Reading an email from the executive director of UTMSU to the executive team and associates is disappointing, but not a huge surprise. It features the usual half-truths and sketchy policies I’ve come to expect in my years here.
First, a bit of background. The annual general meeting of St. George’s student union is coming up. We’re members of that union and pay fees to it, so we should care whether they use the money well or squander it.
Right now the controversial topic (one is never lacking) is whether they should clear their board—a powerful body—of representatives for each college downtown and replace them with ones for each minority.
Sounds good—at first blush. There is some controversy. It’s rarely done, because it’s hard to figure out how the majority of people would have a voice if their representatives were replaced. What if you didn’t have local MPs and councillors (and mayor and premier and so on) but a choice between MPs representing those who identify as women, aboriginal, LGBT, racialized, disabled, youth, or senior? As a (perhaps heated) article put it in The National Post when the union’s proposed structure became public, whose job is it to make sure a pothole on your street is fixed?
Anyway, this isn’t to agree or disagree with the change. It doesn’t directly affect our campus anyhow. But what does is the bullheadedness and questionable tactics propagated to all levels of the union to ram it through.
Let’s hear some of the email first. Its writer, Walied Khogali—a paid central figure at UTMSU who’s been in U of T politics for at least a decade and should understand the responsibility to be as straightforward as possible—says they have to make this change to comply with an update to Canada’s Not-for-Profit Act: “If UTSU fails to approve the recommended by-law changes (constituency representation rather than a college based model). UTSU risks losing its status as an incorporated entity.”
Not true. There are bylaw amendments they have to make, but this is not one of them. There’s not a whiff of it in the act’s section on directors, freely available online. Even the meeting’s own agenda doesn’t label the representation change as recommended by their legal counsel, as it does with the other bylaw amendments.
What has happened, though, is that the motion to approve bylaw amendments has both the required ones and the controversial one bundled up, so you have to vote for both if you want UTSU to comply with the act.
Much of the rest of the email is a scare tactic about the losses we’ll face if the bylaws aren’t changed and, amazingly, the government comes after UTSU not to give them a chance but to shut them down. We could lose funding for some services that UTSU helps us out with. Q: How does it do that? A: Largely because we UTMers pay fees to downtown that are mostly rerouted back here. Maybe they could just stay here in that event?
Actually, this is also the first time I’ve seen an amount put to how much that is. Khogali said that 40% of their operating budget is from UTSU. For the observers who were refused access to the contract between the two earlier this year, go ahead and work that out backwards to figure out the proportion of our fees that come back.
But why do they want the change to go through? Probably because they’re not happy about colleges being on the board; the colleges have been increasingly seeking to hold back their fees. No doubt it’s also about image—anything that helps minorities is attractive (but cutting out others isn’t).
The worst part, though, is something that’s been clear for years but not in writing till now. It’s proxy forms, which let you vote on someone else’s behalf. Democratic. But what if they’re strategically filled up? The unions love proxies because they save them from being outvoted by dissenters. Not democratic.
So, to “prevent a filibuster”, Khogali tells the team to pick up proxy forms and complete them—i.e. fill a quota of random students who shrug and sign over a vote (and the anecdotes about this are endless).
It’s not even disagreement over the issues. It’s just terrible politics.