Features

The SFUO’s contract with the U of O will be terminated on Dec. 24 2018. Illustration: Zoë Mason.

We spoke with eight SFUO executive alumni about their time with the federation

Come Dec. 24, the University of Ottawa may well go forward with its plan to terminate its agreement with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) following fraud allegations against three executives. But that doesn’t change the fact that the SFUO, formed in 1943, has been both a springboard and incubator for the careers and lives of hundreds of executive alumni. These are some of their stories.

Anne McGrath
Vice-president academic 1978-79, president 1979-80
English literature graduate

For McGrath, the SFUO was an important training ground for her landmark political career. She became one of the first female presidents of the SFUO.

“You learn skills that are hard to find in other places,” she said. “I learned how to work across differences, think clearly and express myself clearly.”

After graduating McGrath moved to Alberta, working for a number of social causes, and obtaining her bachelor of education at the University of Calgary, and teaching for a few years after.

She dived back into politics and went on to become the president and national director of the NDP, working as chief of staff for the late NDP leader Jack Layton.

McGrath now works out of Calgary as the principal secretary to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. She announced in September she’s seeking the NDP nomination to run as a candidate in a Calgary riding in the 2019 provincial election.

Gilles Marchildon
President 1987-1988
Political science graduate

A self-proclaimed joiner, Marchildon joined the SFUO to help bring the student body together on common goals.

Perhaps Marchildon’s greatest achievement was his team’s move to introduce a student health care plan.

“My favourite thing was meeting students, hearing their dreams and desires, (and) trying to translate them into actions or services,” he told the Fulcrum in an  email.

After leaving the U of O, Marchildon emerged as an advocate for equality. He headed Egale Canada, a leading advocacy group for LGBTQ+ people in Canada, during their campaign to secure equal civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. From there he dipped his toes in a number of industries, ending up heading one of Ontario’s six mandated French-language health planning organizations, Action Positive VIH/sida.

“I hope good leadership (that is well-intentioned, intelligent, and transparent) will emerge from the student body to present a strong, united, credible partner for the university administration,” he added.

Christian Hyde
President 1988-99
Political science and law graduate

Hyde had always been involved in different kinds of student activism since he started at the U of O, so a role with the SFUO was a bit of a “natural progression.”

For Hyde, his role as SFUO president wasn’t necessarily a sacrosanct position, but a job like any other.

“It deserved and required the same diligence as any position,” he said via email.

One success story that came to Hyde’s mind is successfully campaigning to have U of O students pay the same transit fare as high school students in the region.

“I got escorted by police from a mayor’s speech event where I had gone to heckle him,” he recalled. “Good times.”

You can now find Hyde about 5,500 kilometres away from Ottawa in Paris, where he runs his own law firm, Hyde & Associates. They work mainly with multinational organizations and global NGOs to help them make sense of telecommunication law across the globe.

Alain Gauthier
Vice-president internal 1994-95, president 1996-97/1997-98
Political sciences graduate

Gauthier appears to be the first executive in SFUO history to have three terms in office.

“I’m a particular beast when it comes to the SFUO,” he admitted.

Gauthier and his team started what is now the Peer Help Centre, the Indigenous Resource Centre, and the Pride Centre, along with the mature and part-time students centre.

“The 90s went from just being owners of a convenience store, a coffee shop, and a bar to building out student-facing services,” he said.

Gauthier now heads the vendor management office for an IT shop with the federal government and is a school board trustee for a Quebec school board.

“My hobby became my career and my career became my hobby,” he said between laughs.

“Maybe rather than renovating a building that’s been renovated many times, let’s see what it would mean to take it down, close it up properly, and build a new one,” he said of the potential termination of the SFUO-U of O contract.

Patrick Pichette
Vice-president external 1998-99, president 1999-2000
Business commerce graduate

Pichette said his greatest accomplishment from his time at the helms of the SFUO was his move with vice-president external Patrick McCurdy to open the doors of Agora Bookstore back in 1999.

“We were looking for tangible ways to put a few dollars back in the pockets of students,” he said. “Amazon wasn’t around back then, you couldn’t find used books online.”

One of the most important lessons he learned was responsibility.

“You’re thrown into the job at 22-years-old, you’ve got multi-million dollar budgets, full-time staff … and campus services,” Pichette remembered. “It really teaches you to be accountable.”

Pichette is now with the Canadian Real Estate Association and is vice-president of Realtor.ca, the top real estate portal in Canada.

Patrick McCurdy
Vice-president internal 1998-99, vice-president external 1999-2000
Communications and criminology graduate

Two of McCurdy’s fondest memories with the SFUO were his initiative with Patrick Pichette to open the doors of Agora Bookstore and his move to run a free camp on campus for underprivileged youth.

That, and the massive rave he helped hold inside the UCU.

“We coated the whole UCU in vinyl drop sheets and all different coloured lights,” he said, detailing DJs on each floor of the building. “We called it: Electropolis.”     

McCurdy worked as a professor in Europe before returning to his old stomping grounds. He’s now a communications professor at the U of O, where he initially studied the intersection of media and protest and now media and the environment. He’s working on a book and documentary on a banned CBC documentary called Tar Sands.

“You grow a lot as a person (through the SFUO)” he said.

Dean Haldenby
Vice-president finance 2007-08, president 2008-09
Business finance graduate

Haldenby initially decided to get involved with the SFUO to try to enhance student life in an impactful way, he said.

For Haldenby, some of his greatest accomplishments were laying the foundations for services that are now essential to students, especially the U-Pass.

One of the biggest lessons Haldenby learned from his time with the SFUO is patience.

“Not everything happens immediately: results take time,” he told the Fulcrum in an email.

These days, Haldenby runs his own financial planning firm that works mainly with families and local businesses, Haldenby Financial Group – HollisWealth, with locations throughout southwestern Ontario.

“Students must demand a more responsible SFUO,” he added. “The student movement … will find a way forward— it always does.”

Anne-Marie Roy
Vice-president communications 2012-13, president 2013-14/2014-15
French literature and communications graduate

Leading the SFUO, and for two years at that, was never in Roy’s original gameplan.

“It just sort of fell on my lap and opened my eyes to political organizing,” she said in a message to the Fulcrum.

Roy was first introduced to the SFUO through the federation’s 2012 campaign to lower tuition fees across the country, including a march to Parliament Hill.

“It was clear to me that the SFUO played an important role in supporting students,” she said.

After leaving the SFUO, Roy worked as the national deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. She now works as the communications and research officer with the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa.

“My time with the SFUO has been the most enriching experience in my life so far, and really sparked a passion in me to advocate for a publicly-funded, high-quality system of post-secondary education.”

Anne McGrath was previously the news editor at the Fulcrum.