Tuesday’s Univeristy of Toronto Students’ Union Special General Meeting (SGM), a highly anticipated event meant to serve, among other things, as the place to have a complete and balanced discussion about electoral reform, resulted in the exact opposite. The meeting came to a premature halt midway through a debate on item 16 of the meeting’s agenda, the item that proposed that the UTSU board and executive implement the recommendations of the Non-Partisan Declaration on UTSU Electoral Reform.

Stressing the importance of accessibility, accuracy, and accountability, the Declaration recommends three main changes to the current electoral system: a move to online voting, a change from first-past-the-post to preferential voting, and a reassessment of the authority of the Chief Returning Officer, the appointed elections overseer.

Corey Scott, UTSU Vice-President Internal and the chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee, outlined many of his concerns with the Declaration and with online voting in particular when speaking at the meeting. “With regards to online voting, there is not substantial evidence to prove that it does any number of the things that [the Declaration] says it does.” He added, “Giving myself and the Elections and Referenda Committee three days to figure out how to do all of this going in to nominations, is going to be a bit difficult… A two page paper is not going to convince me.”

The three days Corey Scott is referring to would be the three days between the end of next week’s general meeting, and the beginning of the 2013 nominations period, and thus the beginning of this year’s elections season. Before the nominations period begins, all of the rules need to be set in stone, after which any debate on electoral reform will refer only to the 2014 elections season and beyond.

After over four hours, the meeting ended when it was brought to the chair’s attention that because a large number of voting members had left the building, some of whom left to go home on a bus back to UTM, that quorum (the minimum number of present voting members required to continue the meeting) had been lost. Fervent activity ensued after a recess of 10 minutes was decided upon, as voting members rushed out of the Medical Science Building, running across Front Campus in search of any students they could find in the various residences to register as voters and fulfil the quorum.

Despite the rounding up of several students, the quorum requirement of 150 voting members was never met. After considerable deliberation, the remaining items, including the unfinished debate concerning electoral reform, were rescheduled for a partial General Meeting next Tuesday, February 12, where the meeting will reconvene exactly where it left off.

Frustrations arose from all sides as UTSU executives cringed at the idea of organizing and promoting yet another General Meeting, especially with only one week to do so. Many of the UTSU’s primary critics and the most outspoken advocates for implementing electoral reform, the executives of the Engineering Society and college student leaders, took Tuesday’s events as yet another sign of the UTSU’s unwillingness to have a meaningful debate about these issues. Some accused several members of the UTSU of leaving with the intention of breaking quorum and ending the debate on electoral reform. Sam Greene, head of Trinity College, commented, “Some people had to go. But, I know that some people did leave the meeting in order to get rid of quorum and I think that is a disgusting trick to try to shut down the democratic debate that needs to happen on this campus.” UTSU President Shaun Sheppard responded that the accusation was a “conspiracy theory.”

Although it remains unclear whether voting members did in fact leave the meeting early to break quorum and end the debate on electoral reform, it is certain that a bus full of UTM students departed for Mississauga around 10pm, about forty minutes before the meeting was finally adjourned. If the motion endorsing the Declaration passes on Tuesday, it will have only a symbolic effect to encourage the UTSU to implement the reforms, rather than binding them to do so. Furthermore, the UTSU board and executive do not have the power to affect the type of reforms proposed in the document; rather, that power rests in the hands of the Elections and Referenda Committee.

Although the saga of electoral reform is still far from over, it will be the first item discussed next week. “I don’t frankly know that if we come back here that that motion will pass, but I do know that it will debated, which didn’t happen tonight,” commented Rishi Maharaj president of the Engineering Society.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Four-hour marathon session ends in middle of electoral debate, to be continued
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