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UOSU coordinator Mik Vattiata (left) and founder Tiyana Maharaj. Photo: Amy Yee.

There are several steps before the referendum winners become the official union

The University of Ottawa Student Union (UOSU) has won the referendum to become the official undergraduate union at the University of Ottawa. However, the union has a long way to go before they can take over the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) responsibilities.

The UOSU has until April 30 to establish a working agreement with the university’s administration, hold an election for executive staff, and take over all services currently run by the SFUO. The school has signed an interim agreement that will keep the SFUO running during the transition period.

The SFUO pledged to “work and fight to ensure that students face as little disruption within this transitional period as possible” in an email on Feb. 14. However, the transition team still faces many challenges before the official hand-off.

“I don’t think anyone expects this to be easy, and I don’t think anyone claimed it would be easy,” said Tiyana Maharaj, one of the founders of the UOSU. “But the goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible and prevent any breaks in services.”

The continuation of services including the RISE centre, Pride Centre, and Women’s Resource Centre are also in question. The levies that fund these services were voted in by referendum at various points in the university’s history. During a debate on Feb. 5, the UOSU claimed they would respect the results of these referenda and continue to levy those fees. However, The U of O stated  “For each service, (the UOSU) will be responsible for securing the agreement of undergraduate students” in an email to the student body on Feb. 12.

However, Maharaj stated, in an interview with the Fulcrum, that the continuation of the U-Pass and healthcare plan is guaranteed. “The U-Pass is offered through a contract between the city and the university—the SFUO was just a distributor. We don’t see any problems with the UOSU taking over that distribution.”

The healthcare plan is also offered through a third party provider and is provided to several unions throughout Canada. Maharaj claims the contract with the SFUO needed to be renegotiated annually, so she says the UOSU’s takeover of the service will not affect continuity.

The UOSU must also hold elections for their first commissioners in March. The commissioner system is a departure from the SFUO’s traditional executive structure and has elected officials responsible for more specific mandates.  

“The structure of the SFUO, it created a lot of toxicity between executives and between employees because of the hierarchy of the exec,” Mik Vattiata, a coordinator for the UOSU, told the Fulcrum. “We wanted commissioners that were all set on their own portfolios, but without one being above the other.”

An exact date for the elections has not yet been decided. The UOSU has promised to use online voting, similar to the system used in the referendum.

The future of the union’s participation in the Canadian Federation of Students is also uncertain. Vattiata explained that the UOSU will not be joining the national advocacy group in its first two years, but students may vote via referendum to join after that point. They say this will prevent third-party interference affecting the union before it has had time to establish itself fully.

The UOSU is the new undergraduate union at the University of Ottawa. More information can be found at uosu-seuo.com.