Conflict of Interest? You Decide.

By: Ashley Quinton

News and Politics Writer

Like any governing body, the UWSA regularly reviews and changes its bylaws. And why not? Each year they have a newly elected group of students – some of whom are barely old enough to vote in a federal election – running a multimillion-dollar corporation and the exercise of power must be intoxicating.

But this year it seems election policies were changed on a whim, without rationale or approval of the general membership.

Now, two weeks after the 2017 vote, questions are being raised about the procedure in which UWSA election policies were amended in the summer and why.

The UWSA’s election policies were amended without a Special General Meeting by the UWSA board in August, because “the former election policy had significant loopholes that were recognized throughout and following the February general election. After consulting with the Canadian Federation of Students, the Governing and Policy Committee, Board and Executives worked on an entirely new policy that would address previous concerns and look toward more transparency,” says UWSA Board member Ahmed Abdallah.

However, following the dismantling of the UWSA by University of Windsor’s administration in 2014, the alliance made several bylaw amendments that were brought to a Special General Meeting for a vote by the general membership along with the acknowledgment of Election Policy changes.

During this SGM, the question why an amendment to the election policy was not brought to a general membership vote arose.

“There are probably very good reasons why it is Council that determined your Election Policy and not general membership. For potential conflict of interest, there is no way to guarantee that people who are making changes to Election Policy and voting on those changes do not have a vested interest in the Elections.

“If you were running for a position and amended the policy to be in your favour, that would be a conflict of interest,” said Ashkon Hashemi, former chair of the University of Toronto Student’s Union and York Federation of Students.

Ah, there’s that old political chestnut: the appearance of a conflict of interest. If the general membership isn’t allowed to vote on election policies because there might be a conflict of interest, why aren’t board members held to the same standard? Why were election policies amended by the Governing and Policy Committee in August without general membership input and with a student who eventually won the 2017 presidential vote sitting on the GPC?

Is that not a blatant conflict of interest?

Jaydee Tarpeh, former UWSA President says, “Yes, it could be a conflict,” if a board member was able to run after amending the bylaws. He says, “election policy should only be amended at AGM/SGM, ideally. It creates a massive conflict if the board can amend election policies.”

Furthermore, at the August meeting, the GPC amended a bylaw prohibiting changes to election bylaws six months before an election. The amendment? To alter the six-month prohibition on changes in electoral rules. In other words, the GPC changed the bylaw that prohibited making changes.

But Abdallah says the new policy now “states that an amendment can be made before the 6-month period only if two conditions are met. 1) If the amendment corrects a contradiction between the policy and the by-laws or addresses issues as reported by CRO or EC. 2) If it is adopted a minimum of 30 days before the start of the nomination period.”

However, the new policy was not in place when the former policy was nullified at a summer Board meeting.

Were these conditions met? It would seem so, but we don’t know. However, it is important to note the former election policy was nullified in a Board meeting, during the summer and the new policy automatically replaced it. How can you replace an existing election policy without abiding by the current policy?

And another amendment was passed allowing the General Manager of the UWSA to sit on the Elections Committee as a non-voting member, to provide guidance regarding bylaws.

While there may not be direct evidence of conflict of interest in changing the election rules or appointing the GM of the UWSA to the Elections Committee, there’s a whiff of conflict in the air with decisions such as these. Given the history of the UWSA, the board would be wise to consider their actions carefully and not make changes just for the sake of change like they did this time during the summer months and without the entire student body’s input.

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