Woodsworth Directors on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors for the upcoming academic year.

Andrew Gallant won against Victoria Barclay as Vice-President Internal Affairs. Danté Benjamin-Jackson and Katie Bolissian will serve as the Upper-Year Students’ Directors.

Trinity College Meeting

Emily Chu will serve as the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) Chair for the 2019–2020 academic year having run uncontested and receiving 91 per cent of the vote, with the rest of students voting to reopen nominations.

Secretary and Deputy Chair of the TCM will be Sterling Mancuso, who gained 46 per cent and 34 per cent of the vote respectively.

Anjali Gandhi ran uncontested for Treasurer, receiving 90 per cent of preferred votes. The TCM Auditor will be Nicholas Adolphe, who received 107 votes, beating out Mary Ngo’s 88.

Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) elections saw 436 votes cast for a voter turnout of 13.2 per cent.

Alexa Ballis went uncontested for President, gaining 370 votes, or 85 per cent, 37 no votes, and 29 spoiled ballots.

The position of Vice-President External Affairs also went uncontested, with Vibhuti Kacholia securing 393 votes. Katie Marsland won in a landslide victory for Vice-President Internal gaining 276 votes, or 63 per cent, over Aurore Dumesnil’s 132.

Cameron Davies won the position of Vice-President Student Organizations with 232 votes, or 53 per cent, over Sayeh Yousefi. Vivian Li was elected Arts and Culture Commissioner with 239 votes, or 55 per cent, over Ashleigh Middleton. 

Positions for Academic Commissioner, Commuter Commissioner, Equity Commissioner, and Sustainability Commissioner all went uncontested, but each candidate received over 80 per cent of votes.

Thomas Siddall will serve as the Victoria College Director on the UTSU.

New College Student Council

The New College Student Council (NCSC) election saw 241 votes cast, making the voter turnout 4.8 per cent.

Manuela Zapata ran uncontested for President, receiving 189 yes votes and 32 no votes. Reinald De Leon was also uncontested for Vice-President Administration, and was able to secure 212 votes at 88 per cent.

The two positions for Athletics Commissioner were won by Diana Subron with 205 votes and Jennifer Lin with 116 votes.

The only contested position was Social Commissioner, which had six candidates for four positions, making it one of the most contested elections among all the college associations. Nicole Ng, Hannah Turcotte, Sarim Irfan, and Fion Yung won the positions over Genevieve Gottschalk and Yi Chloe Guo. 

University College Literary and Athletic Society

The University College Literary and Athletic Society elections saw a voter turnout of 8.5 per cent with 384 votes cast.

Danielle Stella won the presidency with 315 votes, while Thomas Pender won the vice-presidency for next year with 326 votes. Both positions were uncontested. Many of the other positions were contested.

The vote for Spirit & Communications Commissioner was split between five candidates, with Joshua Bienstock inching out opponents with 30 per cent of ballots cast in his favour. Sustainability Commissioner was split between three candidates, with Sophia Fan coming out on top with 149 votes, or 39 per cent.

Maureen Huang just won the two-person race for University & Academic Affairs Commissioner against Varun Lodaya, securing 182 votes. There was also a fairly high number of spoiled ballots in this election, with an average of 41 spoiled ballots for each position.

Innis College Student Society

The Innis College Student Society election saw the second-highest voter turnout at 12 per cent, with 237 ballots cast.

The positions for President, Executive Vice President, Vice-President Internal, and Vice-President Finance all went uncontested to Nancy Zhao, Paul Kaita, Winston Chan, and Janielle Palmer, respectively.

Of the seven candidates for the two Social Director positions, Breanna Lima Martinez was elected with 91 votes, alongside Tony (Shengye) Niu with 84 votes.

Editor’s Note (April 4, 2:35 pm): This article has been updated with information on VUSAC’s VP Student Organizations and Arts and Culture Commissioner elections.

Editor’s Note (May 17, 4:54 pm): This article has been updated to correct that NCSC has two positions for Athletics Commissioner and four positions for Social Commissioner.

Op-ed: To new student leaders — and those who hope to become ones

A retirement message from the President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union

Op-ed: To new student leaders — and those who hope to become ones

The regular student election season has come and gone. For those who did get elected: congratulations and welcome to the world of student governance. Before I retire as the President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), I want to offer some advice for those involved and those still pondering the decision to get involved.

I got involved because I wanted to feel a little part of campus life and community, make some new friends and because — let’s be real — it wouldn’t look too bad on a résumé. I started small and got involved in a course union, the Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Students’ Union, as a first-year representative. I had the opportunity to collaborate with others and run events. Through it all, I was guided by senior students. This is why I am such a big proponent of getting involved in your early years at U of T.

Afterward, I moved on to a more senior executive position in the course union and eventually got leadership opportunities across multiple clubs, ranging from the Orphan Sponsorship Program to ASSU, where I eventually became the president.

For those of you who want to get involved, you first need to find your community. This campus is huge and trying to find your space is sometimes difficult. Get involved in opportunities that actually interest you. There are hundreds of clubs on this campus that cater to diverse ends, whether they are cultural groups, political work, or just recreational. If you cannot find one that interests you, then create your own.

But while you’re there, remember the commitment that you have made and try to do the best work that you can. After you accomplish this foundational experience, you might want to take the big step of running in an election for a senior role in a student union. However, there’s something you should know before you do it.

Student ‘politics’ can be a lot of fun. I’ve been involved in a few elections myself, and campaigning is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have. You will meet and talk to students about their issues and propose your own ideas to fix them. You will have articles written in The Varsity about you and you get to debate the issues you care about.

However, the role you’re in is no cakewalk. This university has a lot of problems: we have a mental health crisis, housing is too expensive, and marginalized communities continue to feel unsafe. Those in power have attempted to fix these issues for decades, but they are not so easily resolvable. When pushing for reform and lobbying administration, you can expect to face the insurmountable walls and barriers that have led multiple student leaders to burn out.

Moreover, you will face criticism — warranted or unwarranted — by simply being in the position you are in. People will call you out, write articles against you, and spread nasty rumours about you. You must be ready for that.

However, the most difficult part about student ‘politics’ is the label of student ‘politicians’ — which I hate. It creates a false sense of entitlement that only feeds into people’s egos. Trust me when I say most, if not all, student leaders at U of T have an ego, including myself. Hence, when all of these egos coalesce, we often want to be the ones in control to get the credit. This leads to disagreements and petty actions by others just to garner more clout. Often, larger groups or organizations will try to interfere with the affairs of other student groups.

What you should know is that there are well-intentioned and dishonest people on all ‘sides’ of the political spectrum. You will need to learn who to trust in your role. Stand for what you think is right. Taking the safe route on issues like the university-mandated leave of absence policy or the Student Choice Initiative is not the way to go. You need to take action.

The last thing I need to clear up is that student ‘politics’ is not real politics. There is a life beyond it — so don’t take it too seriously. If you do have a chance at ‘power,’ make it as enjoyable as you can. Live in the present, work together, and get things done. No one cares if you were the President of ASSU once you leave this school.

Have fun, and good luck. As for me, I’m out of here.

Haseeb Hassaan is a fifth-year Political Science and Religion student at St. Michael’s College. He is the President of ASSU.

A principled defence of voluntary student unionism

Opt-out option for incidental fees could improve political participation, democracy

A principled defence of voluntary student unionism

As part of its omnibus announcement on changes to the postsecondary education financial framework, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced that students would be able to opt out of university-defined “non-essential” fees that are placed on top of their tuition fees, starting from the 2019–2020 academic year.

Subsequently, several groups have indicated that the policy will seriously compromise the effectiveness of student organizations and services. In being funded by student fees, these groups rely on a broad pooling of payments from all enrolled students. The opt-out option, in their view, would not only mean a significant decrease in available funding, but unstable and fluctuating yearly budgets.

This presents us with an intriguing question: whether students should be able to choose to not pay for a non-tuition service. Despite what seems to be a universal fightback against it, there are advocates of the move, at least in principle, in the campus community. Some perceive that many of these services are useless and a waste of money, or that some funded organizations act in ways antithetical to their mandate.

A primary argument among advocates is a moral claim, wherein students, as the rightful custodians of their money, ought to be able to pay for what they choose. I do not buy this argument. It assumes a consumerist logic that everything ought to be treated like a market.

Student representation cannot be framed within this relationship. It relies on the collective pooling of resources to work toward the broader benefit of students as a whole. You give expecting someone to benefit, even if that person may not be you. In deciding to not contribute, you must follow by not gaining benefit from it, lest you behave hypocritically.

But since student organizations will likely be open to all, regardless of contribution, a student who opts out would still be able to use and benefit from that service. This potential free-rider scenario weakens the practicality of this first argument.

I am instead supportive of a second argument: that in facing the possibility of losing funds, student groups will make a greater attempt to align to student needs, thereby increasing accountability and democratic legitimacy. With this would come regular attempts to convince students of the merits of spending decisions.

My main concern here is the degree of student apathy or dislike toward their representatives. The main benefit from this opt-out policy may be an increase in the average student’s sense of stake and interest in student politics. At this point, it should be clear that I am only speaking of elected student unions, because they claim to represent and advance the interests of all students.

This means that other fees, such as those for clubs, student media, and services should be exempt from the opt-out option. While these groups are in some sense democratic and service-based, they do not claim the same level of universality and authority as student politics.

The opt-out option of student union fees can be thought of as another democratic mechanism, much like slate elections and referendums. It is direct democracy at its purest: not just providing an option to reject spending allocations, but determining the amount of funding themselves.

It seems that, at least in theory, this would increase student union accountability. For these organizations, no dollar will be taken for granted. Instead, student representatives will have to justify all spending to the campus community.

This is given impetus by the recent scandal at Ryerson University, in which it alleged that up to $273,000 may have been spent by Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executives on improperly authorized purchases. At UTSG in 2017, the St. Michael’s College Student Union collapsed after similar financial decisions were made public. And let’s not forget our own University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) quarter-million dollar scandal from a few years ago.

With an opt-out option, it is unlikely that student unions will receive significant funding from its students next year. Instead, they will slowly need to gain back student trust and respect, to the point that students feel the organization is using its financial power to invest in positive and student interest-based programs.

A potential objection here is that such a process will result in total instability. For instance, it would be difficult for representative groups to implement long-term goals, since they will have little knowledge of what will come in the future. My response is that democracy itself is inherently unstable.

However, an increase in accountability is not my main concern. Student representatives at U of T seem to have sufficient accountability mechanisms in and of themselves. These include annual elections and various membership-approval requirements in different organizations.

But these mechanisms have become defective and inefficient from a lack of student involvement. This academic year the UTSU drew criticism as it failed to maintain quorum through to the end of its Annual General Meeting (AGM).

Meanwhile, after failing to meet its AGM quorum, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) will be required to hold a special meeting for its membership to approve its draft financial statements. The UTGSU’s General Council also recently voted to reduce the special meeting’s required quorum from 300 to 150 members. In other words, rather than find ways to increase participation, they’ve opted to simply cut the required level of participation.

Election turnouts have also been abysmal year after year. The only reason that a remarkable 25.3 per cent of students voted in last year’s UTSU executive election is because students were concerned about the simultaneous U-Pass referendum. In other words, a vote on a direct allocation of money saw much more student interest than in any other student election.

Student representative decisions have been confined to a small set of campus activists who, although well-intentioned, are not always able to understand and voice the concerns of all students. In this year’s UTSU AGM, several important decisions that impact over 50,000 students — the split with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the ban on slate campaigning, and the condemnation of the provincial free speech policy — were decided by less than 250 people.

Voting, although seemingly simple, can often be overlooked and forgotten due to the busyness of student schedules. But the opt-out option will be done through tuition, and is therefore unavoidable. Students, in enrolling for another semester, must make a conscious evaluation of how they believe student groups ought to work, and the power they themselves have in the opt-out.

My hope is that the opt-out option can give students an opportunity to think about what their respective unions do, and the potential influence they can exercise over them. This will work against student apathy, and encourage participation in other democratic mechanisms. The result may be a snowball effect that sees substantial democratic returns in the years to come.

Sam Routley is a fourth-year Political Science, Philosophy, and History student. He is The Varsitys UTSG Campus Politics Columnist.

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

Previous GM left after two months on the job for unknown reasons

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

After five months, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has hired a new General Manager following the departure of Michelle Lee-Fullerton, who left the position after only two months on the job.

In a statement emailed to The Varsity, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that the new General Manager, whose name has not been disclosed yet, will start work on December 10.

“We’ve followed a thorough and extensive hiring process for the General Manager,” Boucher said.

“A General Manager plays an important role in the day-to-day and success of the UTSU,” Boucher said. “So it’s important to us that the position be filled not only by the most qualified & capable candidate, but by one who respects and works in line with the UTSU’s core principles.”

The reasons for Lee-Fullerton’s departure were not revealed “due to legal constraints, and out of respect for the individual,” Boucher said at the time.

The General Manager post was created this year to replace the Executive Director position and is meant to serve as a link between the student union’s executive team and the operations staff, as well as to help oversee special projects.

Tka Pinnock, the most recent Executive Director, left the UTSU at the end of the last academic year, after three years.

Since Lee-Fullerton’s departure in July, the regular duties and responsibilities of the General Manager have been taken up by Boucher and UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm in their capacity as members of the management committee.

The General Manager position is particularly important to helping the UTSU develop the long-awaited Student Commons, a student-run centre that is currently slated to open in April, after it was delayed twice from its original September opening. The Student Commons has been in the works for 11 years.

In the absence of the General Manager, former UTSU president Mathias Memmel was contracted by the organization for Student Commons planning and basic financial responsibilities.

“His financial responsibilities include payroll, record keeping, and the issuing of cheques — essentially ensuring that employees get paid, and clubs and levies receive disbursements owed,” Boucher explained.

“His Student Commons-related duties include preparatory tasks i.e. coordination of renovations, liaising with those active on the project (e.g. architects, consultants, etc), and producing operating plans that reflect the UTSU’s vision for the building.”

Memmel’s continued role within the UTSU past his presidential term raised questions from members at the Annual General Meeting, particularly because his role was not well-defined at the time.

“I understand the UTSU’s decision to contract out work to a former executive was met with skepticism at our Annual General Meeting, which alleged that it is improper for him to report to me,” Boucher said. “I don’t believe for a second that this would be a concern if I were a man. To question my authority and ability as a female President to manage a former leader is offensive.”

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

Motion rejected due to fears of inaccessibility, hacking

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

A motion to implement online voting for University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections was rejected after arousing lengthy debate at the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), with attendees questioning whether it was safe and accessible.

The motion was the only item submitted by a member outside of the executive and thus the last item on the agenda at the AGM, which was held on November 29.

Submitted by Ethan Bryant, the motion cited what Bryant saw as the “toxic nature” of past UTMSU elections, whose “competitive nature… [left] students open to being harassed by campaigners.”

The motion stated that “the openness and accessibility of elections should be a top priority for the UTMSU.”

Bryant called for the UTMSU to consult with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — which already uses online voting — and implement the procedure in its upcoming April elections and every election thereafter.

“I put forward this motion because of accessibility,” Bryant said. “Online voting would increase voter turnout because instead of voting at polling stations on campus, students can vote anywhere on or off campus as long as they have a device and an internet connection.”

“Student elections for all positions, in the past, have been criticized for their toxic nature and have been negatively competitive despite the election officer’s best efforts,” Bryant continued. “Online voting would close the door on any harassment of voters or ballot system, which the current system does not do a good enough job of stopping.”

Bryant said that both Governing Council and UTSU elections already take place online, and that online voting is environmentally friendly since it doesn’t use a lot of paper.

UTMSU Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji opposed the motion. “Easy and accessible are not the same thing. If we want to make voting more inclusive, then we should be working toward improving our current structure instead of starting from a new system.”

Arbaji added that online voting would bring up its own accessibility issues, as not all students have access to a reliable internet connection or devices.

Arbaji’s speech was followed by those of more than 15 students, some in favour of online voting, others against it.

Members in favour of online voting cited anxiety when confronted with in-person campaigners, the lack of access to voting by commuter students, and poor voter turnout as reasons to support online voting.

Members against the motion cited possible online hacking, the inability to verify voter identity online, the risk of online voting turning into a popularity contest, the effectiveness of in-person communication with voters, and the issue that not all students have access to laptops or smartphones due to financial implications as reasons to oppose online voting.

A 2011 study from Elections British Columbia found that there have been “no documented cases of hacking of Internet voting systems in a public election” based off of studies of elections across Canada, Europe, the United States, Australia and India.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata was also against online voting, saying that with in-person voting, candidates “have to convince [students] to get out of their way, go show their T-Card, go cast a ballot, and that’s a process.”

“That process comes with conversation, it comes with student engagement, it comes with a bigger and better thing that adds value to your vote as a student, as a citizen, as a student at UTM.”

“I don’t think this system is perfect. I think we have many flaws,” Nagata acknowledged. “I’m down to fix the system that we have in place. It’s been in place for a long time and I believe it’s working because students are voting.”

UTMSU elections have consistently had low voter turnout, with only 13 per cent of eligible students voting in the last election.

Ultimately, the question was called to end discussion and move directly to a vote. The motion was defeated and the meeting was adjourned immediately after.

Online voting has been a hotly debated topic among student unions at U of T. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union recently discussed the option before deciding to reject it, citing a risk of coercion and lack of research into the topic. The Canadian Federation of Students also rejected online voting at its National General Meeting in the summer for similar reasons.

SCSU AGM 2018: Long debates to fund student organizations clash with financial realities

Motion to donate to Muslim Chaplaincy fails, funds for Women’s and Trans Centre’s 2019 conference set at $2,500

SCSU AGM 2018: Long debates to fund student organizations clash with financial realities

At the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) six-hour 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 14, motions to fund the Muslim Chaplaincy, as well as the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre’s (WTC) 2019 conference Making HERstory, were proposed and met with controversy over whether to donate money.

Muslim Chaplaincy

The motions for the SCSU to give $25,000 annually to the Muslim Chaplaincy for operational costs were struck down by members in attendance.

SCSU Vice-President Equity Chemi Lhamo said that although there are other religious groups on campus, none of them are funded by the SCSU. Some other religious groups at UTSC include the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Jewish Student Life.

A union member at the meeting said that it is unfair to other religious groups for the SCSU to fund only the Muslim Chaplaincy.

Union member and 2018 SCSU presidential candidate Ray Alibux proposed that the SCSU should instead donate $25,000 for a multi-faith chaplaincy in order to make the motion fairer to all religious groups at UTSC.

“Having a single fund for a single group may lead to issues like people feeling excluded,” said Alibux.

Another member opposed Alibux’s amendment, saying, “We have no money, that’s why we amended the [previous] motions.”

Alibux’s amendment failed and other amendments to strike out the motions asking for the SCSU to donate to the Muslim Chaplaincy passed.

The same motion also proposed that the SCSU provide a permanent space for the Muslim Chaplaincy. Members expressed concerns that this motion may create conflict between religious groups at UTSC.

Lhamo proposed to amend the motion to say that the SCSU will lobby for U of T to pay for it, and permanent spaces would be provided for both the Muslim Chaplaincy and other multi-faith initiatives.

SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis spoke in favour of Lhamo’s amendment, and said that future plans for buildings like the Instructional Centre II will provide “ample opportunity” to lobby for the spaces.

After a long discussion, the much-amended motion was finally passed.

Women’s and Trans Centre

Shagun Kanwar, the Finance and Safety Coordinator at the WTC, moved for the SCSU to contribute $7,000 to WTC’s 2019 conference, Making HERstory. The motion was amended so that the monetary support was lower, after concerns from students about where the money would come from and where it would go.

When asked why the WTC needed $7,000 more if it already had $40,000 in levies, Kanwar said that much of the levies were spent on honorariums for WTC coordinators.

Each WTC coordinator receives $8,000 for two semesters.

“The honorarium in there is not reasonable,” said one student.

Raymond Dang, the Director of Political Science on the SCSU board, disagreed and said that WTC coordinators deserved to be paid this amount because “a lot of the time a lot of these coordinators pass their hours [for their pay].”

WTC External Coordinator Leon Tsai presented the budget breakdown for the conference, which showed that out of the total cost of $30,000, about $24,000 was allocated toward speakers and performances, while $6,000 was for logistics. Of the $24,000, over $20,000 of that would be paid toward the keynote speaker, whom the WTC members said was a highly regarded #MeToo figure.

According to Brayiannis, since most of the surplus money is budgeted toward building maintenance like roof repairs, most of the donations to WTC would have to come from the donations line.

In hopes of being practical with the donations line, which has a limit of $5,000 for all entities, Lhamo said that access to funding is already difficult anywhere. She emphasized the SCSU’s role as WTC’s co-collaborator and wanted to change SCSU’s donation from $7,000 to $2,500.

Lhamo’s amendment to lower the SCSU’s monetary contribution passed. Kanwar’s motion for the SCSU to assist WTC in advertising the conference also passed.