By Keith Capstick
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) elections have come and gone. Now, we have our first split-slate executive team since the 2007-2008 academic year. Members of the Elevate and Spark slates are joining political forces to run the RSU. But what the hell does that even mean?
The past three years of political action at Ryerson have been riddled with ideological swings—complete with full-slate sweeps, obnoxious concerts and tent city protests. Whenever one group takes power, another mounts a comeback and shifts the focus onto itself, and now they’re all mixed together.
RSU president-elect Susanne Nyaga, who ran with Elevate, said she thinks this is a good thing for the union’s future.
“I’m excited. I want to work together meeting the needs of students and centralize Ryerson students in their own union,” Nyaga said. “I’m excited to put in a lot of hard work and ensure that we stay transparent and accountable through it all.”
This is a sentiment Nyaga’s future teammate and vice-president education-elect Daniel Lis mirrors. But, he also said the outcome of the election has him “conflicted.”
“Obviously I have my own preferences and the team I ran with, I hoped they’d get the positions,” Lis said. “But Susanne and Camryn are both very qualified people and I’m looking forward to working with them.”
Lis compares the incoming exec team to a federal minority government, as opposed to the majorities we’ve seen in previous years—less efficient, but more representative of the population.
“From a political standpoint [split-slates or minority governments are] not as necessarily efficient, but they’re considered to be much more fair,” Lis said. “What I expect is a bigger exchange of ideas and more compromises on things … I do see it as a positive thing, or at least I’m trying to.”
Spark and Elevate represent a lineage. They’re new and filled with fresh faces, but are carrying on the torch for their respective side of Ryerson’s political spectrum. Nyaga ran last year with the RUConnected slate for vice-president equity.
Spark’s slate is the “two-years-and-three-concerts-later” amalgamation of the Transform slate that swept Unite Ryerson (the predecessor of Elevate and Connected) in the 2014-2015 RSU election.
Now, this lineage is largely divided by one thing: the prospect of working with and remaining a member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national advocacy group to which the RSU pays an annual membership fee of about $500,000.
During The Eyeopener’s in-house election debate, Nyaga said she’d be willing to work with the CFS next year, but added she’d like students to be the deciding factor on the relationship. Lis also shares this opinion, but maintains that he’d like to see the relationship reevaluated.
“I still think we need to reconsider our relationship and I would like to see the students be posed a question about it and see what their opinion is,” Lis said.
He was a part of the committee that drafted a report on behalf of the RSU asking for reform within the CFS in September.
Previous RSU president and current CFS-Ontario chairperson Rajean Hoilett said he hopes this new executive is able to comprehensively represent all the students that voted in the election.
“I think that it’s important for all of the students that were elected in this year’s election to really work together to pull together the ideas the students rallied behind to get them elected,” Hoilett said. “To have a vision for the students’ union that is comprehensive and is inclusive of all of the different people that engaged in this past election.”
He also said that Nyaga contacted him as a past RSU president to get some insight on her new position.
“I’m excited to be able to offer sorts of insights or knowledge that I have but beyond that I haven’t really been involved,” Hoilett said. “But I really do hope that we’re able to carve out a positive relationship between the RSU and the CFS and see how to bring more work of the federation onto campus next year.”
So, if split-slates are such a good thing, what could possibly go wrong?
Abe Snobar was vice-president student life & events the last time the RSU was governed by a split-executive in the 2007-2008 school year. He said that usually they are a good thing if “the leadership is able to overlook the hostilities.” This points to the relationship between the president and the vice-presidents as a key factor of a successful split-slate.
“In my year, it was the president that acted as the management representative or representation of the staff,” Snobar said. “That dynamic didn’t work because the unionized supervisors were pro-CFS and they were unionized—so am I as a management rep coming in and going to change that—I can’t. And you have a president who’s pro-CFS, [it turns into] a lot of politics.”
Snobar suggested that the new general manager position at the RSU will work to curb any tensions, as they’re now responsible for a large part of the union’s human resources and staff management.
During Transform’s year, controversy followed an audit that ended with then-president Andrea Bartlett eliminating the union’s Executive Director Communication and Outreach, resulting in Gilary Massa, who held that position, being laid off during her maternity leave. The position was eliminated in favour of a non-unionized general manager that would help with human resources and the enhancement of the union’s institutional memory. Natasha Campagna, who was initially hired for the job, has since resigned. This means her replacement, Sid Naidu, will be starting fresh with this new executive.
*The informal veto power that lands in the hands of the president is another concern Lis has. In past years, executive teams have fallen into hierarchies, where the president can have final say over certain matters. He said he’d like to propose a change at the RSU’s spring annual general meeting.
“I don’t like that that exists,” Lis said. “If it doesn’t change at the AGM then let’s hope human resources does a good job. There’s a couple things in the bylaws that need to change in terms of all of the power being held by the president. Things need to be spread out more amongst the executive.”
All things considered, both Nyaga and Lis pointed to communication as the factor that will most contribute to the success of next year’s RSU executive team.
“Communication is key. I have worked with some great groups and some not so great groups, which have allowed me to best understand the importance of communication, effective communication,” Nyaga said. “Regardless of what each member is working on we need to ensure that the whole exec, and board, team is up to date and informed.”
With files from Alanna Rizza and Sarah Krichel
*Clarification: this story has been updated to better explain veto power in the current context.