RSU elections debate: Future of union, transparency and finances

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

By Madi Wong and Alexandra Holyk

At the Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) election debate on Tuesday, students running for executive positions discussed the importance of transparency, student consultation and handling finances ahead of the 2020-21 year.

On Jan. 24, Ryerson terminated its 1986 Operating Agreement with the RSU and stated that the university no longer recognizes the union as representatives of Ryerson students. 

The RSU said in a statement on Jan. 27 that they do not accept the agreement’s termination as valid. “The university’s attempted termination of the operational agreement, and added threat to support an entirely new student government, actively undermines the autonomy and democratic rights of students,” the statement read.

Vice-provost, students, Jen McMillen stated that this decision came after multiple concerns raised within the RSU. This includes: the 2018-19 credit card scandal, the resignations of Refresh’s former vice-presidents equity, marketing and education, and impeachment of the slate’s former vice-president operations

Recently, the RSU filed a report with the Toronto Police Service following allegations of financial mismanagement. In addition, the RSU said that a forensic audit would be shared publicly at their Feb. 3 Semi-Annual General Meeting—but at the meeting, it was revealed the union had only completed a financial review. 

Ryerson recently announced its next steps in structuring a new student government and said that in March 2020, students will have the opportunity to vote for the structure of their representative government. 

With many issues surrounding Ryerson student life surfacing, the incoming slate will have to tackle a number of key issues including navigating how the union will serve students while the university withholds funds and the RSU’s recent legal claim against the university. 

Candidates running for positions of RSU president, vice-president equity and vice-president operations were given the opportunity to speak as to why they should be elected in their respective roles. Each candidate also answered a series of questions that were gathered by The Eyeopener and posed by Ryerson students online. 

Here’s what you missed at the RSU’s 2020 elections debate.

CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT

Charmaine Reid (Inspire) and Ali Yousaf (Rise)

Q: Why are you qualified for this role? 

Inspire: I believe I am qualified for this role because it is something that I have dedicated my entire university career towards. I ran for VP operations last year but it is more than clear now that I am ready to double down on my efforts and increase the level of responsibility that I am willing to take on for the survival of the institution. I’m qualified because I’ve seen the RSU day-to-day from being in RYEAccess and the equity centres and that has provided a new perspective on the RSU and the services it provides. 

Two years ago, I was one of the students that did not know about the services that this building offers us. However that has changed, being a part of this union has brought that to us. It is important to bring students to these spaces and educate them on these spaces so they are in the know.

Rise: What makes me qualified is at this point in time, the RSU needs experience, fresh perspective to students. My team and I are filled with experience. I’ve been VP operations at the RSU, I’ve been a part of societies and different student groups. My team has overall been involved all over campus and what makes us the best option is we’re qualified, highly motivated, highly passionate and have been working together for the past few months for these elections. What makes me the best option is the campaign work that we’re offering. We’re going to ask students what they stand for on everything. We’re going to ask students what they want from the RSU and deliver. 

Q: The RSU financial review found that the 2018-2019 credit cards held by the previous executive teams have amounted to $99,477 of illegitimate expenses. They have also filed a legal claim. If elected, will you pursue legal action against the former president and the other former credit cardholders?

Inspire: Absolutely. I think that is fundamental to regaining students’ trust. Myself and the rest of team Inspire are completely committed to working with the police and ensuring that students receive justice for the mismanagement of funds that happened last year. 

Rise: Absolutely. If that is what the students want, if they want the forensic audit, we’re going to get it done. If that is what it takes to earn the trust of students back, we’re going to get the forensic audit done, we’re going to press the charges, we’re going to sit down with our legal team, we’re going to answer all the questions that students have. 

Note: Both slates also said they would re-open the 6 Fest investigation. 

Q: What are some solutions or strategies you would propose in regards to approaching the recent termination of the 1986 Operating Agreement with the university?

Inspire: We know what students feel about this situation. However, we also recognize that less than five per cent of the students that we talked to last week didn’t know what the RSU does or how it worked. But if you start talking to students about their student groups, about the services they’re able to access, students do care about the RSU. In order to get back into the place where we can work on the operating agreement again, we have to educate students, we have to have a comprehensive, outreach strategy to educate students on what the RSU does and why they should care about a student union and not a student government. There is a big difference between a union and a government. 

Rise: We’re going to sit down with the university to figure out if the contract is renegotiable. We’re going to ask students what they want from the RSU. Depending on whatever stance students take and what they believe. We’re going to work to represent students. We’re going to run a survey and ask students and work towards whatever stance they take. 

Q: There have been concerns raised on whether or not the student body has “faith” in the RSU anymore. What restructuring do you believe is necessary at the RSU to ensure financial and organizational transparency and accountability? 

Inspire: If you go to voteinspire.com you will see six documents pages worth of by-law changes which we have already looked into and are ready to be implemented as soon as we get into office. This includes implementing HR, changing the reporting and accessibility of documents to ensure board members and the general public have access to documents without having to ask for it. 

Rise: As a former VP ops, I’m the only executive that ended the year in a surplus and that is because of the good financial policy which was made during my year.  We’re going to create an oversight committee which will consist of students that will provide financial updates to the board and membership every month. I pay $120 to the RSU every single year as a student and know that students deserve to know where their money is being spent on. All these finance documents, by-laws, policies, everything needs to be transparent as students deserve to have access to every document and policy of the RSU. 

Q: What is your connection—if any to any past RSU executives and how does this inform your leadership style, if applicable? 

Inspire: I have seen a lot of bad student unions and because of that, that has really changed my leadership style. It has shown me ways that the union has failed in the past. Currently this year I worked under the VP equity in the equity service centres. The failings of that this year were very apparent, the equity service centres were not able to function in the same way and therefore, we had to be our own leaders. That has taught me how to be a leader in the RSU through working with a multitude of different voices to ensure that things still get accomplished, regardless of the climate that we’re in. I’ve been a part of a student group under Ram Ganesh. I understand that failing on such a big scale will impact students if we do not have a plan. 

Rise: In regards to any sort of previous connections, I was a board member at the time 6 Fest happened. My name was cleared by PwC, my financial details, everything was given to them and they have cleared my name. I have supported Unify along with the other 3300 students who voted for them because at that time, I truly believed that the campaign points that they were running on were in the best interests of students. I had no sort of decision-making powers and if students need any sort of answers, I would be more than willing to provide. My team believes in transparency and accountability. We’re going to make sure we do whatever we can to satisfy the students and earn their trust. 

CANDIDATES FOR VICE-PRESIDENT EQUITY

Vaishali Vinayak (Rise) and Robert Molloy (Inspire)

Q: Why do you think you’re qualified for this role?

Rise: I’m qualified because I’m a part of student groups, I’ve seen how the current situation has affected student groups. I want to bring change because right now, the grounds are very tight and we do not have the proper funding.

Inspire: My belief has always been for the last few years that the only person who could run the equity centres is someone who has seen all of its symbiotic relationships. A lot of the work I do is at all the equity centres—not just TransCollective and not just RyePride.

Q: How would you ensure that all marginalized populations are represented and supported, and not just ones that you may belong to/identify with yourself?

Rise: We’re gonna conduct a survey and ask students what they want because in the end, whatever is happening in the RSU is affecting students. Do you want the RSU to stay the same? We are gonna ask students their opinion first—their issues will be addressed, their questions will be answered and everyone can be represented.

Inspire: It’s always important to listen to what all folks want. No VP equity is ever going to be able to represent all students. If I just work for the students that look like me, I’m missing out on 95% of the school’s population. As a marginalized student, I understand what it means to have allies speak for me—I know how much that hurts. I see the mistakes that they have made. I’m here to support the opportunities, I’m not here to take up the space of other students. This can be seen through the staff working in the equity centres. It’s not just me—it’s all of us working together.

Q: What are you planning to do next year to support the equity service centres in light of funding cuts? 

Rise: First we have to make sure that there will be a student union. Once it is decided that there is a student union, then we can make some considerations. Equity centres are an important part of the services provided by the RSU, and the university isn’t addressing the equity centres.

Inspire: I really want to go back to the grassroots of the equity service centres since we’ve really thrived the most when we are working together in a symbiotic relationship. For the last few years, we’ve had different conversations about the equity centres. The most important thing for me is being and working in those spaces. Despite the budget cuts, no matter what, it’s really important to me to have the equity centres remain as open spaces for students on this campus.

Q: There have been concerns raised on whether or not the student body has “faith” in the RSU anymore. What restructuring do you believe is necessary at the RSU to ensure financial and organizational transparency and accountability? 

Rise: We will make sure that all our documents are public and we are going to give students a platform to tell us their problems so their voices are heard.

Inspire: Our jobs will start Feb. 15 with our main focus being education and outreach to the students. We’ve been doing a lot of class talks lately and asking the students about the services offered by the RSU, such as the tax clinic. It’s really important to notice that a lot of the students do care about the RSU if they realize that the services that they use on a daily basis are actually from the RSU. I can also speak from personal experience to the amount of students that use the equity service centres. There are thousands of students that come through that space every single week. 

CANDIDATES FOR VICE-PRESIDENT OPERATIONS

Zaima Aurony (Inspire) and Liora Dubinsky (Rise)

Q: Why do you think you’re qualified for this role? 

Inspire: One of the reasons that I’m qualified is because I’m so passionate—because I believe the RSU has provided me with a home. I have left my home so many times and this is a home that I do not wanna leave. So I will give it my all to make sure that it stands and gives students the same community that I was given when I came here.

Rise: My team thinks that our students need a new perspective, because the old one clearly hasn’t been working, and this is exactly what we’re bringing as part of our platform. So, I’m qualified because I’m passionate—I’m bringing that new perspective because I’ve never been involved in student government. I have been very involved with student groups and I’ve suffered as a student at Ryerson, I know what the issues are, where it needs fixing and I’ll bring that new student perspective, voice those concerns and advocate for that as part of the student body.

Q: What will you do to avoid financial discrepancies that have happened in the past such as 6 Fest and the credit card scandal?

Inspire: I believe the real problem lies in the policies and the bylaws. We as a team and me as VP operations plan to change that not just for us, for the next 10 years. When people come in over the next 10 years, they will be forced to be transparent because of the bylaw changes that we will make. When the bylaws were written, credit cards weren’t a huge thing. They were not wrapped around that concept. So we wanna make sure there are bylaws and policies that are preventing people from mistreating the students’ money and transparency will come with it.

Rise: That doubles back to our main point of transparency. We’re gonna make sure every single document is public and we believe that students have the right to know exactly what we’re doing, what we’re spending money on, where we’re putting our funds, what bylaws are we coming up with. Everything has to be publicly available not only to the students but also to Ryerson University itself because this is where the chain of events started and led to the termination of the contract. 100 per cent transparency is the key here and it has been said in the past, but there haven’t been any actions taken towards it. And we’re taking a step forward by creating a platform where we can publicize everything. 

Q: Will you complete a full forensic audit? Why or why not?

Inspire: If given the money and given the resources, that will be our biggest priority. If the board who represents the student body votes on it, as the execs, we will make it happen. 

Rise: This is definitely something we would talk about as a team and that would depend a lot on the funding we have available. We, as a team, stand behind truth and honesty and I think that it would be a good idea to do a forensic audit. But once again, we have other priorities like essential services. Since we don’t know the financial position of the RSU, I don’t know if I would say “hey, this is my number one priority,” because there’s other essential services that students need like the health and dental plan—I would definitely prioritize that before anything. It would be something we would discuss as a team together.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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