The UOSU logo on a banner
UOSU's original banner; from a time when it cared about student politics. Image: Matt Gergyek/Fulcrum
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The student body couldn’t care less about student politics. Neither could the UOSU

Earlier this week, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) held voting for its by-election from Oct. 12 to 14. Only three candidates ran for eight available positions and a meager 4.5 per cent of the student body turned out for this by-election. Not on the ballot was the position of clubs and services commissioner, which will be vacated at the end of the month due to the recent resignation of Amina El Himri. The position will be filled, for the rest of the year, by an interim commissioner who will be chosen by the Executive Committee and ratified by the Board of Directors.

It begs the question — why are students so apathetic when it comes to their own governance? It’s easy to pin it on an immature disinterest in all things political. The typical culprits when it comes to youthful inaction: laziness, ignorance. However, I think the Fulcrum’s coverage these past few weeks points to an alternative: the inaccessibility of UOSU politics.

The UOSU has simply developed a character of cool detachment from the student body here on campus. I doubt it’s intentional, but it’s surely there. 

Before I continue, I need to make an important distinction between governance and politics. By governance, I mean the administration of the union — the fulfillment of its obligations. In terms of governance, the UOSU seems to be doing alright. By politics, I mean the human aspect — the making-people-care. In terms of politics, the UOSU seems to be doing much worse, and it’s no mystery why. 

Let me illustrate. 

Last year, the Fall General Assembly (FGA) dragged on for seven hours and adjourned at 2 a.m, discouraging all but the most pious of student politicians from bearing witness to the policy-making process.

This year, public documents have not been uploaded to the UOSU’s web page since the new administration took over in May 2021. UOSU president Tim Gulliver told Fulcrum staff writer Shailee Shah that it’s simply an error, soon to be rectified, and that the documents are available upon request. While I don’t doubt this statement, I do doubt that any student who might be moved to access these documents in the first place would have the interest to pursue their inquiry beyond consulting the web page. 

A few weeks ago, I reached out to the UOSU’s Multi-Faith Centre for a statement on a story I was working on. When I didn’t receive a response, I asked a colleague to stop by their office on campus. The office was closed, and students nearby told her that it had been all semester. Fulcrum staff writer Desiree Nikfardjam investigated. Representatives from both the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and the Finkelstein Chabad Jewish Centre told her that they had never accessed nor received service from the Multi-Faith Centre.

Students are fickle, and so are politics. The fact of politics is that you need to keep your constituents engaged. A lack of streamlining, communication, and transparency has seemingly lost the interest of the student body.

For those who may not remember, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) was defeated by the UOSU as the University of Ottawa’s exclusive student union in a 2019 referendum. The referendum followed fraud allegations levelled against the SFUO in 2018.

It’s honestly remarkable that on a campus where many students can still remember the ever-scandal-embroiled SFUO that there is such disinterest in the UOSU. Especially on a campus with a large political science department situated in the political capital of the country — a campus where debate-watching parties are a common occurrence. 

This is a political campus, which makes UOSU’s lack of political savvy just that much more striking, and just that much more unacceptable.

Editor’s note (6:50 p.m. on October 20, 2021): To avoid confusion, the statement “This position will not be permanently filled this year,” in reference to the clubs and services commissioner has been changed to “The position will be filled, for the rest of the year, by an interim commissioner who will be chosen by the Executive Committee and ratified by the Board of Directors.”