Michael Wainberg Listens as the chair explains Roberts Rules at AGM on November 27/ Photograph:     Yukon Damov
Michael Wainberg Listens as the chair explains Roberts Rules at AGM on November 27/ Photograph: Yukon Damov

Unless you're well-versed in the complexities of Robert's Rules (the go-to text for most union  meetings) or enjoy the monotonous debate between three people about whether to consider something an "agenda" or a "point of business," the 2013 UTSU Annual General Meeting repeated the struggles between our far-left student union and an opposition who are willing to waste time to argue trivialities.

The UTSU is often chided as being a doubtfully democratic group. Last year’s AGM proved quite eventful as organized opposition groups from Trinity College and the Faculty of Engineering managed to vote against approving the agenda, resulting in the meeting’s premature end. The meeting was re-scheduled, but the opposition had shown to be legitimate obstructionists.

Surely enough, they tried to pull the same thing this year, but Trinity College boycotted the meeting and the UTMSU executive once again brought in students from Mississauga—mostly UTSU supporters. Without Trin’s support, the opposition couldn't hope to attain the same result as last year.

“I found this whole meeting to be a total disrespect to the $33 most engineering students pay to the UTSU,” said Pierre Harfouche after the meeting. He sits as the engineering science representative on the Engineering Society’s board of directors.

“This is absolutely ridiculous!” a UTSU-supporter called out to Harfouche as he moved, early in the meeting, to remove all remaining items from the agenda.

“I wanted to show the UTSU that students are fed up with the lack of democracy they have,” explained Harfouche. Once the heckling stopped, the vote was recorded and failed because the move required a two-thirds majority.

After that initial vote, all bureaucratic hell broke loose. Harfouch, armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of Robert’s Rules argued the vote only required a simple 50 per cent majority. While the chair claimed Harfouche was incorrect, Michael Wainberg came out with a well-used (but current) copy of Robert's Rules to support Harfouche's claim.

The chair consistently dismissed Harfouche’s reasoning as “facetious,” as the two sides went back and forth debating the fine print of the union tome. After nearly an hour of debate and several votes over whether to hold subsequent votes, it was clear that the opposition wasn’t going to get its way.

Cue plan B. Harfouche surprisingly requested to read out a new motion, which the chair refused to hear because he did so after the posted deadline. Out came the Robert’s Rules again.

In the back of the auditorium, frustrated students began flooding out of the room. One asked, “Do you know why he’s allowed to just stand there and speak all the time?”

Harfouche later told us the motion was, “To appoint two [UTSU execs] to speak at the student summit…the students should be able to vote on that.” UTSU president Munib Sajjad ducked a question earlier in the evening asking why he has not attended the summit, which was founded by the administration after the Victoria College, Trinity, and the Engineering student governments held referenda to direct their students’ $17.34 individual fees away from the UTSU. If these divisions are allowed to divert their fees away from the central union, the UTSU would lose a significant portion of its membership and revenue.

By the time Harfouche’s all-out effort to introduce his own motion had been decisively out-voted, the room had largely emptied out. The meeting finished an hour late even after questioning was restricted to two minutes and two speakers per side, following Harfouche’s lengthy chat with the chair. Harfouche later called the procedural change another example of how the UTSU “changes the rules on the fly.”

In the end, all but one of the motions (the one against SAIA) passed through a shrunken representation of the student body. The audit passed without any questions and Harfouche claimed that as a student union with assets equivalent to “a thousand engineering tuitions”, adding that “this is so sad, and it just breaks [his] heart.”

Maybe Harfouche was actually speaking from the heart, but what credibility does the opposition gain from debating minutiae? The opposition’s points are certainly valid—last year’s vote proves that. Yet, instead of electing their own candidates for last year’s election, they derailed the meeting, wasted time, resulting in the same bureaucratic ballyhoo that causes student apathy in the first place.

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