Op-ed: A student union must always be political

The UTMSU VP External discusses Ford reforms, importance of advocacy

Op-ed: A student union must always be political

If you’re a student at a postsecondary institution in Ontario, you are bound to know what just happened with the recent announcements by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government, especially as it pertains to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Last year, it was estimated that over 400,000 students in Ontario use OSAP to attend school. Students at U of T know how expensive it is firsthand and how much government assistance is essential to access education.

As a disclaimer, I must note I abhor all political parties, and I choose to voice my concerns based only on policies that affect me and the students that I represent. And I can’t say that I was a full believer in the Liberal changes to OSAP in 2016.

I am a student who heavily depends on loans, and my family does not make enough to support me and my two other siblings who also attend postsecondary institutions. We don’t qualify for the “free tuition” grant because my dad makes $65,000 a year, but nonetheless, some of the grants helped us through.

But with the Ford government announcing major changes to student assistance, including cuts to funding for students, I am one of the students who will only walk out with more debt, like thousands of others at U of T.

When I joined the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) a few weeks after my orientation week, I found a place where I can be a part of something bigger. I began volunteering and pretty soon applied for a part-time position in the union, where I began to engage students and help with event planning. Now, as an executive, I can see a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into representing over 14,000 students and providing them with campaigns, services, and events that work for them.

There is so much at stake as students now see the low level of support for students from a government whose platform was supposed to be “for the people.” I ask the question: are they really?

I read a recent Varsity Comment piece on how the UTM Campus Conservatives are somehow the “official opposition to the UTMSU.” The writer went after issues between UTM’s student newspaper The Medium and the UTMSU, seemingly failing — or choosing not to — understand that both parties have addressed their recent behaviour, instead loosely clinging on to misguided attacks in a desperate cry for attention.  

After scratching my head from reading the piece and coming to the conclusion that some people enjoy altering reality under the guise of pretending to care, I began reading old articles about student organizations and how student unions lobbied the government in the past.

I came across an article in The Charlatan, Carleton University’s student newspaper, from March 2009. It exposed how the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association allegedly led meetings and trainings for Campus Conservatives to take over their student unions. Leaked documents from a workshop at the University of Waterloo on WikiLeaks showed how Conservative students were told to create front clubs like “Campus Coalition for Liberty” to defend free speech agendas and  lobby for funds

Reading this, I felt immediately that history was simply repeating itself. It’s not unheard of for Conservative chapters on campuses to wish to remove political activism from student union organizing.

What we see is that Doug Ford and the PC government’s agenda with the “Student Choice Initiative” is precisely meant to attack student organizing and autonomy. Why? Because the government fears student unions and student organizations when we become political. We create platforms for students to assemble, to organize, and to challenge. Whether university administrations or governments, student unions have been there to fight those that stand in the way of student interests.

Students should always demand to see better from their student unions. I was lucky enough to join my union and feel inspired by the work and leadership of the executive when I was in first year. Victories are important, and I saw them in abundance over the 2016–2017 academic year. Student unions must always work to build on strong advocacy efforts to achieve a better and more inclusive campus environment.

For instance, the UTMSU got rid of the $35 exam remark fee, introduced free menstrual products on campus — becoming the first U of T campus to do so — extended the credit/no credit policy to the last day of classes, successfully lobbied for a direct transit line from Brampton to UTM, and brought in gender-neutral washrooms on campus. This was a student union at work.

Last month, the UTMSU saw a huge victory with our course retake policy being approved by Governing Council, one that was seven years in the making. This was achieved by the student union remaining true to its objectives for fairness in academic policies. Thinking and believing that students deserve more and better is the essence of being political, and must be how we reach those goals.

Some of our goals are lofty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved. We must yearn for better. Our lives are inherently political because there are decisions being made for us. If being political is how we win, then student unions must stay political. If they aren’t, students must organize and make them that way.

Atif Abdullah is a third-year Computer Science student at UTM. He is the Vice-President External of the UTMSU.

UTMSU Board of Directors votes to increase student levies

Union fee to increase by 2.3 per cent, U-Pass fees to increase by 7.5 per cent

UTMSU Board of Directors votes to increase student levies

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) Board of Directors voted on January 23 to increase student levies.

The meeting began with reports from the executives on what they had done in the past month. Vice-President University Affairs Andres Posada announced the approval of the UTMSU’s proposed Course Retake Policy, which passed last week at a Governing Council meeting. The Course Retake Policy would allow students to use one repeated course in their GPA.

Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji reported on the UTMSU’s newly opened Food Centre, which provides access to food for food-insecure students.

Student levy increases

The board then turned its attention toward proposals about increasing student levies for services provided by the UTMSU, such as the UTMSU’s Food Bank, Erindale College Speciality Emergency Response Team (ECSpeRT), the UTMSU’s Student Refugee Program, the Mississauga Transit U-Pass, Student Societies, and Academic Societies.

All the increases passed, meaning that in total UTMSU members will be paying at least $9.14 more per session, pending UTM Campus Council approval.

According to Munib Sajjad, Executive Director of the UTMSU, these fees are “like a membership fee that everyone pays into for obviously overall operations. Everything is covered from the membership fee.”

The UTMSU board approved a student society fee increase from $14.86 per student per semester to $15.20. It also approved an academic society fee increase from $1.08 to $1.10 — which marks an increase of 2.3 per cent each.

The board approved increases of the same rate for the UTMSU’s food bank fee, student refugee program fee, and ECSpeRT fee.

The food bank fee has therefore increased from $0.59 to $0.60, while the student refugee program increased from $1.16 to $1.19, and the ECSpeRT fee increased from $0.56 to $0.57 per student per semester.

The next item consisted of a levy increase to the UTMSU’s Mississauga Transit U-Pass, which allows all UTM students universal access to the MiWay transit. The U-Pass is based on a contract between the UTMSU and the City of Mississauga.

The board approved a 7.5 per cent increase for the fall-winter U-Pass fee, from $116.40 to $125.13 per student per semester, and a 6.5 per cent increase in the summer U-Pass fee, from $154.50 to $164.54.

“This [raise] also includes some of the administrative fees we have to take on by hiring about 16 students and helping pay for a U-Pass coordinator,” explained Sajjad.

The motion passed, marking the end of all student levy increases.

Health & Dental plan, coalition against Premier Ford’s postsecondary changes

Following the levy increases, the board voted to form a Health and Dental Ad-Hoc Committee to develop a health and dental plan for UTM students.

This comes as the UTMSU voted to separate from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) last year. UTM students previously paid a fee to the UTSU to administer its Health & Dental Plan.

Division I Director Sheri Hijazi, Division II Director Valentino Gomes, and Division III Director Zeina Jamaleddine were elected to the committee.

The room then discussed a motion proposed by Vice-President External Atif Abdullah’s motion to establish a coalition to combat the changes to postsecondary education funding announced by the provincial government on January 17.

The coalition would involve student unions, labour unions, student organizations, faculty associations, and community groups.

Abdullah’s proposal maintained that the announcement was a “direct assault on student unions [and] their autonomy” and jeopardized many student union services “such as Clubs funding, Universal Transit Pass Programs, [and] Health and Dental Insurance.”

“With [the provincial government’s] decision, every student will be impeached,” said Abdullah. “If it’s not OSAP, then it’s a club or society. If it’s not that, then you’re an international student and your tuition could shoot up because the university has to make up its lost funding from somewhere.”

“We don’t want you folks to be scared,” said Nagata. “We want you folks to be angry and excited [for] what is to come.”

With the passing of Abdullah’s motion, the meeting adjourned.

The UTMSU will present the approved levy changes to the UTM Campus Council at its meeting next Wednesday, January 30.

UTMSU, The Medium: learn to co-exist

Student government and media must do better for campus democracy to function

UTMSU, <i>The Medium</i>: learn to co-exist

Recently, there has been a wave of controversies surrounding student union and media relations across U of T campuses. In December, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union removed Varsity reporters from a meeting for live-tweeting after attempting to block them from doing so, while the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) moved to control media access to meetings. The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) condemned the SCSU’s actions as abrogations of the free press. 

Unfortunately, UTM has not been unaffected by this trend. After the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) last November, UTM’s student paper, The Medium, was accused by UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah of “corner[ing] and harass[ing] a part-time staff member” for information. 

The paper responded by publishing a series of opinion pieces that denied these allegations and criticized the UTMSU’s anti-press behaviour. The paper’s Managing Editor, Alicia Boatto, claimed that Abdullah attempted to block its access to public student events following the AGM incident.

Freedom of the press is a necessary condition for democracy to function, and any kind of restrictions can put that freedom at jeopardy. Governing bodies such as student unions are kept in check and the general public is kept informed through independent media outlets that are free of external interests or pressures. When student unions restrict the media’s access to meetings, they are weakening their own accountability. Student unions should realize that student journalists are simply fulfilling their responsibilities to the student body. 

The Medium, which pointed out the UTMSU’s policy of restricting communication with the press to email only, is justified in its criticism. Student unions should be open to answering inquiries from the media in every conventional capacity, including in person, and at all times. 

I should disclose that I have written several times for The Medium’s News section and have faced barriers when student union members do not respond to emails on time. Whether they choose to offer comments or not, the UTMSU has to present some response to inquiries on a regular basis so that articles can be both informative and accurate.

Interestingly, amid this debacle, The Medium also offered Abdullah a chance to explain his accusations. Abdullah responded by accusing the paper of “poor journalistic integrity” and inaccurate news coverage. 

While his perspective does not excuse his behaviour, it is also true that The Medium needs to be held to higher standards. Personally, I have noticed that the quality of the newspaper has dwindled in the past two years, and as both a reader and contributor, I agree that the number of inaccuracies have increased. While speed is essential for news coverage, it should never compromise accuracy. 

Furthermore, The Medium’s handling of its dispute with the UTMSU is questionable, especially as it pertains to journalistic ethics. The CAJ clearly states that, “We lose our credibility as fair observers if we write opinion pieces about subjects we also cover as reporters.” The News Editor at The Medium, Ali Taha, was one of the masthead members whose opinion on the dispute was published, even though he covers the UTMSU as a reporter. Furthermore, the dispute, where it concerns the UTMSU AGM, specifically focuses on him and Abdullah. 

Clearly, The Medium has a conflict of interest in this issue. In order to remain fair and credible, news reporters should strictly refrain from publicly extending any personal opinions on topics that they cover. Such behaviour casts doubt on the integrity of the newspaper as a whole and risks compromising students’ trust in media.

The Medium would do well to better organize its opinion pages. First off, it must keep a clear-cut separation between news and opinion. Furthermore, standard opinion pieces about student politics should come only from the students, while masthead opinions should be strictly published as editorials. Strangely, Taha’s opinion piece was published as a letter to the editor, which is traditionally reserved for the thoughts of readers.

Both the UTMSU and The Medium are organizations that exist to provide services for their students. As such, they are accountable to the student body. Rather than behave defensively and hostilely toward each other, both should embrace criticism and value self-improvement. That is what it means to be a government and media in the face of routine disapproval. 

To the UTMSU and The Medium: learn to co-exist. Student democracy at UTM depends on it.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.

Disclosure: Abedi was a staff writer for The Medium in the 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 academic years.  

UTM Campus Conservatives: UTMSU’s official opposition

Group’s criticisms keep accountability, student democracy alive

UTM Campus Conservatives: UTMSU’s official opposition

When I was recently asked what the UTM Campus Conservatives (UTMCC) do on campus, I answered that it is the official opposition to the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

I mean this figuratively: over the past academic year, the UTMCC, above all other clubs and societies on campus, has been the loudest source of valid criticism of the UTMSU. 

I must disclose that I am not affiliated with any political party or ideology. I’ve come to the above conclusion as an observer of the interactions between three campus actors: the UTMCC, the UTMSU, and UTM’s student newspaper, The Medium.

Let’s start with last October. Philip Power, founder and former president of the UTMCC, shared a Daily Wire article on Facebook, commending it for exposing “the blatant Political bias of the UTMSU.” The same story was covered by The Medium. Allegedly, the UTMSU offered free burgers in exchange for signatures on a petition denouncing the Ontario Progressive Conservative’s minimum wage freeze.  

However, the fact that the UTMSU would attempt to manipulate students against any political party is reprehensible and contrary to its mandate. It ought to be a non-partisan representative of all students, regardless of political affiliation. 

In November, Carol Dinno, Vice-President of the UTMCC, scolded the UTMSU for raising executive salaries. Dinno wrote on Facebook, “I can guarantee that these raises are in no way earned nor are they democratic.” While the question of the raises being “earned” is up for debate, I agree that the way in which the UTMSU procured them was unwarranted: students were not consulted on how much of their money was going to be put toward these raises.

Meanwhile, The Medium recently published a series of critical articles against the UTMSU. Alicia Boatto, the paper’s Managing Editor, wrote an opinion piece explaining that student unions across all three U of T campuses have been actively hostile to the freedom of the student press. This includes the UTMSU’s recent antagonism toward The Medium’s journalists.

Former UTMCC president Michael Lo Giudice shared and reiterated the sentiment of Boatto’s piece. He pointed out a lack of student awareness regarding funding for the executives’ significant salaries and claimed that the executives were behaving like “campus dictators.”  

UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah, who has been highly responsive to The Medium’s critical coverage of the UTMSU, dismissed Boatto’s article as a “bunch of lies” in a Facebook comment. He wrote a letter to the editor responding to Boatto’s article, accusing The Medium of “subjective journalism.” He made the case that the paper should be held to the “same standards of accountability as the UTMSU.” 

After The Medium’s News Editor Ali Taha wrote an opinion piece in response to Abdullah’s letter, UTMCC Treasurer Yousuf Farhan shared Taha’s piece and tagged UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and Abdullah in his post. Abdullah deflected by alleging that The Medium “manipulated” its staff’s work and wrote that he was “not going to continue this bickering.”

Abdullah has failed to understand that the UTMSU is not the same sort of actor as The Medium when it comes to student democracy. The former is held accountable by the latter, and not the other way around. There is no question that The Medium should have complete freedom and independence when it comes to coverage of student politics, so long as it is unbiased and does its due diligence. However, if the paper was to abide by the UTMSU’s rules, journalistic integrity would be compromised. 

When it comes to criticism of the UTMSU, a distinction must be drawn between the role of The Medium and the UTMCC. It is inherently the responsibility of the paper to hold its student union accountable and keep the student body informed about how its money is being spent. However, it is obligated to do so ‘neutrally.’ 

The UTMCC has no such obligation, mandate, or limitation. In fact, the UTMCC focuses on community engagement and service provision that has little to do with student union politics. The fact that it chooses to take on the responsibility of holding the UTMSU accountable as a campus group, unlike most other individual students or student groups, means that it is the only existing student opposition on campus. 

Furthermore, in continually defending The Medium, the UTMCC proves itself to be a leading proponent of free speech and student democracy at UTM. This is why the voice of the UTMCC is so crucial. The executives are bombastic and unapologetic when it comes to criticizing the wrongdoings of the UTMSU, and they do so without fear of repercussion.

I don’t advocate for the UTMCC as a replacement for the UTMSU. In fact, it is unfortunate that we have arrived at a point where our student union is being criticized for pushing an ideological agenda. After all, they should not have one to begin with. 

Students of all political affiliations should have a strong, active group with which they can identify, whether it be the UTMCC or the Young Liberals. But our students’ union should be non-partisan and representative of all students. Hopefully, the UTMCC’s role as a force of opposition and accountability pushes the UTMSU toward this end. 

Mduduzi Mhlanga is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

Disclosure: Mhlanga ran in the 2017 UTMSU elections. 

Editor’s Note (January 29): Mhlanga publicly announced his campaign for election to the Campus Affairs Committee of the UTM Campus Council following the publication of this article. Though Mhlanga is not officially affiliated with the UTMCC, he was endorsed by the UTMCC following his election announcement.

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 Colubmia 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.

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Long debates on free speech, policy proposals dominate

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Lengthy debates surrounding free speech, policy proposals, and union operations dominated the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30.

The meeting ran overtime until 10:20 pm despite losing quorum at 9:52 pm. According to the UTSU’s bylaws, at least 50 people must be physically present in the room for the AGM to run, which was not the case in the final portion of the meeting.

However, a member in the room pointed out that the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act states that as long as quorum is present at the beginning of a meeting, it can continue even if it is not present throughout.

As such, Speaker Eric Bryce ruled that the meeting could continue despite not having enough people in the room.

Before losing quorum

Before the meeting lost quorum, the AGM covered the majority of the items on the agenda, starting with a presidential address and question period to UTSU executives.

Members asked a range of questions, notably about the Student Commons’ opening and operations, as well as the UTSU’s stance on the Canadian Federation of Students.

Following the question period, members voted to pass the UTSU’s 2018 audited financial statements. Notably, the union reported a surplus of $492,887, up from $23,521 in 2017.

“This is the largest surplus the UTSU’s run in recent memory,” said Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm. He credited layoffs, a repatriation of fees from a defunct student group, investments, and “better financial practices.”

The UTSU also voted to continue to use Sloan Partners LLP as its auditors for the second year in a row.

Following that, the meeting then moved on to changes to the Elections Procedure Code, with members voting to officially ban slates in UTSU elections.

This was followed by a vote to support endorsing the separation of the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes in favour.

A separation would allow the UTMSU to provide services currently offered by the UTSU, such as a health and dental plan, as well as conduct their own advocacy efforts. The UTSU would also be allowed to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU.

Following a short recess, the AGM then had a lengthy discussion on a motion submitted by a member which called on the UTSU to oppose Premier Doug Ford’s mandate that all universities develop and enforce free speech policies.

The item was brought forward by Jack Rising from the club Socialist Fightback U of T. It called the provincial government’s policy “a direct attack on the time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience on campus” and urged the UTSU to take a stance.

After a long debate and some proposed amendments, the resolution was passed.

After losing quorum

In the last major portion of the meeting, members debated at length about a proposal made by Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin to allow members to vote on procedural and operation policies at the AGM.

Biswurm and UTSU President Anne Boucher brought up concerns over letting members vote on policy, saying that not everyone who attends AGMs arrives with good intentions.

Although the meeting lost quorum in the middle of the debate, the controversial resolution was passed with no amendments.

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

UTSU AGM 2018: Students endorse UTMSU, UTSU separation

Motion passes unanimously with 222 votes

UTSU AGM 2018: Students endorse UTMSU, UTSU separation

Members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted to endorse separation from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) at the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30. The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes.

The move comes after a lengthy negotiations process that began in January and culminated in the UTSU Board of Directors endorsing separation in September. The vote at the AGM was for members to show their approval of the endorsement, which would allow the unions to begin the formal process of separating.

UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah supported the separation, citing issues regarding campus representation.

Specifically, he pointed to a perceived lack of support on the health and dental plan — which is administered by the UTSU — as well as on what the UTMSU saw to be a lack of solidarity on the controversial University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy passed in June.

However, Abdullah added that it would still be possible for the two unions to work together after separation.

“When it comes to banding together for issues, I don’t believe you need a contract to work together,” said Abdullah.

UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm spoke to The Varsity on the next steps of formal separation and the overall financial implications, specifically an $82,800 loss in yearly revenue from UTM students until 2023.

“We’ve talked to the university about [its] role in it and so we’re putting in every effort that we can to make sure this, in an operational sense, goes smoothly,” said Biswurm.

The UTSU and the UTMSU signed an Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) on April 30, 2008. UTSU President Anne Boucher claimed that students from both the UTSU and UTMSU criticized the decision to sign the AMA at the time, as it was agreed upon during the last day of the fiscal period with little time for discussion.

The UTSU has experienced a similar separation in the past with regards to the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, which left the UTSU’s predecessor, the Students’ Administrative Council, in 2004.

Once the separation is finalized, the UTMSU’s health and dental plan will no longer be under the UTSU, meaning that it would have to find a new plan under a different health care provider. The student union will also no longer have to sign an agreement to work alongside the UTSU and would be able to conduct its own advocacy efforts.

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi