Unprecedented Gap in CSU Presidency

Union Still Without a President, Nearly Three Weeks Later

Photo Erin Sparks

On Feb. 7, Concordia Student Union president, Schubert Laforest resigned from his position, citing health reasons. On Feb. 13, at around 10:15 p.m., after sitting in a conference room for nearly five hours, the Concordia Student Union council reached the agenda point in which they were tasked to collectively pick a new president.

The room then launched into a vivid, spirited debate between councillors and executives—which lasted until past 4:00 a.m.

After hours of back and forth, of bickering, of councillors leaving and re-entering the room, the meeting finally ended. The CSU’s new president? Yet to be determined.

That was nearly two weeks ago, however. And the union still doesn’t have a president at the helm.

The issue saw a fierce clashing of opinions between the executive and the rest of council.

The conflict centered on the interpretation of Bylaw 7.4, which outlines the protocol of how to fill a presidential vacancy.

In keeping with this procedure, the executive presented council with the VPs—or in this case, the only VP—willing to take over the position.

The executive unanimously and wholeheartedly endorsed Nadine Atallah, current VP Clubs and Internal, as their chosen president, and put forth her name as the sole candidate interested in taking over the presidential portfolio.

When brought to a vote however, council unanimously voted down Atallah for president.

“I am trying to figure out a rational reason why Nadine is not the best for the job,” said VP Academic and Advocacy Hajar El Jahidi. “We know what’s best for us and we know the ins and outs of this team better than anyone else—why has no one asked us what we want?”

To this, council adamantly responded.

“This is not about the feelings of seven out of 35,000 people,” said councillor Melissa Kate Wheeler. “[Atallah] does not have the confidence of the [council], and this is the first time council has united on anything all year long—that says something.”

Several councillors echoed Wheeler’s sentiments, and furthered them with concerns of being presented with a single option. But, while the opposition to Atallah’s presidency was made loud and clear, the executive stood firm.

“The bylaws are clear. If no one from the exec is willing, we go to council. Nadine is the only one willing,” reiterated El Jahidi. “Technically, we sought legal advice, and the only choice is Nadine. If council doesn’t do this, we are breaching bylaws.”

Councillor Jordan Lindsay reacted by breaking down the illegitimacy of the executive’s threat of legal action, calling their threat “so empty.”

Lindsay was backed up by councillor Gonzo Nieto’s assurance to council that they should not feel as though “their hands are tied.”

Council poked around for alternatives, and VP Sustainability Andrew Roberts and VP External Simon-Pierre Lauzon emerged as favourites—though at the time, neither expressed interest in the role.

Roberts said he “wasn’t a politics kind of guy,” while Lauzon said, “I think me becoming president to the CSU would be a blow to the union, and a damage to us all.”

Since then, Lauzon told The Link that he has changed his mind, and would now consider accepting the position as president—though he still feels Atallah would be the better candidate.

Roberts could not be reached for comment prior to press time.

After arriving at an evident stalemate, it was decided that the bylaw be brought to the union’s judicial board, for legal interpretation. The complaint was officially received by the JB on Feb. 22. According to the motion passed at council, the body has five days from this time to seek advice from a lawyer.

Until JB issues a ruling, the executive, council and student body at large are stuck at a relative standstill, with no option but to continue to function to the best of their ability, without a president.

A First for Everything

This is the first time in CSU history that the union is being forced to function for an extended period of time without a president.

The last time a president resigned was in 2010. That year, Prince Ralph Osei resigned on Aug. 23 to take a full-ride scholarship to a master’s program abroad. Then-VP Services Heather Lucas replaced him three days later, following her unanimous appointment by council.

“The fact is that the CSU is not designed to not have a president,” said outgoing CSU president Schubert Laforest. “The bylaws do not have a fail-safe mechanism for a situation where you only have VPs and no president.”

It’s a fact that is already proving to be problematic for the current executive, he continued to explain, as they don’t have the power they would have had with a president.

“People are still contacting me, but I don’t have the legal authority to make decisions anymore, and—to a certain extent—neither does the exec,” Laforest said.

Projects Laforest was working on, such as hiring a general manager and fixing the union’s deplorable IT situation, have essentially been paralyzed.

Additionally, added Laforest, the union is without a face to lead them into important events, such as the ongoing Summit on Higher Education.

Lauzon agreed with Laforest, reiterating that the union’s ability to do its job has been hindered by the vacancy.

“We had an option that was fitting with our bylaws and council chose to make the CSU dysfunctional for a certain amount of time.”

When Hindsight Is 20/20

While their reasons for feeling so may vary, all parties involved seem to agree that the current leaderless state of the union is far from ideal.

Several members of the executive and council have expressed that, in hindsight, the process of filling the presidential vacancy should probably have been handled differently.

“I think we should have been less retaliatory, less angry. We should have kept our cool more,” said VP Loyola Stefan Faina, of his executive’s tactics at the Feb. 13 council meeting. “We should not have jumped right in with talking about lawyers and lawsuits, and other such unpleasant items.”

He said his team should have focused more on having a discussion with council and highlighting Atallah’s assets as a leader, rather than behaving in a manner that led council to feel forced into a decision, which, he said, was never the intention.

Atallah said the executives could also have done a better job communicating with councillors beforehand.

Councillor James Tyler Vaccaro says he would have appreciated more of a dialogue between council and the executive.

“It was frustrating. I think it could have gone much better than it had, had people had the tact and foresight to handle it better,” he said.

Regardless of whether the executive had done things differently, Lauzon expressed frustration with his belief that, in terms of their relationship with council, the executive is in a place where they can’t win.

“Our criticism during first semester is that we came to council unprepared, and that we gave too much leeway to council,” he said. “So, we corrected it by making decisions ourselves—but now we are getting flak for that.”

Laforest said, had he known things would have materialized the way they have, he would have “taken care of more things” before he left office.

“There should have been a contingency plan presented to council,” he said.

“Whoever council chooses, I will pour my knowledge into them and try and make the transition as smooth as possible,” Laforest said. “But right now it is a question of having a person being chosen, and them having the power to lead the CSU.”

Are You a Betting Person?

The Link

Until the Concordia Student Union’s judicial board issues its decision concerning the accurate interpretation and implementation of Bylaw 7.4, progress towards picking the union’s next president stands at a hault.

All anyone can really do for now is wait.

But, while doing so, The Link decided to do some research, ask some questions and try to determine the likeliest and least-likely contenders that could potentially find themselves in the union’s head leadership role.

The Link surveyed councillors and executives, complied some statistics and did our very best to give you a sense of the odds at play here.

  • Pros: Her executive is absolutely confident she is the best one for the job. So sure, in fact, that they even threatened council with legal action should they not elect her. As VP Internal, she worked very closely with outgoing president Schubert Laforest, and knows the job well.
    Cons: Council unanimously spoke against her candidacy.
    “The president is the face of the CSU. At times I’ve seen [Nadine] not be that face,” said councillor Paul Jerajian, as the executive pushed for Atallah.
    If elected, Atallah would be ineligible to represent the CSU at Senate or on the Board of Governors, the university’s highest governing bodies, meaning she’d be unable to fulfil two of the fundamental duties of the president.

  • Pros: The executive’s top choice after Nadine, Lauzon’s backed by council’s hesitant support. Lauzon himself admits that he’s a likely choice. As VP External, he’s also worked closely with Laforest and already has experience representing students as a senator.
    Cons: Vacating the VP External position right now could prove tricky, as it’s one of the most labour-intensive portfolios. Also, council would rather VP Sustainability Andrew Roberts, given the choice. He’s also hinted at a burnout—concerning, considering the increased workload the presidency would inevitably result in.

  • Pros: With the most support from council and reluctant support from some of his executive, Roberts would probably provide the union with what it needs most right now—a little unity. Also, as the current Board of Governors alternate student representative, he would be able to fill that governance role without much red tape.
    Cons: He clearly doesn’t want the job and made the case against himself, saying, “I don’t dig the politics stuff, I like what I’m doing.” Also, as VP Sustainability he doesn’t necessarily have the most relevant experience for the job.

  • Pros: Now that Laforest is gone, Toto is absolutely the best-dressed member of the executive.
    Cons: No tangible reason for him to be appointed, with neither the appropriate experience nor the support of the union.

  • Pros: She might possibly be related to renowned Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki.
    Cons: Council has thrown a lot of criticism her way. Read more to find out why.

  • Pros: The newest member of the team, El Jahidi is the least associated with the current executive, something that could have worked to favour with council right now.
    Cons: After threatening them with legal action two weeks ago, however, council is probably less than amicable to the idea. Also, there’s absolutely no evidence that she or her executive think it’s a good idea.

  • Pros: He hasn’t been vocal enough to significantly offend his council.
    Cons: He hasn’t been vocal enough to stand out and impress them.

  • Pros: It might be a good for the current executive’s public relations to get a new face in the mix, and the vast majority of councillors surveyed said they would consider voting in favour of it.
    Also, this option would mean none of the current executives would have to leave their position, thus opening up yet another spot on the executive.
    Cons: The executive has spoken out adamantly against this, and no councillors have expressed interest. Plus, it would be difficult for a newcomer to work productively with a new the team so late in the game.