Branding them as the outsider slate, the Reboot UofT campaign aims to give the UTSU back to UofT students through an aggressive decentralization of power. They hope to bring lasting change to the UTSU, by giving power back to clubs, students, and the broader UofT community.
The Strand sat down with Presidential candidate Micah Ryu, and Vic Director candidates Alex Bercik & Anubhav Mathur to discuss the slate’s plan for both UofT and Vic, if elected to run the UTSU.
The Strand: To start with you, Micah, what made you want to run for UTSU president?
Micah: I’d been working on this campaign since September, but it was only decided in February that I would run. Originally we were going to build up our campaign, and try to merge with another slate in exchange for our policy concessions but those negotiations fell through. Our ideas are worth fighting for, regardless of stepping in as a third party in a traditionally two-party race, and the implications that come with that—we believe strongly enough in our ideas that we think that it really deserves a chance for students to decide whether to take our route or stick with the teams that have always run.
The Strand: What made the two of you want to run for the Victoria College Director position?
Alex: I’ve always had a sort of anger towards the UTSU, mainly because I’ve never been represented by it. This year, I am an executive for the Organization of Latin American Students here. Because the executives last year did a bad job of running the club, who missed the deadline by a couple days to apply for clubs funding, we formed a new executive for this year. We tried to re-apply for funding, we worked very hard over the summer and into first semester. But despite our best efforts, we were completely denied funding by the UTSU, they stripped us of our office space, and now we are left with no support to run any of our events that are traditions going back to before any of us here were even born. I have actually had to put in $200 of my own money into running these events by myself, simply because the UTSU does not care about its students. We have a large body of students here at UofT who are not represented by the UTSU, because the UTSU does not care enough about its membership to do anything, even something as simple as clubs funding. This is something I actually care about and I want to see change. So when someone contacted me from this slate and told me to run, I immediately jumped on it.
Anubhav: Whenever I look into joining any organization, I always look into how things work and how things are currently working. Looking at the UTSU, it wasn’t doing all that much in a direct sense. I looked further into it, talked to more people like Alex who have been directly impacted by the organization and bureaucratic hurdles and so on. I always have the sense that, when certain groups claim to represent the common good, there is always a tendency to lean towards insiders versus outsiders, and an actual tendency to help the common good. When I saw the platform, I thought that it was a great opportunity to help the common good that is being ignored.
The Strand: You guys want to institutionalize slates, turning them basically into parties, versus the Demand Better slate which wants to get rid of slates altogether. What are the motivations behind this?
Alex: One of our big things is that we want to be able to hold previous parties accountable for their actions. That is something that has been made very hard by slates. Every single year, you have parties where all they have to do is re-brand themselves as a new slate, exactly like what Demand Better is doing now. They are the incumbents, and they have done nothing for us for the past two years. They have re-branded themselves as this totally new organization that we know is completely false. We want to be able to hold people accountable for the actions that they have or haven’t taken in previous years.
Micah: If you get rid of slates, people will get elected based on names and personalities. At a school of 50,000 students, this will cause voter turnout to sink even lower than it currently stands. One of the things that disgusted the founders of this campaign is that, last year, we had less than 10% voter turnout, and the current president won her mandate with votes from less than 4% of students. We believe very strongly that it’s because we vote on names, faces, and slates that are re-branded every year, where you can’t tell who is who. By institutionalizing parties, not only do you create continuity where previous groups can be held accountable for their actions, but there are two other benefits as well. Traditionally, there were only two slates in these elections. It wasn’t because everyone was happy with one slate or another—it’s because there are real organizational barriers to starting a new network that can run a campaign such as this.
This campaign was a lot of hard work to make—collectively 70-80 hours per week, a lot of shots in the dark and skipped classes. I didn’t know either of these guys before this campaign; I only knew maybe 3 or 4 of the candidates on our slate. That considered, we have found a really solid group of people who are on the same page ideologically and have the sort of thick skin that’s required to face intimidation tactics from the BLC, the difficulties that come from dealing with the full-time staff, and the CFS. As fortunate as we are, the system has too many barriers to entry for students to be able to create a new movement like we have.
You’re only taken seriously if you run with a slate. The two traditional slates are both giant cliques that self-regulate and not everyone can just approach and run if they want to. Demand Better, who basically form their network through the various college councils and ProFac student councils, which themselves are their own set of clique with an insider-outsider dynamic. The majority of Victoria College students don’t identify as part of the college because when they think of Victoria College they think of this group of people that are part of this insider community. The difference with parties is that presumably, these parties would have to run primary races to nominate for positions, which reduces the barriers for independents and outsiders.
The Strand: What issues do the two of you see with Victoria College’s relationship with the UTSU, and how do you plan to represent Victoria College specifically?
Alex: If we’re talking about looking after the Vic insiders, they’ve been looked after long enough. What we want to do, and plan on doing, is promoting the interests of the general Vic students, not necessarily VUSAC’s interests. For example, I have a lot of connections to Vic students. I am also on the VCAA (Victoria College Athletic Association), I’m always hanging around here at Ned’s. I am aware of the general sentiments of Vic students, and so I am aware that a common one is against the VUSAC clique. If you’re not a part of it, getting your voice heard is difficult. By electing us, outsiders to this clique, Vic students know that we are actually going to try to represent them and their interests, not VUSAC’s. That’s the biggest difference between us and the incumbents, the Demand Better slate, who claim to represent Vic students but they haven’t and they won’t, because they haven’t represented Vic students historically.
Anubhav: Its primarily a matter of perspective. Alex and Micah have both mentioned this sort of insider-outsider dynamic. Being involved in the Vic community doesn’t necessarily entail being involved in VUSAC or those kinds of formal organizations. I think you will find that most Vic students don’t have that sort of connection and feel a sort of apathy to that sense of organization. Being an individual and a Vic student gives you access to that perspective, and will be a part of our policy considerations and when specific things need to happen. On top of that, the primary concerns of Vic students and UofT students alike with the UTSU is the structural issues like Micah mentioned, and these are well taken care of with our campaign and our platform.
Voting runs March 14th-16th at utsu.simplyvoting.com.