Remember way back, last year, when Sana Ali forfeited her candidacy in an unopposed race for a position on the Students Union? It was pretty scandalous, and we at blogUT got our fair share of material out of it. There was so much to consider – the content of Ali’s letter, the implications to the prospects of Team Renew and its successors – that we forgot that forfeiting a race while running unopposed is just the beginning of a long and tricky process. Since then, the position of Vice President – External has remained vacant. This position, evidently important enough that it merits an elected spot on the University of Toronto Students’ Union, has remained unfilled for the entirety of a summer and then some. This is a pretty big deal, but this was not unexpected – the suddenness of the forfeiture left the position open until a supplementary by-election could determine a replacement.
This is all well and good, but you can (and may already have) read about this in any campus paper. What I would like to address is the starling opacity with which this extremely important matter has been dealt. I don’t mean to say that anything has been hidden but only that, for an organization of students living in the information age, the UTSU has been alarmingly terrible at getting the word out about, well, anything important.
I encourage you to venture, right now, onto the UTSU website. The first thing you’ll find is a page-long advertisement for the UTSU’s street fair, which is happening… last week. The prominence of the ad signifies its importance compared to the other content of the site; the fact that any link to utsu.ca takes you there first indicates that someone believes that this takes precedence over all other content. It is just that important. Curiously, you’ll find no such advertisement, or indeed any conspicuous message, providing information about the upcoming by-elections. Not only is it not obvious – it doesn’t even seem to be there. If you check under the “Top News” heading you’ll find no new material since June. Surely it must be under “Calendar,” right? Wrong. If there is any indication that a fall by-election is taking place, it is extremely difficult to find on the UTSU website. But is it anywhere at all on the publicly visible web? Google “UTSU fall by-election” and see for yourself. Still not convinced? Check out the welcome e-mail you got a few weeks ago from the UTSU. Seven subjects were covered; the election was not one of them.
Cliché has it that any crime must have means, motive, and opportunity. The UTSU no doubt have had plenty of opportunities to exercise their ample means in neglecting – or perhaps avoiding – any sort of advertisement about this critically important event. But what motive could they possibly have? One need look no further than the source – the very reason that the position is vacant at all. In her open letter of forfeiture, Ali writes:
I made clear my views on [...] the skewed election process in favor of incumbents, and keeping communication lines with the ‘opposition’ open [...] but my perturbation was quickly appeased and the matter closed.
[...] when it was revealed that nobody would be running against the team, I was really upset because I saw it as a massive call for reform. When I brought this up, I was told that it did not mean no-one had faith in the system, it simply meant that people were too lazy to put in the work. [...] The UTSU’s claim that the majority of people are not involved in these issues and actually benefit from their work doesn’t excuse them from failing on a fundamental level. Capitalizing on mass ignorance is not democratic. It’s wrong.
This quote provides a very obvious motive: continued re-election, if not of the incumbents then of their hand-picked successors. A lack of student involvement and engagement entails a lack of opposition. It seems as though Ali was actually too kind in her assessment – the issues are not ignorance borne of apathy, but ignorance that has been carefully crafted and orchestrated. The fact that I did not know about the fall by-elections speaks volumes to the silence perpetrated by those who would control it. The UTSU has Twitter, Facebook, its own web-site and, evidently, the ability to e-mail 46,000 students at once, but how do they choose to advertise the election? With the occasional poster in a building you might (not) use.