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Democratic institutions of university controlled by select few

The pitfalls of the current conservative federal government have much in common with the shortcomings of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) board of administration (BOA).

Since winning its coveted majority back in May 2010, the Conservative Party of Canada has made a mockery of our country’s democratic institutions. Stephen Harper has used his government’s majority to ram through party agendas and limit debate, and also prorogued Parliament to avoid facing justified scrutiny over a Senate scandal. It’s very clear that Canadian democracy is little more than a nuisance to his administration.

Those who are most loyal to the current government have been rewarded with appointments to the Senate and various other positions of influence. Those members of the Conservative party who have been brave enough to stand up to the prime minister have been openly criticized by leaders and shunned from Harper’s approval and resources.

In recent years, the SFUO has equally had its democratic principles diminished. The BOA has become little more than a rubber-stamping body where the act of voting seems like a mere formality. During last February’s all-candidates debates, a current member of the administration was asked whether he’d choose to vote with his slate or look at each legislative proposal from an independent perspective. He was explicit that, if elected, he would choose the former.

Over a number of years a dynasty of sorts was born, most easily identified as those who staunchly support the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). This clique isn’t interested in debating the issues. They ensure their allies are on board and know their legislative proposals will pass swiftly with very little discussion. Informing the membership about decisions made during these board meetings so our elected student representatives might be held to account doesn’t happen enough. An example of this is the SFUO budget, which was passed during the summer, and has yet to be made available on the SFUO website.

Worst yet, in a strikingly similar fashion to the Conservative government, this CFS clique appoints its friends to positions of influence to ensure that their dynasty can continue. The BOA is tasked with appointing the chief electoral officer (CEO), who is responsible for administering the SFUO elections. A couple years ago, members of the BOA overturned the results of the two-way race for the position of SFUO vp finance when an individual from outside the clique managed to defeat the incumbent candidate by more than 100 votes. It later became known that the incumbent, as well as many members of the BOA, were close friends with the CEO.

In this past by-election, the SFUO failed to even hire a CEO, a fact that SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy attributed to a lack of interest in the job. A breakdown in communication among candidates and the elections committee also led to unfair scheduling of mandatory bilingual tests during reading week, which caused two candidates to be ineligible for the election.

The complete disregard for the will of the majority and the disregard of dissenting voices are only a couple examples of commonalities shared by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and the SFUO, but unlike the federal elections we have the chance to change our leaders each year.

Perhaps it’s time the SFUO got a better role model than the Conservatives.