UTMSU AGM 2019: Funding cuts, campus initiatives, policies in discussion

President Atif Abdullah passes motion to increase activism on OSAP cuts

UTMSU AGM 2019: Funding cuts, campus initiatives, policies in discussion

Funding cuts from the provincial government and ideas on how to resist them took centre stage at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 27 in the Maanjiwe nendamowinan building. It was the union’s first AGM after splitting from the University of Toronto Students’ Union last year.

Presidential address

“I actually realized that we had quite a long year full of ups and downs, and a lot of different things happened, some positive, unfortunately some negative as well,” said UTMSU President Atif Abdullah, beginning his address. “I say that because there were many challenges that deeply affected our community here,” he added, going on to talk about the cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the mental health crisis.

He discussed several policies and initiatives that the UTMSU has worked on in the past year, including the course retake policy that was implemented in May and the pilot implementation of self-assigned sick notes over the summer. According to Abdullah, a new printing service that will allow students to print from their personal devices will become available next semester.

Some UTMSU-run initiatives, like the Food Centre and the Duck Stop, which is the convenience store on campus, have been well-received by the UTM community. According to Abdullah, the Food Centre serves over 150 students per month, and the Duck Stop has sold over 77,000 items in the past year.

Abdullah also submitted a motion to the agenda which was dubbed the “Student Action Motion.” It proposed that the UTMSU explore options for increasing activism regarding the cuts to OSAP, including “rallies, marches, sit-ins and strikes.” Abdullah called a walk-out earlier in the year a success, with “historic numbers for UTM.” While speaking on the motion, he commented that the UTMSU wants to hear the thoughts of its membership before going forward with any forms of protest. The motion passed. 

Abdullah spoke at the UTM Campus Council on November 20 concerning the mental health crisis. During the meeting, Abdullah brought up recommendations on behalf of the UTMSU. These included conducting a review of campus police’s policies for dealing with mental health crises, and addressing the long wait times for students to access mental health resources on campus.

Financial statements

According to the financial statements, the cost of orientation doubled from last year, due to inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018. The costs associated with the Blind Duck Pub also increased, as renovations in the Temporary Food Court continued throughout 2018 and 2019. The Blind Duck Pub was also open for longer hours to accommodate students during construction.

Starting in September, full-time UTM students received health and dental care through Green Shield Canada. “Now that UTM students are in charge of their own health and dental plan, at the end of this first year we can actually look at some of the records and track what usage students have been doing, and based on that, we can either increase some of the benefits and offset that by decreasing what students actually don’t need and don’t want to use,” said Abdullah in an interview with The Varsity. He went on to call the new health and dental plan “a positive change.”

Vice-President Internal Sara Malhotra submitted the motion to approve Yale and Partners LLC as the auditors for the UTMSU and the Blind Duck Pub. The motion was seconded and passed.

Member-submitted motions

There were two member-submitted motions. The first moved to offer billiard tables for free instead of $1.75. The motion was amended to have the cost absorbed by the Blind Duck, and passed. The second motion proposed to have the Blind Duck open on weekends. The motion was amended to move that the UTMSU explore the possibility of keeping it open on weekends, and it passed as well. 

Recent criticisms

Two days before the UTMSU’s AGM, an editorial was published in The Medium criticizing the union for having close ties to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), alleging that this relationship compromises the UTMSU’s autonomy.

“Do we support a lot of the work that CFS does? Yes, because it is for students and it’s a benefit for students — fighting for accessible tuition [and] against the Student Choice Initiative… [are things] that… we see eye-to-eye with the CFS in,” said Abdullah.

“However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t criticize the CFS or [consider] where it could do better because everyone can do better.”

The UTMSU’s current Executive Director, Nour Alideeb, served as chairperson for CFS–Ontario for the past two years, a fact the editorial scrutinized. It also criticized her hiring, as she is married to the previous UTMSU executive director, presenting it as an example of “nepotism.” Abdullah defended Alideeb, noting that she was hired for her experience, particularly for progressive initiatives that she helped pass and her track record in building relationships with the administration.

Editor’s Note (December 4, 3:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that orientation expenses rose from inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018, not Sean Paul in 2019. 

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.

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The Duck Stop reports $3,000 deficit, The Blind Duck reports surplus

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 29, which included questions to executives, a presentation of financial statements, and a rejection of online voting.

The meeting was called to order over an hour later than expected, at 6:25 pm.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata began by giving his presidential address. Nagata outlined the past victories of the UTMSU, including the recently passed Course Retake Policy and the September Orientation, and expressed his wish for a more united campus.

“Our goal is to make our campus feel like home to everybody, but we realize that it takes a lot more than just six execs in the UTMSU office. We need all of your help,” Nagata emphasized. “Regardless of the backgrounds, of our stories, of our experiences, of our beliefs, of our political stances, of our approaches to issues, we should be speaking as one united voice.”

Nagata’s address was followed by an executive question period. Attendees approached the microphone and asked questions.

Student Michael O’Judice questioned Nagata regarding Executive Director Munib Sajjad’s official position in the UTMSU. He asked why Sajjad, despite being an unelected staff member, spoke for the UTMSU at the recent Canadian Federation of Students AGM.

“[The UTMSU team] often gather before the meeting and we plan everything out, so we come up with one united voice,” Nagata replied. “Regardless if you’re staff, exec, we allow everybody to speak together at those meetings.”

“[Sajjad] has pretty much the same opinions on things that we do as well, so I don’t think it’s a problem,” Nagata added, but also said that he would be willing to discuss the matter further with the student.

UTMSU Vice-President Internal Yan Li then presented the 2017–2018 audited financial documents.

Li reported that The Blind Duck, the UTMSU’s student pub, had a surplus last year, whereas The Duck Stop, the UTMSU’s convenience store, had a loss of approximately $3,000.

She said that the union’s goal was to break even by the end of this fiscal year. Li then moved to appoint the auditor for the next fiscal term. Glenn Graydon Wright LLP was re-appointed as the UTMSU’s auditor.

The next motion was the endorsement of the separation of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the UTMSU, which has been a topic that has dominated both unions’ discussions in recent months. The two unions entered into the Associate Membership Agreement in 2008 for the UTSU to represent UTM students at a central advocacy level.

“We recognize the fact that [the] UTMSU… understands the needs and the wants of the students at UTM better than a student union that is situated downtown,” said UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah.

“UTM students actually pay into [the] UTSU, which is a society fee, and 15 per cent of that is kept by the UTSU’s membership fee. That fee coming back to the UTMSU means improved bursaries, more bursaries for students on this campus, [and] more clubs funding.”

Tyler Biswurm, UTSU Vice-President Operations, approached the microphone after a brief discussion regarding Abdullah’s statements, proceeding to read aloud a statement from UTSU President Anne Boucher endorsing this separation.

“It is in the best interests of UTM students to be fully represented by a students’ union that is on-site and is therefore in a better place to understand the needs of the students on the Mississauga campus,” read Biswurm. “In addition, the agreement between [the] UTSU and [the] UTMSU wrongly takes away rights from the UTMSU to fully represent UTM students.”

The motion to endorse the separation of the unions passed unanimously.

The next motion, and the only motion not moved by an executive member, was to implement online voting during UTMSU elections. Moved by Ethan Bryant, it caused lengthy and divisive debate, with students ultimately deciding to reject online voting.

Among the members to speak were Vice-President University Affairs Andres Posada, who said that the motion had given him much to reflect on, and Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji and Nagata, who both opposed the motion.