Student Union President Resigns
Citing Health Reasons, Laforest Steps Down
With less than three months left in the school year, the Concordia Student Union has lost its elected president.
Last Thursday night, Schubert Laforest quietly stepped down from his position as CSU president with a letter to students, CSU council and student media.
“It is with great sadness that I am hereby resigning from the position of President of the Concordia Student Union,” reads the letter.
After several weeks of being absent from the office and from council, Laforest has cited his health as the reason for his resignation. Blood tests have confirmed that he has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, strep throat and another viral infection.
“The combination of those three make it so that I’m basically physically incapable of completing my duties,” said Laforest in an interview with The Link, adding that the extreme fatigue and other symptoms associated with mono were “not sustainable.”
“There were times that my body would fail me, and I’d be out for hours,” he said. “Once I got the results, it was pretty much game over. This wasn’t something that I’d just be able to tough out.
“I sat with the team, and we decided this was the best course of action.”
Laforest was missing from the last CSU council meeting—his absence explained by other councillors and executives who vouched for his condition, saying then that he had the flu and was not doing well.
Also missing from council was VP Student Life Alexis Suzuki, who was also apparently ill.
Still, the resignation ambushed some.
“It was a big surprise. We didn’t really see that one coming,” said councillor James Tyler Vaccaro. “We had been told at the last council meeting that he’d had been under the weather, but we hadn’t been given much information about it.”
Vaccaro is one of several new councillors at the CSU, elected in a byelection last November. However, he wasn’t alone in feeling left in the dark.
“I knew he had been sick, but I didn’t know that this was on the table or was being considered,” said councillor Gonzo Nieto.
The shock of Laforest’s resignation was compounded by the fact that the majority of council found out about it through the student media, which apparently sparked some tensions between councillors and the executive.
According to the executive, there was a problem with their email server, and council didn’t receive Laforest’s resignation letter until some time after the media had reported it.
“I still feel like there are ways they could have safeguarded against that,” said Nieto. “I can’t deny that it really frustrated me a lot.”
Unlike some councillors, the executive seems to have seen the resignation coming. Laforest had been sick for some time, and unable to fulfill the tasks outlined in his mandate as president.
“I wasn’t that surprised when it happened,” said VP External Simon-Pierre Lauzon. “On a personal level, I kind of entertained the idea of what we’d do if this kept going on. When it did turn out, we had already had a conversation and we all kind of knew that it could happen.”
In his resignation letter, Laforest ensures that he will not simply up and leave his position at the union—he also names his hopeful successor, and insists he will stick around to help facilitate the transition.
“I have already begun finalizing all the critical files I have been working on, after which I hope Nadine Atallah, current VP Clubs and Internal Affairs, will take over my position and all my responsibilities with council’s approval,” reads the letter.
CSU bylaws state that in the event of a vacancy in the presidency that council is to appoint a new president from the remaining vice-presidents to serve out the remainder of the term.
“We chose Nadine because she’s the one that’s worked with me closely the most,” said Laforest. “I’m bringing her up to speed.”
The executive’s proposal of running Atallah as the union’s new president was met with some concern from council, due in part to the fact that the executive seems to have already begun to act on their decisions, and because the issue has not yet been brought to council.
“I would have really rather that instead of having this initial pressure from the executive to make these moves, that it would have been open to council to discuss without any pressure,” said Nieto.
In an interview with The Link on the night of Laforest’s resignation, Atallah initially said that the executive had also chosen and begun training Museb Nabil Abu-Thuraia, former Muslim Students Association president, to replace Atallah as the new VP Clubs and Internal.
Abu-Thuraia ran against Atallah for the same position in the March 2012 elections, but lost. In a recent interview, however, Atallah retracted the statement, saying that, though they had proposed Abu-Thuraia, he hadn’t begun any formal training.
According to Vaccaro though, the lack of communication from the executive on important decisions is most problematic.
“It’s annoying in a way that we’re supposed to be there on council to hold them accountable, but time and time again decisions are being made and we’re just supposed to sit there and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s already been done. Let’s ratify those decisions,’” said Vaccaro.
Despite the initial concern from council, however, Lauzon seems fairly confident in the executive’s decision.
“We need to finish our year from a strong position, and at this point it’s about an objective conversation about the best way to do that,” said Lauzon. “We talked about it as a team and we all feel like she has the best number of advantages and the least number of disadvantages to bring to the position.”
Moving on Without a Leader
Laforest’s resignation comes less than three weeks before the increasingly controversial Quebec summit on education, and four months before the end of this executive’s mandate.
“It’s clearly a blow to the organization,” said Vaccaro. “He was leading the entire executive. He was at the top, so he should have been managing and organizing the entire plan going forward. So you can’t say it’s not a major setback for the CSU.”
Looking toward the summit, Lauzon—whose mandate this year has centred around preparing for the summit—doesn’t seem worried about Laforest’s absence.
“I think it’s a blow, but I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “In terms of having the power to represent the CSU in a single voice, that concept will be completed when Nadine will hopefully get the position.
“In terms of damages, they’re rather mitigated in that Schubert is going to be replaced by Nadine, hopefully.”
Whether council appoints Atallah as the new president or not, she seems confident that the union can pull it together to finish the year.
“I think it’s a big moment of upheaval, and we have to make sure that we’re on the ball and that nothing falls through the cracks,” said Atallah. “We’ve been doing that already, and the team is ready to take that on.”