This year’s UTSU Annual General Meeting heard discussions and debates concerning the union’s separation with UTMSU, banning the running of teams in UTSU elections, and demands for opposition regarding Doug Ford’s free speech policy on October 30th.
To commence the meeting, UTSU President Anne Boucher’s gave a speech focusing primarily on the union’s strong financial standing since the last AGM, as well as their priority of maintain healthy relationships with campus.
According to the UTSU’s 2018 audited financial statements, the union reported a surplus of $492,887, up from $23,521 in 2017. This is the largest surplus the UTSU has seen in many years.
Boucher also hoped that the UTSU would begin moving in a new direction.
“Behind us are years of the UTSU not listening to its constituents,” she concluded, “years of financial mismanagement, years of the UTSU playing politics, and years of the UTSU playing as a mouthpiece to one of the most corrupt organizations in the country,” in reference to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). UTSU has previously advocated against the CFS and sought to terminate their membership.
Following Boucher’s statements a question period was held to give students and union members the opportunity to ask the UTSU executive team any questions.
U of T student Joshua Bowman asked Boucher if there is currently a campaign to collect signatures to hold a referendum on staying with the CFS. Boucher said that students on campus are gathering signatures, but the UTSU has not been involved with the efforts.
When asked about the student commons delays, UTSU VP Operations Tyler Biswurm stated that since the building is so old many unforeseen problems have arisen.
Biswurm went on to say that much of the construction is out of the union’s hands, stating, “The construction project is completely taken up by the university. We have no direct ownership over the construction project.” Biswurn then stated that the UTSU does not own the building but instead leases it from the university for their use.
During this time the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) VP External Atif Abdullah questioned the UTSU for their alleged lack of involvement against the U of T’s Mandated Leave of Absence policy. As previously reported by The Medium, the policy proposes that, in rare cases, the administration can place a student on a leave of absence from the university.
Boucher responded by saying the UTSU supported the work the UTMSU and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) had done, but she didn’t want students “to assume that just because [the UTSU] did not participate in all your endeavors that doesn’t mean we didn’t put a lot of effort into the cause.”
When asked about when the General Manager, who had been fired in July, would be replaced, Boucher stated that the union is currently in the process of hiring another one, and that much of the role had been absorbed by the president and VP operations positions.
It was also disclosed that since firing the General Manager, the UTSU has contracted former UTSU president Mathias Memmel to do the “day-to-day finances” of the union.
When asked whether it is a conflict of interest, Boucher stated, “When you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization, they’re a good resource to have. He’s kept a very respectful distance from the operations of the UTSU, and the politics of the organization.”
The UTSU hopes to have a General Manager by the middle of November.
AGM Bans Slates for upcoming Elections
One of the biggest changes passed during the AGM was the banning of slates in UTSU elections. Boucher spoke on the issue, saying that students did not like the toxic nature of the union’s elections. “An issue I faced when I was an independent candidate was that it was very intimidating being against a bunch of slates. Your chances are very low since you’re running against bureaucracies.”
“I think that UTSU elections should be open and accessible,” she continued. “I think having more independent candidates will reinvigorate UTSU elections—more diverse people may bring more people out.”
Traditionally during election period, members of the student body interested in running would for a team and run the union’s executive positions together. Often the teams formed, and the winning teams would be individuals already affiliated with the student unions. The union also pointed out that slates normally win as a whole because it’s easier for students to remember campaign names than the names of individual candidates.
Memmel spoke for the change, stating, “The culture around slates is very toxic […] it’s about circles of friends who recruit more friends to run each year.”
When asked about whether the executive has thought about what banning may do to voter turnout, Boucher stated that “leaving voting to just a couple of boring slates that you see year after year tends to leave people feeling disenfranchised.”
Biswurm chimed in, stating, “This question turns into a lot of theoretical questions. The only facts we have to work on are the negatives of slates.”
Endorsement of the Separation of the UTSU and UTMSU
The motion comes after lengthy negotiations on the Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) between the UTSU and UTMSU, that began in January 2018, but broke down soon thereafter. In September, the UTSU Board of Directors endorsed separation, and the vote at the AGM was for members to show their approval with the endorsement. Now both unions are able to begin the formal process of separating.
The AMA holds UTMSU has a subset that answers to the UTSU and requires UTM students to pay the UTSU has part of their tuition fees.
In regard to the agreement, Boucher believed that the UTMSU should have the right to represent it’s membership fully.
She went on to say that a large problem with the agreement is that it was signed without student consultation on April 30th, 2008, which would have been the executive team’s last day in office.
In support of the endorsement, UTMSU VP External Atif Abdullah stated, “At it’s highest point, this agreement was a great way for students to come together and advocate for central issues. Since then, this has turned into a begrudging relationship that does not work for either party.”
“It’s clear the UTSU no longer works for us,” Abdullah continued.
The motion to endorse the UTMSU, UTSU separation passed unanimously with 222 votes.
The separation is slated to conclude on August 31, 2019.
Items Submitted by Members
One of the most discussed resolutions was the rejection of the Ontario Government’s mandated free speech policy. The mandate, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities and colleges develop free speech policies by January 1st.
Jack Rising, a member of the club Socialists Fightback U of T, argued that the Ontario government’s new policy is an “anti-protest policy.”
Daniel Roberts, another member of the group, stated that “according to the new policy, if universities do not support this anti-protest law, they will face funding cuts. Ford is attempting to criminalize protesting, as well as remove funding and recognition from student unions.”
The motion proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the government’s policy. The motion also called for the UTSU to demand that the administration refuse to implement “any policy that may restrict the right to protest, especially those referencing the University of Chicago statement, which itself violates free speech rights.”
Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman amended the resolution to remove the section that called for the UTSU to demand action from the U of T administration.
Boucher stated that she was neither for or against the motion, but cited that the University of Toronto has had a free speech policy in place since 1992, so not much would change.
“I think political organizations like the UTSU have a responsibility in these circumstances to say ‘no’ to things that are oppressive to our members,” said Memmel, in favour of the resolution.
End of the AGM
The meeting ran overtime until 10:20 pm, even though quorum was lost at 9:52 pm. The final member-submitted resolution passed during the meeting allowed members to change bylaws and policies at future AGMs.
Submitted by the UTSU’s VP University Affairs Josh Grondin, removes the bylaw that requires all policies and procedures to go through the UTSU’s Governance Committee. Procedural policies can now be adopted, rescinded, or passed at the AGM with a three-quarters majority, and operation procedures with a simple majority.