Not worth winning on half-truths

Even as they cry wolf on alleged “false” stories, the critics dissemble key points


Déjà vu. Two years ago The Medium wrote about a referendum to expand the Student Centre, quoting and expanding on a couple of figures for fee increases. Despite confirming with us on record in our office that the article had no mistakes, top union folks told volunteers that we had printed “lies”, and this was repeated in lecture halls (“Not our bad blood”, Feb. 10, 2013). If that was ever an isolated incident, it isn’t any longer. The executive director confirmed to us that last week’s cover story didn’t say anything false, but wasn’t, in his opinion, clear enough. Then at public info sessions he misquoted the article to say that what we had reported was “false”. Was this to add clarity? Was it professional?

Similarly, the letter from president Hassan Havili on the facing page talks about our shoddy journalism, since they were never interviewed for the article. Actually, when our writer approached him, she told us, he asked if she was recording and told her not to quote him. There’s not much point arguing with logic like that.

For that reason, let me just get into the meat of the issue. It’s not by any means an easy topic to get one’s head around, so please do read this week’s lead story and the online appendix of questions and answers, in which we try to be very clear about the background. I’ll assume you have a basic familiarity with it as you read this.

Last week I wrote that it was not true (despite claims to the contrary) that college and faculty directors have to be removed from the downtown union’s board in order to comply with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.

It’s been confirmed that they don’t have to be, and it would be untrue to say they do. Let’s clarify the matter. The act, as we’ve been given to understand it, says you can’t have a director of the corporation whom only some members can vote for. That rules out members of one college or faculty or campus voting for someone to represent just them (barring a class model, discussed in our news story). This is a dubious new restriction by the federal government, but dubious or no, we’re stuck with it.

There are two solutions. You can either remove the directors, or you can keep them and lift the limits on who can vote for them. The first solution was picked for the college and faculty directors. The second one was picked for all the other directors (that’s how they’re on the board at all). So much for the argument that we couldn’t have college and faculty directors.

You ask: Why would we want these directors if the voting would have to be open to everyone? Does it make sense for UTM students to vote for Trinity directors, for Faculty of Music directors, and so on?

Answer: Like I said, this is the sad fact that has to be lived with now. All the directors will have that quality. No, it doesn’t make sense that St. George students will be able to vote for UTM directors, or that male students can vote for the best woman director to represent female students. But it’s the case. The point is that the college and faculty directors got different treatment, and official communication has not been upfront about it.

But there is a point to revisit. Here is the practical fact. The meeting on Wednesday has a motion to approve bylaw amendments to comply with the act. Some of these amendments are necessary. The one I mentioned is not. But you don’t have the choice of picking apart the good and the bad. It’s all or nothing. So you should vote yes, right, to make sure we don’t lose what we do need to have?

Well, that’s the point that’s been put across again and again to me and in public. This is our one shot.

Except that’s not strictly true either. We have another year to comply (and even if we missed the deadline, UTSU wouldn’t instantly go up in smoke). True, there would have to be a process before then in which a new version is composed, approved, and voted on at a general meeting—a general meeting that might have to be held specifically for it since the annual one usually falls too late. That would be a pain.

The argument from the “just push it through” side is that the board will never come to a consensus in time for that. But the logic is circular. A major point of contention is the very one bundled up in that motion. In other words, the response to the conflict is, “We don’t have time to discuss it, so just do it this way.”

A generous caveat is given by those saying that we have to vote yes now. Sure, the proposal is not perfect, but we have to comply with the act now; we can refine and fix it later.

Okay, but let’s spell out the ambiguous terms. Let’s first clear the board of college and faculty directors. The board can “refine” it later… after those directors can no longer vote on it. The point is just another smokescreen.

Personally, I don’t mind which way you vote. I just want you to hear both sides. Even if it were too late—and it isn’t—it’s good to know why.