Melissa Palermo has defended her involvement in the University of Toronto’s student union elections after being spotted campaigning for one of its presidential candidates last week.
According to the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president, she was on vacation time when she went to U of T’s downtown St. George campus to help her friend, Yolen Bollo-Kamara, with her presidential campaign.
“As an executive at the (RSU) I am able to take two weeks of vacation time,” Palermo said. “In my capacity, I spend a lot of time working for Ryerson students outside of the 40 hours of work we do per week, for example, attending weekend and evening events on a regular basis.”
Zane Schwartz reported in The Varsity, the U of T newspaper, that Palermo was seen on campus campaigning for U of T Voice, a candidate party running in the University of Toronto’s Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections.
Official election rules governing the vote don’t prohibit the involvement of RSU executives — or any other school’s student union — from participating.
Schwartz wrote that Palermo had been encouraging students to vote for presidential candidate Bollo-Kamara and U of T Voice, which is Bollo-Kamara’s party.
“Yolen is a friend of mine and I’m excited that she’s running for president of her students’ union,” Palermo said. “When she asked me if I could help campaign, I told her I would be glad to take some personal vacation time to support her.”
The Varsity article reported that RSU vice-president equity, Rajean Hoilett, was also assisting in campaigns.
It said that when a reporter approached Hoilett, the RSU executive claimed to be a U of T student.
In February, Hoilett was elected as incoming RSU president with approximately three-quarters of the vote.
Schwartz told The Ryersonian that two people belonging to rival parties at the U of T also witnessed Hoilett claiming to be a student.
The Ryersonian asked Hoilett to comment but did not receive a response.
According to The Varsity, Danielle Sandhu, campaign organizer for U of T Voice, confirmed that both Palermo and Hoilett were involved in the campaign. Although both Palermo and Hoilett were photographed campaigning, the newspaper published only a picture of Hoilett on its website.
“Palermo asked that a photo showing her campaigning for Voice in Sidney Smith (a University of Toronto building) not be posted for personal safety reasons,” Schwartz writes in the article.
The Ryerson executives were not the only outside campaigners who joined.
Along with Palermo and Hoilett was Julian Jasniewski, vice-president campus life of the York Federation of Students (YFS).
In 2006, The Eyeopener reported a similar controversy when then RSU president Rebecca Rose was spotted campaigning on the York campus for YFS presidential candidate and friend Corrie Sakaluk. She also received help from then RSU vice-president academic Nora Loreto and U of T vice-president campus life Samson Romero.
Michael Landry, who lost out to Sakaluk that year in the YFS presidential elections, expressed complaints to The Eyeopener regarding the outside help.
According to Schwartz, similar concerns arose this year because Palermo and Hoilett are experienced campaigners while the U of T parties are not, putting rival parties who don’t have their help at a disadvantage.
In a followup on Monday, The Varsity reported that Ye Huang, presidential candidate for opposing slate Team Unite, does not believe in the use of non-U of T campaigners.
“I feel like it’s a U of T election, so whoever is campaigning should be a U of T student,” he said. “They are not U of T students and do not know what U of T students need.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 19, 2014.