By: Isaac Thornley
A small crowd attended the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Debate on Wednesday afternoon, March 6, with the majority of audience questions focusing on the issue of defederation. The debate, which was essentially a question and answer session due to the Renew slate’s unopposed standing, provided a forum for many defederation advocates to ask the future executive tough questions regarding the potentially divided future of the UTSU.
Team Renew is made up of incumbent UTSU executives VP University Affairs Munib Sajjad, the slate’s presidential candidate, VP Student Life Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the candidate for VP Equity, as well as newcomers Cameron Wathey, Sana Ali, and Agnes So, who are running for VP Internal, VP External, and VP University Affairs respectively. Renew is running without opposition, meaning each candidate is subject to a yay or nay ballot.
The candidates were each given five minutes to make a brief speech outlining their platforms and plans for next year. Although none of the candidates’ speeches directly referenced defederation, many of them underscored the value of a united students’ union with its current membership of 47 000 strong. The candidates’ speeches were each followed by a ten minute question period, followed by another four minutes for the candidates to make closing remarks.
Questions to the executive candidates about defederation, all of which came from Trinity College students, were met with similar replies. “I don’t particularly know too much about this sort of situation,” replied Cameron Wathey, VP Internal candidate. “I’m not an expert on this. This isn’t really my portfolio,” admitted Bollo-Kamara.
The UTSU has remained firmly against the idea of defederation, emphasizing that questions of UTSU membership can only be initiated by the UTSU itself, as per their by-laws, and that a hypothetical referendum regarding UTSU membership would need to be provided to all 47 000 members of the union, as opposed to select groups of students.
The UTSU has expressed to multiple college councils that if defederation passes at the college referendum and is honoured by the University Affairs Board of the Governing Council, then the movement could still be stopped by a “clear legal precedent.” The possibility of legal battles has been in the back of everyone’s mind since the defederation disputes started in January.
After his speech, presidential candidate Munib Sajjad was asked a question by Trinity Co-Head Sam Greene. The question, put simply, was: if Trinity’s referendum to defederate passes, and the University Affairs Board honours the outcome of that referendum and allows fees paid by Trinity students to be redirected to the Trinity College Meeting, will the UTSU take them to court, yes or no? Sajjad addressed the question while leaving the yes-or-no portion ambiguously unanswered.
“We represent 47 000 students that vote individually into the union… We follow our by-laws, and that’s what I want to uphold, the UTSU’s by-laws… We advocate for all, not just simply college or faculty councils,” said Sajjad.
In the face of possible defederation and subsequent legal battles, the future UTSU executives approached the “debate” with a sense of optimism. Munib Sajjad framed Team Renew against the backdrop of the students’ movement, of which he has “been involved in the past few years,” while underscoring the importance of a strong, united students’ union of 47 000 members. “The need for students to mobilize might be more important than ever. And I believe in the effectiveness of students working together,” said Sajjad.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/news/utsu-executive-candidates-face-defederation-questions/.