Bylawlessness

No election at Concordia is complete without a little controversy.

This was proven yet again with the creation of a Facebook group in opposition to proposed changes to the Concordia Student Union bylaws, which students will vote on in the referendum starting Nov. 29.

“I didn’t take issue with the changes right off the bat,” said Aundeen “Ace” Szmolyan, the group’s creator. “I first took issue with the fact that there is a lack of information for students to make an informed choice regarding the changes.”

Since putting the page up, threads have been started that take issue with several large changes, especially the abolishment of the electoral slate system.

“I haven’t bought into that,” said Szmolyan. “I personally find that the individual system is going to cause a lot of problems,” including having to keep track of an inordinate number of candidates for each position, rather than a general slate.

He pointed to last year’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations election as an example of what happens when the slate system is scrapped. In that election, several executive positions were uncontested, and the VP Communications spot didn’t have a single candidate running.

CSU President Lex Gill said that any comparisons to the ASFA situation are unwarranted, arguing that people weren’t engaged in the election because in the prior year ASFA had done “very little.”

“They weren’t particularly public, people weren’t volunteering and weren’t engaged with them. I don’t think the CSU is in that situation. If people need a tribalistic team identity to give them an incentive to run for elected office, then they probably shouldn’t be running.”

Szmolyan isn’t the only person who has voiced an opposition to the reform. ASFA VP Internal Schubert Laforest posted a note on Facebook detailing the reasons he plans to vote “no” to the changes, including those concerning elections.

“I don’t have an objection to abolishing the slate system, I’m actually in favour of it,” said Laforest. “My problem is with the way that bylaw is specifically worded. The problem is the distinction between running individually and running independently. I don’t think that’s a clear enough distinction.”

The new bylaws propose a system where executives will run “individually,” whereas councilors, senators and Board of Governors representatives are to run “individually and independently.” Gill said that the wording was intentional, in that it left room for candidates to team together in affiliations, without being elected as a team, as in the current slate system.

Another item heavily discussed on the Szmolyan’s page, which he called “Demand Knowledge: Vote NO for the CSU Bylaw changes,” is the changed system for removing an executive or councilor from office.

Currently, it requires a petition signed by 10 per cent of the representatives’ constituency, which then automatically triggers a byelection within 40 days with the representative staying in office during that time.

The proposed change would reduce the signatures required to an array from 2,500 for an exec to 300 for a Fine Arts or independent councilor, and also adds the step of calling a Special General Meeting.

“The requirement of an SGM creates an unfair system,” said Szmolyan. “If the students get the required percentage which is a [fairly high] amount to get to sign a petition, it’s generally more than what was required to get them elected in the first place.”

He pointed to what he saw as problems with the SGM, such as the difficulty of getting quorum—which ranges from 450 students for an executive to 54 for a Fine Arts or independent councilor—and of a vagueness as to what happens if quorum isn’t met.

Gill maintained that the new system would actually make it easier for students to remove unwanted representatives, pointing the 2008-09 attempted recall election of then-President Keyana Kashfi.

“We are presenting bylaws to students that make it easier for us to lose our jobs,” said Gill. “You get a petition, the petition automatically calls an SGM, there’s a quorum for that SGM, and then there has to be a vote by two thirds, with cause, to remove someone from office. It’s a clear process that’s familiar to a number of other student unions as well.”

Both Szmolyan and Laforest pointed to the complete abolishment of the Senate of Faculty Associations as another problem. The seldom-used SoFA is a forum where the associations theoretically can act as a check and balance on Council, with powers to reject and send back resolutions.

“It is not something that should just be removed, it should be fixed,” said Szmolyan. “It’s disappointing they haven’t met, but it doesn’t justify their dissolution.”

“I think it’s a body that has a lot of potential, that can serve as an institutionalized forum for faculty associations to coordinate with the CSU,” agreed Laforest.

However, Concordia professor and lawyer Patrice Blais, a former CSU Councilor who played a major role in shaping the new bylaws, said that the dissolution of SoFA was not about removing a check and balance, but about eliminating a structure that legally had very little power.

“It’s something that has not worked and will not work,” said Blais. “I’m not going to tell you it’s illegal, but if you look at the Quebec Companies Act, the authority to manage and administer the affairs of a corporation is given to the Board of Directors, the Council of Representatives. That’s a power given by the law which your bylaws need to be in accordance with.”

Blais noted that SoFA was given powers by the current bylaws that could contradict this and that there are “many other avenues” for faculty associations to bring concerns to the CSU.
Voting takes place Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1.

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