Editorial: Lack of opposition highlights need for change in student politics

If you ran for CSU, you’re probably going to win

Graphic Carl Bindman

Candidates participated in a debate ahead of the Concordia Student Union elections, which begin today and run through March 18. Issues vital to students were discussed by candidates and moderators. These included urging the university’s senate to expand the pass/fail option to more students and keep it in place until the pandemic is over, making the Loyola campus more accessible and pushing the administration to improve shuttle services, pressuring the university to take a more humanitarian and BIPOC-focused approach to their sustainability initiatives, and advocating for lower costs for international students’ healthcare coverage, to name a few. 

These are all great, of course, but one glaring flaw of the debate is that it wasn’t really a “debate”—by and large, there was no opponent.

Only one position was contested; David Desjardins and Faye Sun initially went head-to-head for the Sustainability Coordinator position on the CSU executive team, but Desjardins dropped out of the election shortly after the debate. 

The Brick by Brick slate is now running completely unopposed. This is the second year in a row without competition; the current executive slate, We Got You, also ran unopposed. 

Though Brick by Brick is a promising team made up of students with significant CSU experience, any unopposed run is a cause for concern and means students have no options when choosing executives to represent their interests.

This lack of engagement from students is also evident in the election for seats on council—there are 30 seats available, but only 27 people running. Many council seats have so few people running that candidates are almost guaranteed to be elected into their positions. The worst example of this is the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science faculty, which has four people running and eight seats available—the candidates are a shoo-in.

Democracy is the most essential aspect of student politics in general, but even more so at an institution of our size—we have nearly 40,000 undergraduate students, and one would expect our democratic process to be more reflective of that. Instead, it seems there is a drought in student engagement with the CSU.

This lack of engagement is also demonstrated by voter turnout: last year, barely five per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Few candidates running for council means anyone can run and automatically have a high chance of being elected. This means candidates with positions most students disagree with will be elected. Councillors with track records of problematic behaviour will likely be re-elected.

There is a problem of inclusion at council that discourages the involvement of some of Concordia’s most talented and passionate students. A lack of racial diversity in the union and a toxic environment send a strong message to marginalized students: you are unwelcome here. Don’t even think about running. 

The situation creates an unfair cycle: the union doesn’t do a good enough job holding representatives accountable, and marginalized members who are subjected to racist and transphobic attitudes feel pressured to leave their positions. Toxic, cis-gendered, straight, white men who have perpetuated this culture remain, while LGBTQ2S+/BIPOC students subsequently feel less comfortable running for positions. 

Having fewer and fewer people running—especially fewer students with marginalized identities—leads to an unfair democratic process where we end up with a union that isn’t representative of the entire student body. 

The election process needs to be more comprehensive and more widely advertised, so more students know they can run for these positions. Many students are in the dark about how these processes work, and these need to be made more clear. The CSU needs to find new ways to reach students to ramp up engagement.

This election is an example of how student unions can fail their constituents. Students with discriminatory beliefs, and who reinforce harmful practices, will be elected to council because nobody else decided to run. Further, having an unopposed executive team, even if there is a lot to make us hopeful for their mandate, discourages engagement and a fulsome exploration of policy differences. 

Marginalized students must be able to count on a safe space in the union. The union needs to commit to stark improvements in the ways it recruits, appoints, and platforms its members. Only when student politics are inclusive, engaging, and competitive can we ensure the CSU truly represents Concordia students.