Why I didn’t vote in last week’s UWSA election

It’s time for a shift in student politics

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For as long as I can remember, politics has been important to me. It has been my hobby, my educational path and my career up to this point. I long relished the opportunity to mark an X by someone’s name and believe I made a difference. I was once the Chair of the Board of Directors at the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA). I believed that a students’ association could make a significant difference at my university. I believed that my student leaders had my best interests at heart, and would act to change my campus for the better. 

I was wrong. 

For the last three years, the position of President went uncontested. Presidents and Executives have been given carte blanche to sit back and avoid their responsibilities because the students will not hold them accountable for their actions. While the University of Manitoba has had competitive campaigns for the last two years, the University of Winnipeg has not had a competitive race for quite some time. Regardless of your views of the current UMSU executive and its policies, there is a great desire for student politics at that university which is different and accountable.

Why has this become an issue at the University of Winnipeg? We have seen the budget process at the UWSA fall into a process where the student body no longer has the ability to change the way their money is spent. If you ask the average student where their student fees are going, they won’t have an idea. The process by which students review the work of their executive has fallen to such a state of disengagement that when I was responsible for the process, 12 students responded. If you polled 20 students this afternoon, the majority of them would not be able to name five current members of the UWSA Board of Directors. We have yet to see some major policy shift or new event from the UWSA, outside of the U-Pass, for the entirety of the four years I have been here. Once a Board of Directors is elected, they have no accountability to students.

We can demand better. We deserve a students’ association that is competitive, where races are contested, and real change is brought forward. We need candidates that propose things that are achievable and relevant, and to actually follow up on those things. We need a students’ association that can have access to the money they need to put on events that mean something to the student body. 

The majority of the students at the University of Winnipeg will not vote in an election. They don’t care about their student politicians, and they don’t know how their money was spent or will be spent. We will not see a competitive race for at least another year, but we have the obligation to put pressure on this executive and this Board of Directors to actually do something different, and something that will change the University of Winnipeg for the better. Democracy by acclamation isn’t democracy at all. It’s the easy way out. 

Joey Dearborn studies politics at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 68, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2014)

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