The story unfolds in the heart of UTM. As I approached the student centre on October 15th, I noticed a table at the entrance advertising free burgers. My mind went blank when I heard the word “free” mentioned by a lingering group of students. I rushed into line. Once I got to the front, I was told I would need a ticket to get a burger. My first thought was that I would need to pay for this ticket. I remember feeling betrayed by the lingering students as I angrily eyed the UTMSU representative. However, the student union member reassured me. I just needed to sign a simple petition to get a ticket. As any person would, I asked what the petition was about. She informed me that the petition rallied against Doug Ford’s policy to freeze minimum wage at $14 an hour and that, if signed, I would have a better chance at paying off student loans after graduation. People behind me started to go in front, as I weighed my options. Students further back in line ogled me, as if my uneasiness meant something was wrong. To most, the choice was clear: get the burger!
In the corner of my eye, I saw my bus rolling to a stop at the street side. Hungry and tired from a full day of class, I scratched my name onto the paper and grabbed a burger without a second thought. On the bus, I questioned why I would sign something I disagreed with. I had come down with a case of burger remorse. Indigestion from UTMSU partisan politics had my stomach churning. I wondered if the other students that waited in line with me also felt this way, or, did most students see the petition merely as a meal ticket? One thing was certain, the lack of discussion served as proof that students were unaware of the inexplicit cost attached to the “free burger.”
As I passed by the Croatian church on my normal bus route, I criticized UTMSU for their favourability of liberal students. If you were a conservative and didn’t agree with their stance on Doug Ford’s minimum wage freeze, you were not only left burger-less, but also publicly chastised for speaking against the movement. I will never forget the looks of shock and confusion on nearby students’ faces, after I questioned the intent of the petition and the unprecedented claims that “all students should want this” because “it’ll help you pay off any student loans” made by the UTMSU member on duty.
I decided to ask UTM Campus Conservatives about how they felt—as conservative students—about UTMSU’s practices. I hoped that they could relate, and even speak on similar situations they encountered with the UTM student body. On behalf of the club, president Harris Bajes Watkins insists that “UTMSU is taking advantage of those on campus who want free food in exchange for doing their political bidding.”
In addition to the UTM Campus Conservatives, I asked the Political Science and Pre-Law Society’s president Rupinder Liddar to issue a statement, involving his take on what had happened. Liddar explains that “with any governing body, we must ask ourselves: Who are they claiming to represent and are they doing this with the utmost transparency?”
According to the UTMSU “Constitution and By-Laws”, they claim to “represent students registered at the University of Toronto Mississauga.” To clarify, the preceding does not state that the student union should “represent students registered at the University of Toronto of Mississauga that adopt liberal ideologies”, but instead implies that it should aim to represent all students within the university, including those with conservative beliefs. Beliefs which offer some truth, as Watkins confirms, “‘as per the Bank of Canada, the scheduled increases in minimum wage for the future [as per 2017]’ will result in ‘an employment decline to the tune of 60,000 jobs, a decrease in consumer consumption vis-à-vis the increased interest rates’”. Well, there goes my chance to easily “pay off any student loans!” Thanks a lot, UTMSU.
This brings me to the second half of Liddar’s question, where he suggests we consider whether UTMSU is representing the student body with “the utmost transparency”. Page 70 of the union Policy Manual suggest that “universities and colleges must be open to public scrutiny, open in their accounts, open in their governance, policies and administration, open in their debates, and open in their decision-making processes. Openness and transparency must be the normal operating procedure for universities and colleges.” If UTMSU followed their policy manual, then why wasn’t there more discussion between the student union members and student body about the actual legislature? Watkins responds by saying that it’s because “actions like these are precisely the standard of behaviour which UTM students have come to expect from their supposed ‘representatives’”.
Incidents like this one have become normalized across the UTM campus, to the point where students no longer see the use in querying about a petition, before signing. I was a witness to this, as I watched students mindlessly line up in pursuit of a free lunch. The act wasn’t seen as a means “to bring students together to discuss and co-operatively achieve necessary’ … ‘legislative change” —as stated in the society’s “Constitution and By-Laws”—but instead, was recognized around campus as “the spot to get free burgers.” It is safe to say that forcing a student to adopt liberal ideologies is an aggressive and ineffective way of “discussing and achieving” necessary legislature change. I call for UTMSU to reassess their practices and learn from this incident, as did I, after I fell ill with a serious case of burger remorse.