The annual general meeting of UTMSU last Thursday included a packed Council Chambers, free T-shirts, birthday cake, questions about international students, financials, and the integrity of campus newspapers, and financial documents showing that UTMSU now possesses over $1.1 million cash, most of it invested.
The meeting was called to order at 6:18 p.m. by former president Chris Thompson after a video presentation.
UTMSU’S $219,000 SURPLUS
After the minutes of last year’s AGM were approved, VP internal Bryan Chelvanaigum presented the financial statements for the fiscal year ending last April.
The statements show that UTMSU had net assets of $1.1 million at the end of the fiscal year, most of which is currently in short-term investments.
Some of the $219,000 surplus that produced this number on top of last year’s assets of $900,000 comes from the 2013 amalgamation of the Erindale Part-time Undergraduate Students’ Union.
A surplus for a non-profit corporation is not desirable. When UTSU declared a slight deficit at its downtown AGM last year, the UTSU auditor commented in relation to their financial situation, “The idea is to get to zero, not to get to a $300,000 profit.”
When asked how UTMSU planned to spend the surplus, Chelvanaigum said surplus revenue goes back into operating budget to cover unforeseen expenses, such as the repairs to the Student Centre roof last year. Student Centre repair and maintenance expenses jumped from $73,000 to $228,000 in the 2013/14 fiscal year.
The documents also show an increase in short-term investments by $260,000 between 2013 and 2014, meaning that the total amount of the surplus and more was placed in investments.
Speaking about the Blind Duck’s financials, Chelvanaigum said that this was the second year that the Blind Duck had achieved a “surplus”, adding that it allows the pub to provide healthier food and increase its staff and noting that a new chef was hired this year.
According to the statements, the Blind Duck had an excess of $37,000 at the end of the 2014 fiscal year. However, the documents also show that the pub was subsidized by the annual student levy, which amounted to $88,000 that year. Without the subsidy, the Blind Duck would run a deficit of over $50,000.
A question was raised about the increase in expenditure for UTMSU elections, which was nearly double that of the previous fiscal year. Chelvanaigum said that the cost was due to the number of poll clerks and other employees hired during executive and board elections as well as for the by-elections and the Student Centre referendum.
Maaham Malik, a division 3 director on the UTMSU board, asked why the funding spent for UTMSU services had decreased by $66,000. Chelvanaigum responded that the decrease in spending had to do with UTMSU providing more “stable” service.
Malik also asked why the orientation cost $37,000 more this year, to which Chelvanaigum responded that it was due to the amounts raised through sponsorship.
Chelvanaigum also said that leftover funds from WUSC—a student refugee program funded by a student levy—goes back into operating budget at the end of the year as well.
“The reason for that was because our WUSC student arrived late, so what happens is we’re still supporting that WUSC student,” he said. “So that’s what that leftover went for.”
Among the other changes over last year were a near-doubling of professional fees from $12,000 to $20,000, a decrease in club spending from $93,000 to $80,000, an increase in UTMSU meeting expenses from $26,000 to $37,000, and a $70,000 increase in revenue for social activities that was almost matched by a $60,000 increase in social activities spending.
APPOINTMENT OF AUDITORS
After the financial statements were passed, the meeting proceeded to the vote on the appointment of auditors for the current fiscal year.
Malik took the floor again to ask how many years Charles Havill Chartered Accountants had been serving as UTMSU’s auditor and whether the union had explored other options.
After an answer by Chelvanaigum, UTMSU executive director Walied Khogali added that Charles Havill have been auditing UTMSU for a “couple of years now”.
“I think they’re one of the best auditors that are out there. They don’t cost much as well […] and they do their due diligence to make sure that the financial statements represent the operations of the organization,” said Khogali.
“We will always have an open mind to explore other potential auditors, but for now the recommendation that came from the executive committee and the board is for us to continue this relationship,” he added.
CAMPUS MEDIA QUESTIONED
Some students also raised concerns about campus newspapers, specifically The Medium and the downtown-based newspaper, The Varsity.
A student who identified as a UTMSU employee expressed concern that students who are members of UTMAC, the CFS, or student societies, or who are employed by either UTMSU or UTSU, are not allowed to run for The Medium’s board of directors and said that she would “love to run”.
According to The Medium’s constitution, “A director shall not during his or her term of office act as a director or employee of UTMSU or UTSU or the editorial board of The Medium.”
Nicole Penny, associate to UTMSU VP campus life, alleged that UTM students were not made aware of a referendum held in 2013 to increase fees paid to The Varsity.
“I find it very concerning that not just myself but many other students did not know the semester fee they paid out to The Varsity was going to be increased and did not have the information about this,” she said, noting that UTM students later signed petitions in an attempt to divert those fees, presumably a reference to a petition last year to redirect these fees to The Medium. Both papers had argued against the petition at a discussion with the petitioners held by UTMSU.
One student recommended that the UTMSU form a public inquiry board made up of student representatives as well as representatives from the two publications to investigate how the funding of the newspapers is spent and how they represent students.
“Their articles don’t always represent the opinions of students. Sometimes they represent the opinions of the board,” he said.
The student said that the public inquiry should release a set of non-binding conclusions to identify issues.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND RECORDING
Throughout the AGM, two UTMSU photographers were seen taking photos and shooting videos of the proceedings.
A week before the AGM, Khogali told Medium staff that audio and video equipment would not be permitted inside Council Chambers for the duration of the AGM, while UTMSU staff would be able to use those devices and take photos.
Khogali later agreed that The Medium could record audio during the meeting and restricted Medium photography to the beginning and end of the meeting.
During the meeting, Chelvanaigum mentioned potential changes to the U-Pass program, involving a merger with the ISIC card in order to provide photo identification for the U-Pass.
A student asked if the pass could be extended for use on Oakville and Brampton transit, as well as for the TTC. Chelvanaigum said that the CFS was lobbying for a GTA Transit Pass that would apply to the Oakville, Brampton, Mississauga, and Toronto transit systems.
Another student expressed concern for students experiencing financial difficulties that prevented them from continuing their studies, mentioning limited support from the university and high interest charges. Khogali responded by mentioning support available through UTMSU’s bursaries and saying that UTMSU would be following up with the administration to ensure the student received sufficient support.
Several associates to UTMSU executives also read speeches about positive experiences at the union.
After the meeting was adjourned, a birthday celebration followed.