UTSU’s Special General Meeting, held last Tuesday, was adjourned unexpectedly before attendees could vote on the controversial electoral reform. The meeting was a replacement for November’s Annual General Meeting, whose agenda was voted down before the meeting could begin.
The SGM was called to order in the Meeting Room of the Medical Sciences Building at the St. George campus, a half-hour before it was scheduled to start, at 6 p.m.
Benjamin Dionne, the president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society, raised the first point of order: the students’ union had not included a motion to approve the agenda. Ashkon Hashemi, the chair, responded that unlike the AGM, an SGM does not require a motion to approve the agenda.
Also, an SGM has a higher quorum, which was met at the beginning of the meeting. Quorum is the minimum number of voters required to proceed with the meeting. However, after running for nearly four and a half hours, the meeting failed to maintain quorum after a large number of UTM students left to catch their chartered bus at 10 p.m.
UTM students were barred from leaving until they could vote on a motion that would have allowed for greater discussion of electoral reform. Once UTM students were permitted to leave, the number of attendees dropped below quorum and the meeting was ruled out of order.
Attempts to bring in more students to regain quorum during a 10-minute recess were unsuccessful. The meeting adjourned after Rishi Maharaj, the president of the Engineering Society, moved for the meeting to reconvene next Tuesday. First, a second count was made of those inside and outside the room and established that quorum had not been reached. Dionne then made the same motion again and it was approved by the remaining members. Thus, the meeting adjourned without having voted on electoral reform.
Hashemi made it clear before the meeting adjourned that the next meeting would strictly continue where the SGM had left off, without further collection of proxies.
Before the meeting adjourned, members of the union voted to oppose unpaid internships, ban Styrofoam food containers on campus, begin an antiwar coalition, condemn the website avoiceformen.com, endorse the Idle No More movement, reduce the required nominations for UTSU executive candidacy, and lobby for changes to student representation on newly formed campus councils.
The motion to reduce the number of permitted proxies, whereby students can entrust their votes to another student, did not pass. Those who authored the motion spoke strongly about the need to maintain it for accessibility reasons while reducing the potential for the system to be “politically abused”.
Several motions carried over from November’s Annual General Meeting passed with minimal discussion. This included motions to approve the audited financial statements for the 2011/12 year, examine winter residence fees, create a box office for clubs, extend the AGM notice and deadline requirements, and lobby for multi-faith space and international student representation on the Governing Council. Munib Sajjad, the former UTMSU VP external and current UTSU VP student affairs, spoke during the discussion of the motion to lobby for increased student representation in university governance. The motion was made by Andrew Ursel, UTMSU’s VP university affairs and academics. Sajjad explained that the student unions at all three campuses are asking for ex officio non-voting seats for students on the campus councils.
“The reason why is that we represent students,” said Sajjad. “We’re not a government; we are a student union. Students come to us talking about student issues, whether it comes to parking, residence, meal plans, [or] tuition fees. Now, I think that […] from 64 seats at the college council level, shooting it down to three or four seats without any actual, true clarity about why this is happening except efficiency and clarity of business, I think that’s wrong at an educational institution.”
“We should be fighting for greater democracy at our institution,” he added. “And I have to say that governance at U of T is not about democracy, especially at the central administration level. I will say very strongly […] that students are at the forefront and the chief stakeholders in this.”
Sam Greene, the student head of Trinity College, said that while some people “had legitimate reasons to leave”, others left in order to “shut down the vote”, and that he “has a problem with the people who left to manipulate for political reasons”.
“It’s disgusting,” said Greene in a phone interview. “I’m more than disappointed.”
Greene also commented on UTSU’s consideration of electoral reform. “I think UTSU saw the writing on the wall,” he said. “They saw it endorsed by six college councils. They saw the need for change. I don’t think this type of heavy-handed tactics against the student voice will be successful forever. They have no legitimate argument against online voting, except they’re afraid that the administration will rig the vote.”
“This goes to show how the students’ union is out of touch with the average student,” he concluded.