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Candidates from the Rise and Inspire slates spoke at a debate hosted by The Eyeopener on Feb. 11
The two slates running to be the next Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive team are both aiming to bring Ryerson back to the negotiating table if elected.
The platforms of the two slates, Rise and Inspire, differ on how to go about reopening talks with the university. On Feb. 11, the candidates running for president, vice-president operations and vice-president equity took part in a debate hosted by The Eyeopener and answered questions on how exactly they plan to restore students’ and the administration’s faith in the RSU. This is the first RSU election since the university formally cut ties with the union on Jan. 24.
Rise’s first priority will be to create a “massive survey” for students to give feedback on the RSU. Rise’s presidential candidate, Ali Yousaf, said the survey will inform how a Rise executive team would govern.
According to the Rise campaign website, the survey currently consists of one question: “Would you like for the RSU to maintain its current form, or would you like for the RSU to work with the general membership to formulate a brand new governance structure?”
An independent committee formed by Ryerson administration, the Student Government Process Committee, is currently accepting proposals for a new student government structure — which will be voted on by students in March. The committee plans to hold elections for the new student union in April and have a functioning student union recognized by Ryerson by Fall 2021. The Ryersonian asked Ryerson if the university would consider reopening negotiations with a new RSU executive team, but did not hear back before publication.
Yousaf said he believes that Rise will be able to use that survey data to show the university that the RSU represents the mandate of students and aid in reopening negotiations with the university. He said that from his perspective, the main reason that the university terminated the operating agreement is that they wanted transparency, dependability and open communication, which this year’s RSU team failed to demonstrate.
“What team Rise and the university has in common is we both want what’s in the best interest of the students,” Yousaf said. “And I’m sure that what is in the best interest of the students, the university would be willing to renegotiate.”
Charmaine Reid, who is running for president with Inspire, rejected the idea that the university administration and union, or Ryerson students, want the same thing.
“The union and the university do not have the same interest at heart,” Reid said. “I think it’s important to recognize that a union ought to be inherently in tension with the university. We are not there to work with them. We are there to advocate for students in the ways that they continuously fail us. The university is not our friend.”
Reid said that Ryerson will not reopen negotiations with the RSU easily and that Inspire will not rely on the university to “politely” accept their request to open talks again. Instead, Inspire will “restore student trust in the RSU by implementing structural changes that will amend the bylaws to bring the university back to the negotiating table,” according to Reid. She added that the RSU must show the administration that students support the union and that it is representative of the Ryerson student body.
If elected, Inspire plans to hold an extensive outreach and education campaign to inform students about what the RSU does and the services it provides.
“In order to get back to 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.”
Reid said that she and the rest of the Inspire team have spoken to over 1,000 students through class talks this week and that the vast majority of students don’t know about the RSU’s services. “But if you started talking to students about their student groups, about the services that they’re able to access, students do care about the RSU,” she said.
Reid questioned Inspire’s plan for a student survey, asking how Inspire plans to implement it and pay for it without the aid of RAMSS or access to student email addresses, which the RSU lost when Ryerson terminated their operating agreement in January. Reid called the survey redundant, saying it’s obvious that students aren’t happy with the RSU in its current state.
In response to Reid’s concerns, Yousaf said that what matters is students’ opinions. He said the RSU needs to regain their trust by ensuring that their voices are heard and that Rise will ask students about their stance on everything. Yousaf said in addition to the survey, Rise would also be doing outreach and educating students on the RSU.
Rise’s vice-president equity candidate Vaishali Vinayak said that Rise would consider submitting a proposal for the new student government procedure being facilitated by Ryerson University.
Process manager for the new student government committee Lianne Newman said that individuals from the RSU can submit proposals to the committee and run in that election. When asked by the Ryersonian if the committee would accept a proposal with the RSU’s governance structure, Newman said they would need to assess if there were “any gaps” in the proposal. “If they were to submit something, we would just want to make sure that they followed the nomination form and gave us as much information as possible, for us to make an informed decision,” she said. The nomination form focuses on financial transparency and equity.
A frequent talking point from Inspire candidates was Yousaf’s involvement with the 6 Fest scandal. In 2016, after the RSU’s two-day concert called 6 Fest was rescheduled, nearly $80,000 in ticket refunds were transferred into the personal bank accounts of several RSU executives, including Yousaf — who was then an RSU director and member of the RSU finance committee. The RSU said the transfer was done to expedite the refund process but the union never completed an investigation into the scandal.
Yousaf defended his record saying that his name was cleared by audit and tax consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“My financial details, every single thing was given to PwC and PwC has [cleared] my name. If that doesn’t satisfy anyone, then I don’t know what will,” said Yousaf. “I’m the only executive in the last six years that has actually finished [their] year in a financial surplus,” said Yousaf. He added, that “no sort of scandal happened in my year.”
While there were no financial scandals for the 2017-18 RSU executive, which Yousaf was a part of, the RSU was criticized for its “Colonialism 150” campaign. Yousaf originally voted for the campaign before later reconsidering his stance.
- Ensuring the RSU’s essential services remain open without interruption, including the seven equity service centres, the health and dental plan and legal services. Reid said that if students vote for a new student union through referendum, she “will work to transition these services to the new student government.”
- Restoring student trust and accountability through structural and bylaw changes to the RSU and establishing a permanent human resources position.
- “Opening up the RSU” by creating a comprehensive campaign to inform and educate students about RSU programs and services, developing a “fully responsible and accessible budget” and ensuring the Board of Governors can freely access information such as financial records and meeting minutes.
- Ensure RSU effectively serves students by making sure there is stable and equitable support for student groups and looking for alternative revenue sources for the RSU, so that the union does not solely rely on the university.
- Conducting a survey to determine the stance of students, the results of which “will be used to create a new operating plan for the RSU.”
- Increasing transparency and accountability for the RSU by creating a forum for students to submit complaints and concerns about the RSU and the executives anonymously. Rise promised students would receive a response within two weeks and to make all documents the RSU possesses public and accessible to students.
- Support student groups through funding and in the event of RSU losing its legal case, lobby the new students’ union to recognize and reinstate student groups.
Candidates’ Past Experience
Inspire: Charmaine Reid has served as co-volunteer coordinator for the RyeAccess equity centre, president of the Ryerson Debate Association and was runner-up for vice-president operations in the 2019 RSU election.
Rise: Ali Yousaf served as RSU’s vice-president operations for the 2017-18 executive year and was vice-president finance for the Ryerson Engineering Student Society in the 2016-17 executive year – a motion to impeach him from that position was put forward in Feb. 2017 but did not pass. He said he has worked with multiple student groups and course unions.
Inspire: Zaima Aurony is a second-year economics and finance student. She was vice-president operations for the Ryerson Debate Association and served as vice-president finance for the International Economics and Finance Course Union. She said her “whole academic career is wrapped around financial policies.”
Rise: Liora Dubinsky is a third-year nursing student and said she has been involved with a lot of student groups on campus, for which she has held leadership roles. Dubinsky said that she was inspired to run after being “constantly let down by the RSU” and that she brings a student’s perspective.
Inspire: Robert Molloy has been involved with the Trans Collective equity centre for four years, serving as coordinator for the last two and volunteering for two years before that. He says that he has lived and breathed the equity service centres while at Ryerson and that Inspire’s campaign is “rooted in accessibility.”
Rise: Vaishali Vinayak is a third-year business management student and says she has worked with student groups and course unions, which has given her “the opportunity to interact with people from different communities.” She has also volunteered with the Good Food Centre and said she has seen how many students use the service and how beneficial it is to them.
Voting for the RSU election is from Feb. 12 until Feb. 14 in the Student Campus Centre. Due to Ryerson terminating its operating agreement with the RSU, voting will only be in-person with paper ballots.
With files from Sherina Harris, Amanda Pope and Dea Kodra