When I attended my first student union meeting at the University of Toronto last February, I knew that many students involved in campus politics are radical leftists so I was unsurprised when those present passed motions endorsing the Aboriginal movement Idle No More and to lobby the provincial government to ban unpaid internships, in which students freely choose to participate.
But when the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement endorsing Idle No More and sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour calling for a ban on unpaid placements, they claimed to represent 46,000 University of Toronto students and that is simply not true. Many students have no opinion on these issues, while many others, like me, are strongly opposed.
We have no idea how most students actually feel because only 3,161 voted in the last UTSU election, a turnout of less than seven per cent. Munib Sajjad, the president, received around 2,000 votes, which means less than five per cent of students voted for him—despite running unopposed.
The more I learned about the UTSU, the more frustrated I became by how they’re using the mandatory fees I pay each fall. They claim to represent me while engaging in a long list of far left political activities that I, a right-wing student, oppose.
Here are some examples. Sajjad and other student union leaders from across Ontario marched in the May Day rally this year alongside Marxist and anarchist organizations like the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One is Illegal and even Hekmatist, the Worker-communist Party of Iran. Pictures published on UTSU’s Facebook page showed Sajjad proudly carrying an UTSU flag while posing beside a No One is Illegal banner as well as posters advocating for Marxism. Unfortunately, the May Day rally was not an anomaly. Several student activists, including former York Federation of Students president Krisna Saravanamuttu, spoke at the Marxism 2013 conference at Ryerson University in June. In August, Sajjad and many other executives from Ontario student unions participated in the Ontario Common Front (OCF) assembly, a gathering endorsed by the Communist Party of Canada and the Socialist Party of Ontario. Representatives from Youth for Socialist Action, the International Socialists, the Fightback Marxists, and the Young Communist League all confirmed their attendance when I spoke to them at the recent UTSU clubs fair.
Low voter turnout and student apathy are some of the reasons radical left-wing student union executives are in power, despite their politics being so far from mainstream. Last year, a number of students at the University of Toronto organized and were able to pass a motion to implement online voting in future UTSU elections, which they argued is the measure needed to boost voter turnout. UTSU executives opposed the measure and did not implement online voting for 2013’s elections.
Students at the University of Toronto and on campuses around Canada need to work together to reform their student democracies. They should also talk to friends, write for their university newspapers, run for student government and show up to vote during student elections. It’s essential to purge student unions and student governments of executives who represent only the radical left. Otherwise they will continue to use your student fees to fund their anti-capitalist fringe campaigns.