An Attack On Democracy?

You Lookin’ at Somethin’? Graphic by David Barlow-Krelina

Before getting into the various reasons that we need to address issues relating to political transparency,

Before getting into the various reasons that we need to address issues relating to political transparency, dedicate a significant amount of coverage to alleged political wrongdoing and defend our reputation as a newspaper from cynical and unwarranted attacks, a little perspective is needed from all sides.

The truth is that most people at this school are not particularly invested in student politics. We don’t think this comes as a shock to anybody. The recent Special General Meeting, called by some the most successful student demonstration in a decade or more, managed to inspire a little over 1,000 students to show up.

That represents a whopping 3 to 3.5 per cent of the undergraduate population.

Even the last CSU election got just seven per cent of students to even bother to fill out a ballot. That means at least nine in 10 students don’t vote or participate in the school’s governance system, and likely don’t care to.
Having said that, it is still our duty as a Concordia newspaper to report on this system, since the actions of those elected by that minute fraction that cares to engage in school politics affect everyone else at this school. We are not out with pitchforks looking to burn someone at the stake because we have a vendetta against the student union. We don’t think they’re evil. We’re just trying to keep them honest. We’re just doing the job that students need us to do.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for many of the people sitting on Council and the CSU executive. To the several dozen in attendance at last Wednesday’s Council meeting, the decision to call for closed session right before discussing former VP Sustainability & Promotions Morgan Pudwell’s resignation—the primary reason many showed up in the first place—smacked of arrogance and a desire to avoid having to deal with Pudwell’s resignation and the questions surrounding it in an open forum.

The reasons given by the executive for taking the meeting into closed session were insufficient at best and intentionally misleading at worst.

First, Pudwell’s resignation was deemed a human resources issue. The implication being that the executive collectively acted as Pudwell’s boss. One student quickly refuted this argument, correctly arguing that the students were indeed the bosses of the entire executive, including Pudwell.

This salient point didn’t stop them, and Council eventually settled on the argument that pre-campaigning was illegal, and thus any discussion of the potential political implications of Pudwell’s decision needed to be made in private.

This, in essence, is what is wrong with our idea of student politics.

The fact that Council does not consider discussing the next election with each other “pre-campaigning” is a troubling matter. What does or does not constitute pre-campaigning? Is the executive not comprised of students with votes like the rest of us? Why are they privy to the inner workings of our school’s political system while the students in attendance get security called on them?

And why did the school’s security, whose employer is a private company, have more respect for the right of students to attend the Council meeting—security guards refused to enter the room, let alone to clear it of students unwilling to leave—than the councillors and executives both elected and paid by students?
Finally, with a chance to amend this decision and let students actually witness the whole meeting that students took time out of their lives to attend, the assembled councillors instead treated the crowd of their bosses as so hostile that they could not possibly envision the meeting proceeding.

The crowd was dismissed as just a collection of “Morgan’s friends,” and treated like an undesirable group of ruffians loudly disrupting the democratic decision of 26 people. The CSU called it “an attack on democracy” on Twitter later that night—never mind that their decision to silence the voices of nearly 80 students eager for a little bit of transparency and accountability—values the CSU claims to uphold—could hardly be considered democratic itself.

After the meeting was adjourned, though the yelling stopped, the tensions receded little. Nobody on the executive would discuss Pudwell’s resignation on the record afterwards, and that was after four days of telling The Link to “wait for the meeting” to get a response on the subject.

The CSU’s negative reactions to negative coverage is only worsening the situation. We complain they’re not transparent? They vote to go into closed session right before getting to an issue that most everyone at a highly attended Council meeting came to discuss. We assert that some of Pudwell’s complaints may be merited? They refuse to discuss this matter on the record with us, even in front of their own constituents.

The real tragedy is that this blatant political maneuvering takes attention away from the CSU’s ample capacity to spearhead honourable initiatives, such as the bursary for volunteer work abroad, proposed by Councillor Menachem Freedman, and the unanimously adopted initiative to press Concordia to opt for conflict-mineral-free alternatives where possible.

That those two motions were dwarfed in importance and coverage by the CSU’s refusal to be open and accountable with its constituents and the student press is as clear a sign as any that things have gone seriously wrong. But as long as Council consistently flouts the desire from the students they represent for more transparency and accountability, we have to cover that too.

—The Link