The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) is hosting a Special General Meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. to ratify a temporary bylaw amendment that would permit the extension of the governing year for up to an additional year. Also on the agenda is a bylaw amendment to reduce the General Meeting quorum by half to 100 members and a discussion about Waterloo student housing.
WUSA is seeking the governing year extension as part of an ongoing governance review process, which began in the spring of 2021 when the current executive team, Student’s Council and Board of Directors assumed their roles. As part of the review, WUSA consulted external governance experts, who recommended that the Board of Directors and the Students’ Council be combined into a single governing body.
Typically, WUSA elections are held before Winter reading week, which is required by the organization’s bylaws. However, WUSA is hoping to transition to the new governing system before they hold the next general election. In an email sent to the student body on Jan. 5, WUSA President Benjamin Easton explained: “it [would] be redundant to hold elections to positions which may not exist when we change the governing model in the near future.”
To move to the new governing system, WUSA requires that a new set of bylaws be approved by the Board, the Council and the general membership, which comprises all undergraduate students. In the fall of 2021, the Board and the Council accepted the recommendations in principle. WUSA is seeking more time to draft the necessary bylaws for the new system before the system is voted on by the general membership, which would mean delaying the election. The temporary amending bylaw to postpone the election has already been approved by the Board and Council.
“When we [the Board] presented the report to Council, we asked, ‘How long should we take to do this? Should we try to have a new set of bylaws approved by the end of this governing year and start from May 2022?… Should we put it [the election] off for a whole year and have a traditional election and start for May 2023? Or the sort of Goldilocks option of trying not to take a full extra year, but giving ourselves a bit more time to work with our lawyers and the consultants to get a new set of bylaws and having enough time to meaningfully consider them?’” Easton said.
“Council chose the middle option — to try to extend the governing year. The reasoning was that it’s sort of the least disruptive way to do it. So for example, we could have run an election like usual and then [we could have] presented the bylaws to Board and Council and had an Annual General Meeting where the new bylaws were approved [by students] and all these people who have run for positions, they suddenly don’t exist anymore, which would not be a really good use of the Student Union’s resources,” he continued.
To extend the governing year, WUSA now needs approval from its membership. Easton believes the extension will help WUSA best serve the student population. “This governance review process is very consequential for how the organization will continue to serve students. And really, the first step in that process, the foundation to a governing system, is the bylaws, and an extension of the governing year is a way that students can be sure the people involved in WUSA governance will be able to do their due diligence in considering the bylaws and making the adjustments that they think are appropriate for our student population. In a time of a lot of change happening to the organization, it gives us a chance to make sure we do it right,” he said.
For amendments like the extended governing year to be passed, the General Meeting requires a quorum, which is a minimum number of members present or represented by proxy. Currently, the quorum is set at 200 students — a number that WUSA struggled to reach even before the pandemic. At the February Special General Meeting, students will also be able to vote to reduce the quorum to 100. “There are tradeoffs… the General Meeting is a very powerful body within WUSA and, we’ve seen stuff like a particular club that comes to a General Meeting and starts making you know, dictations, about how SLC space should be used to benefit their club, which is their right as members, but from the perspective of the general benefit of students and the governance of WUSA, it’s not great. So then there were movements to increase quorum to 200. But then the issue on that hand is that it’s very hard to get 200 people present. So there have been concessions made like allowing proxy voting to help us reach quorum,” Easton explained.
Students who are unable to attend the Special General Meeting can proxy their vote to another individual, meaning they can have that individual vote on their behalf. Students can choose a specific person to hold their proxy or have their vote randomly assigned to a member of the Council according to constituency. To learn more, students can consult the online proxy form.
According to the Jan 5 email sent by Easton, if the general membership votes to delay the election, WUSA aims to present the new system to the student body at the upcoming Annual General Meeting.
If the new system is approved, students will be able to vote for members of the single body in a general election sometime within the next year. While WUSA is asking for up to an entire additional year, the organization does not plan to take the full year. “If the motion at Tuesday’s Special General Meeting passes, and the new set of bylaws are ratified at the Annual General Meeting in March, then we expect to hold an election in spring, probably in the first two months of the spring term. The explicit date will likely be set [at] the Annual General Meeting,” Easton said.
While WUSA has not yet determined a specific plan of action if students reject the new system, Easton believes the organization’s next steps would be confirmed during the Annual General Meeting itself. “I imagine if it looked like, at the Annual General Meeting in March, the new bylaws were set to fail, that discussion would turn to how to address that issue. So it would involve deliberation of Council and Board and likely the General Meeting itself,” he said. “And I imagine the outcome would be to hold an election, probably in the spring term, because it doesn’t make much sense to hold an election during exams in April. And the Board and Counsel would sort of stay in office, and the executives would stay in office until their successors were elected,” he continued.