Timeline: Live reporting from the SMOM

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IGNITE’s Board of Directors will propose seven bylaw amendments at a Special Meeting of the Members, seeking approval from the students they represent from Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber to end executive elections and hand over more unilateral power to the Board, among other items.

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For all related coverage, visit TheAvroPost.ca/Choice.

Briefing: What’s happening at the Special Meeting?

IGNITE’s Board of Directors will propose a series of bylaw amendments to members of the student union — all full-time students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber — and there will be a vote for or against the package of proposals.

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The vote will take place at the Special Meeting of the Members being held at the North Campus Student Centre and digitally via Lakeshore’s K Building. Any student can get into the SMOM with their student identification.

It starts at 11 a.m. and will be live streamed via IGNITE’s social media. The Avro Post will also have live reporting, analysis and opinion online.

A quorum, or minimum, of 50 students is needed for a vote to happen. A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one would be needed to pass the package of bylaw amendments, an omnibus move.

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The seven amendments being proposed at the Special Meeting include:

  • ending executive elections in favour of three hired student engagement coordinators.
  • handing the Board of Directors the ability to pass bylaw amendments unilaterally, with only retroactive approval by members at a later meeting.
  • classifying members into part-time, full-time and full-time enhanced, based on their opt-in decisions.
  • using the term “president” for the current role of Board chairperson, who is elected among the Board.
  • handing the execution of documents over to the executive director, believe to currently be the role of the elected president and a vice president.
  • requiring that Annual Meetings include an updated list of required agenda items.
  • clearly defining the difference between mandatory and optional fees, a new reality because of the Student Choice Initiative.

These changes, IGNITE insists, are in the best interest of the student body and introduce updates that align with the updated Ontario Non-for-profit Corporations Act.

How did we get here? The Board of Directors passed the seven amendments during its September 2019 meeting, but because they change the student union’s Constitution, they need approval from the members.

If the members vote in a simple majority — 50 per cent plus one — to approve the proposals, then they go into effect immediately. If the students vote against in the same fashion, then the amendments do not pass and nothing changes.

Can students vote on each amendment independently? No. IGNITE officials have said they do not feel the amendments differ much from each other and are appropriate to pass as a package.

What will happen specifically during this meeting? The meeting will start with a call to order and an approval of the meeting minutes of the 2019 Annual General Meeting, which is routine and is expected to pass without any issues.

Then, the package of amendments will come forward and there could be discussion among the students, who will be able to ask questions of the directors, staff and potentially executives in a press conference-fashion, if prior public meetings are to go by.

No matter the decision at the Special Meeting, history will be made.

Trudeau outlines plan to pass trade deal

After the new North American free trade deal approved by U.S. Senate, the Canadian government plans to ratify the deal next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke Tuesday in a news conference after a three-day cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, saying that it’s the government’s utmost priority to push forward with the Canadian-U.S.-Mexico agreement, known domestically as CUSMA, as millions of jobs depend on the new trade pact.

“On Monday, we will present a ways and means motion, and on Wednesday we will table legislations to ratify the deal,” said Trudeau, describing what will take place next week.

In order for the Liberals to pass this legislation in a minority government, they will neeed the support of another party in the House of Commons. Trudeau had expressed is hopes that all parties will negotiate and cone on ratification together.

“What we are doing is reminding everyone in the House and across the country of how important it is to secure the most important trading relationship for future generations.”

CUSMA has been on the top of the list of government priorities that were discussed during the cabinet meetings in Winnipeg.

The cabinet ministers also listened to expert guest speakers, who discussed other important matters including the fight against climate change, the current state of the country’s economy and pressing global affairs, among other critical matters facing the new minority government.

The trade deal, a result of a year of sometimes rocky negotiations with with the Trump administration, has been passed in the U.S. Senate and is awaiting the president’s signature. It has also been approved in Mexico.

Justin Trudeau said in Winnipeg “we are going to make sure we move forward in the right way and that means ratifying this new NAFTA as quickly as possible.”

Conservatives who are the main opposition, are generally supportive of the deal, but have vowed to grill the Liberals over its specifics when the House of Commons resumes sitting on Monday.

IGNITE: A turning point for student participation

SPECIAL REPORT

There were three decisions made that lessoned student participation in their union.

As temperatures dropped below freezing and most of the hallways stood empty, six elected representatives of Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber’s student body passed a formal policy barring anyone but themselves from attending Board of Directors meetings, a move with significant implications that critics say brought an end to an era of more public, transparent governance.

This policy was passed by the Board, but it will never be revealed who voted for or against the decision. It was also not known that the policy was passed until the minutes came out over two months later in January, meaning one stalwart of democratic involvement came to an end in a shadowy, private meeting, its location hidden from the student body at large.

There were three significant decisions made in the last five months that, together, could contribute to a shift from the more open, traditional style adopted by organizations at post-secondary institutions across the country in the 1970s and 1980s to a new structure that is closed, corporate and, according to Executive Director Ercole Perrone, modern.

These decisions include the policy to cut off the student body from Board meetings and two bylaw amendments that, if passed, would grant the Board of Directors unilateral power to pass future amendments and would spell the end of executive elections in favour of hiring newly titled student engagement coordinators instead.

Eight directors gathered at Humber College North Campus on Oct. 9 to hold a busy Board of Directors meeting. Though The Avro Post seeked out the location of the gathering in an attempt to at least try to attend as granted by the Constitution of the student union, four reporters were unable to find the directors, and thus none of what occurred was known until records were released later in the year.

However, to understand the significance of the conversation that took place at the meeting, as recorded in the minutes, the context of what occurred prior is critical.

Starting in the spring of 2019, The Avro Post began to send journalists to Board of Directors meetings for the first time since the previous academic year following the announcement of the Student Choice Initiative by the provincial government.

Like many other student unions, IGNITE at the time stated on its website that they allowed and even encouraged student attendance at the meetings of the directors, who are elected by the student body and are paid a stipend of up to $3,500 at the end of their terms, funded by students paying fees at the beginning of each semester.

When Post reporters went to a Board meeting in February, they were able to break the story that the annual budget was delayed until the opt-in rate was known, so that the student union would know how many dollars they had to make decisions with.

That meeting was on the same day when the election “mix and mingle” events were held. Not only were reporters in attendance, but so was then-candidate, now-director Erika Caldwell, who wanted to get a sense of what the Board was like and how it operated. There was no objection to journalists being in attendance at the time.

It was when the new term started in May that IGNITE’s approach changed. A reporter from The Post travelled from Guelph to be present at the first meeting of the current Board but was denied at the door for not being a student. The reporter was denied entry, however, because the executive director claimed that the journalist was not a student. The reporter in question was already accepted in Humber College at that point, but it was a grey area.

But September was definitive. A fully enrolled second-year student and reporter with The Post, Kristy Lam, was sent to Lakeshore Campus to cover the first meeting of the fall semester, one believed by editors to be critical to the fiscal plans of IGNITE following whatever the results of the Student Choice Initiative would be. Lam was not allowed in.

The reporter was told by Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan that she would not be allowed in because the policy had changed in regards to who could actually attend the meetings. This came as a shock to the staff of The Post as the policy posted at the time stated any member can attend the Board, and can only be removed with a vote or if the directors vote to go in-camera.

It was at this meeting that seven bylaw amendments were passed by the directors. Two of those items, if passed into the Constitution at the Special Meeting of the Members on Wednesday, would hand the Board power to pass future amendments without needing approval from a members meeting to come into force and end executive elections in favour of hired Student Engagement Coordinators.

A new policy, in secret

At the next meeting in October, one that Post reporters attempted to find, the process to cut off students from the Board of Directors was first recorded. Amid updates on the opt-in rates from the Enhanced Student Experience fees, two policies were proposed. One of the proposals had to do with visitors at the Board.

“Amendments brought forth were made by IGNITE’s lawyer, including board meetings are not available for visitors and clearer language stating minutes are approved at subsequent meetings,” the records state, confirming what Director Eden Tavares told The Post earlier in January. 

The minutes continue: “Some members agreed with the advice provided by the lawyer and expressed that meetings being closed allow for board members to speak freely, honestly and candidly without feeling uncomfortable.”

However, the record notes that there was consensus among the directors that the language proposed on Oct. 9 was not explicit enough. The directors decided that the policy would “be reviewed by GRC and presented again for approval at [the] next board meeting.”

Included in the record was a reference to “IGNITE Media Days”, that the minutes say “allow for student[s] to ask their questions to IGNITE directly and receive responses”. It is unclear what this is referring to as there have been no events The Post is aware of that went by such a title. 

However, there was a press briefing on Oct. 4 that officials said would occur on a monthly basis. It is unclear whether these briefings continued as The Post was cut off by the student union for what President Monica Khosla claimed was inaccurate reporting.

It was during the November Board meeting at the University of Guelph-Humber when directors passed the policy that formalized the end of open meetings.

“Discussion, as per last meeting, resulted in a consensus from the Board that the policy is to explicitly state that board meetings are strictly for board members – language reflecting this was added,” Vanessa Silaphet wrote in the records.

The motion to approve the policy, along with two others, was moved by Chair Neto Naniwambote, of North Campus, and seconded by Julia Ciampa, of Guelph-Humber. It was carried and passed into existence. From that point on the previous policy of allowing students in was trashed and a new policy of private meetings cemented.

It was earlier in October when The Post first reported that the union planned to move towards a more corporate direction and cut students off from the Board meetings. Within the same month, Khosla claimed that the reporting was inaccurate and stated that because of this and other reporting, The Post would be cut off from IGNITE. This meant that they would no longer respond to interview requests or general inquires during a critical time of change.

Despite the reporting later verified by the Nov. 13 meeting minutes as absolutely accurate, Khosla never walked back her accusations. The Post’s editor-in-chief published an open letter to the student union on Monday pointing out the inaccuracy behind the president’s claim. There has been no response at this point.

Executive Director Ercole Perrone, Acting Communications Director Unika Hypolite and directors who have spoken to The Post and other on-campus press maintain that the  reasoning behind having private meetings has to do with the representatives being able to make decisions with “frank” discussion and the ability to not feel the pressure of reporters present. 

It’s not clear what changed from every meeting since 2016, when IGNITE was formed as the Guelph-Humber Student Association was shuttered and the Humber Students’ Federation was rebranded. However, IGNITE’s relationship with student media has been strained since the rebrand because of a few controversial decisions and particular incidents, including at a press conference when an employee of the student union appeared to assail a reporter.

While student reporters will never stop asking, it could be possible that the public will never know if there was a specific circumstance that caused the policy change to come about or if it was a thought that came over time.

The decision to clamp down on visitors to the Board of Directors meetings is one that is only reversible by a vote of the directors to undo the policy. As for handing the Board more unilateral power and the end of executive elections, they are still in a process of being proposed and could be denied by the larger student body on Wednesday.

However, there are still other ways that students can be heard by their representatives, if not keep close tabs on them. Elections will continue for the Board and that is something unlikely to change. 

There will also still be Annual General Meetings when students will have the opportunity to make their voice heard and vote against bylaw amendments that the Board passes. Even with the new proposal to give the Board the ability to pass amendments that will instantly go into effect, there will still need to be approval from the student body. However, if students vote against the amendments, it is unclear how IGNITE would handle retroactively undoing any change they passed at a meeting.

When it comes to the history of IGNITE as a whole, this year marks a turning point. With opt-in rates around 80 per cent, events filling up and a general positive opinion of the student union amongst those at campus, it appears likely that the amendments will be approved on Wednesday. However, there are critics who criticized the new Board of Directors policy and others who will vote against the amendments.

Only time will tell what the impact of these decisions will be.

Factbox: Every decision made by the Board this term

This is a specific list of every known decision made by the current term of IGNITE’s Board of Directors, since May 2019.

The items are organized by significance, but are accompanied by time stamps.


Who’s who?

Ercolé Perrone is the executive director of IGNITE and the top paid staff. He has worked at the student union for over a decade.

The Board of Directors is a governing body made up usually of nine directors, but this year it is 10 because, for the first time, there is an Orangeville director.

The executives are made up of one president and a vice president from North and Lakeshore Campuses as well as the University of Guelph-Humber.

Kristin Gavlan is the Leadership Initiatives Coordinator.

IGNITE is the student union for members at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber.


Major items first:

  • Sept. 11, 2019: Directors pass package of seven bylaw amendments that change the structure of how IGNITE will govern. More on these proposals here.
  • Nov. 13, 2019: Directors pass Board policy update banning all non-members of the Board from attending meetings, a move highly unusual for a student union. More here.
  • Oct. 9: First talks in minutes regarding closing off the Board of Directors meetings and the proposed “Media Days”.

  • At each meeting the minutes of the previous one was passed. IGNITE is then, according to its bylaws, to post the approved meeting minutes from the month previous. However, the student union has been late, sometimes by over 50 days, each time this academic year.
  • May 9, 2019: Neto Naniwambote chosen as chair of the Board and Nav Sidhu chosen as vice-chair. More here.
  • May 9, 2019: Motion to approve the appointment of Vanessa Silaphet as the Board Secretary for 2019-2020. More here.
  • May 9, 2019: Motion to approve the appointment of Monica Khosla – President and Megan Roopnarine – Vice President Guelph-Humber, as the alternate signing authorities.
  • Sept. 11: Approval of May 9 meeting minutes. However, these minutes will not be posted for some time. More here.
  • Sept. 11: Approval of hired Vice President Shay Hamilton after election Simran quit over the summer.
  • Sept. 11: BDO issues a clean audit report. 2018-2019 Audited Financial Statements approved.
  • Sept. 11: Executive Director Ercole Perrone presents an update for the revised budget with students currently interacting with optional fees. October meeting will have update.
  • Oct. 9: Budget approval, revealing the opt-in rate for optional student fees. More here.

Below is a link to each set of Board of Directors meeting minutes that have been released so far.

May 9

Sept. 11

Oct. 9

Nov. 13

IGNITE ramps up promotion ahead of Special Meeting

IGNITE on Friday ramped up its promotion of a critical Special Meeting of the Members with new posters calling on students to “voice your opinion” and vote on a package of proposed bylaw amendments that would bring significant changes to the structure of the student union if passed.

Any Humber College or University of Guelph-Humber student with their post-secondary identification is allowed entry into the meeting taking place in North Campus’ Student Centre, with a live stream taking place in Lakeshore’s K Building. It starts at 11 a.m. on Jan. 22.

Photo of IGNITE poster on Jan. 17, 2020.

Beyond the new poster, encouraging students to “amplify your voice”, IGNITE has in the past week published a blog post giving “three reasons” for its members to show up to the Special Meeting, or SMOM, and posted a formal, though scarce agenda. Also, freshly printed literature was first seen on Thursday that outlined what the new structure of IGNITE would look like with hired executives.

An email went out on Friday afternoon to all students from the student union encouraging students to attend the SMOM. “IGNITE will propose policy updates to align ourselves with the Ontario Not-for-profit Corporations Act,” the email read.

At the Special Meeting, several bylaw amendments previously approved by the elected Board of Directors will come forward to the student body at-large for approval. The proposed changes include hiring executives instead of an election process and giving more unilateral power to the Board, among five other items.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act. ■

What we learned from IGNITE’s information session

ANALYSIS

The new name of the executives, the source of the proposal ending executive elections and a lot of deflected questions — this is what took place at Thursday’s information session hosted by members of IGNITE’s Board of Directors and other officials ahead of the Special Meeting of the Members.

Who was present? For the time that The Avro Post had reporters present from 12 p.m. to about 12:50 p.m., Board Chairperson Neto Naniwambote and follow North Campus Director Eden Tavares were in attendance.

Who else? Guelph-Humber Director Erika Caldwell, who hosted her own similar event last week with her counterpart, Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan and Vice President Megan Roopnarine, who also represents Guelph-Humber.

So what did we learn? Probably the biggest story here is the constant deflections or, in most cases, the lack of knowledge the directors have about their own bylaws. When a reporter and a columnist with The Post pushed the directors present on some of the questions we had, they didn’t have much to say.

When it came to the question of IGNITE not allowing a Post reporter into their September Board of Directors meeting, going against a rule in what was then in their policies, Caldwell said she would not comment on previous events.

The second up to bat when it comes to big news items are the statements from Tavares and Gavlan that revealed it was IGNITE’s lawyer who was at least part of the initiative to end executive elections and hire students instead.

Tavares specifically said the lawyer “proposed” the amendment while Gavlan stated that the idea of ending executive elections had been “on the table” for some time, without specifying how long. The Post asked several times exactly how long the concept had been considered but Gavlan only answered that with a question: “Why do you want to know?”

We learned some new and exciting things about what the executives will become. First off, they will be called “Student Engagement Coordinators”. Secondly, there will only be three of them and the way directors explained it to The Post , there will no longer be a president-like role.

Thirdly, they will be hired regardless of campus, based on merit only. For example, if the three best candidates are from Lakeshore Campus, then they will be hired.

Finally, the student engagement coordinators will be hired via a panel that Gavlan said would include a representative from the Board of Directors and a member of the administration. The hiring group would be chosen in such a way to avoid conflict-of-interest. For example, staff that have worked with an applicant that was previously a director would not be part of the panel.

A reminder: a lot of these changes actually come down to a vote by students before they are set in stone. On Jan. 22 there will be a Special Meeting of the Members that any full-time student can go to and vote. Part-time students can go but cannot vote. All that is required is a student identification.

Lawyer partially behind end of executive elections, says director

IGNITE’s Eden Tavares, an elected representative on the Board of Directors, told The Avro Post during an information session on Thursday that the proposed amendment to end executive elections in favour of a hiring process was, in part, initiated by the student union’s lawyer.

After a reporter and columnist from The Post pressed for an answer several times, Tavares revealed that IGNITE’s lawyer “proposed” the amendment included in a package that was passed by directors at a Sept. 11 meeting. The proposed change will need approval by the student body at a Special Meeting of the Members later in January.

File photo of Eden Tavares via IGNITE.

The question over the origin of the specific bylaw amendment was first asked to Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan, who said that the student union’s lawyer was “supportive” of the move but stated the idea of ending executive elections “was on the table” for some time.

When asked how long specifically the amendment was in the works, Gavlan declined to give a time-frame. The amendment ending executive elections was passed at the second meeting of the 2019-2020 term of the current Board, meaning that if the idea of hiring executives was in the works for some time, it was likely carried over from a previous year.

It is not the first time that significant changes to the student union have originated with a different administration from the one at the helm when an initiative comes to fruition. Former Vice President Jeremy Alfonso told reporters last year just before his term ended that the reason his central campaign goal of bringing back an alcohol-serving bar back to North Campus never came to fruition was because the pay-what-you-can soup bar was prioritized in a previous IGNITE administration.

Alfonso was not the only executive in IGNITE’s history to have his campaign promises shut down without at least immediate explanation to the student body. Maheen Nazim campaigned on creating an IGNITE app that would include functions such as informing users how full a parking lot was. All of the initiatives brought forward have to be approved by the Board of Directors, as they sit at the top of the student union.

Is it this issue of campaign promises getting sidelined by larger objectives set by the student union that is part of the decision to end executive elections, officials have maintained. Additionally, Gavlan confirmed that the terms for the hired executives — to renamed “student engagement coordinators” if the amendment is passed on Jan. 22 — would be two years. Caldwell said last week that the two-year term proposal was “up in the air”.

Gavlan explained the longer term length for the coordinators would aim to bring more consistency to the role they hold within the organization, which is focused on operations and carrying out the Strategic Plan as a whole and year-to-year initiatives. By installing a longer term, the students that are chosen will have the time to adjust and grow into the role, Gavlan added. Current President Monica Khosla will, by April, have served two full terms.

The most-used reasoning repeated by officials for taking the hiring route is so that the best qualified students fill the roles, instead of what they call a “popularity contest”. IGNITE joins at least two other student unions in Ontario, including the Sheridan Student Union, by taking this direction.

The revelation on Thursday that a lawyer for IGNITE played a significant role in initiating a bylaw amendment process could lend further credibility to the claim made last year by two former student officials that the priorities of paid staff or third parties could override or have a major influence on the decisions made by elected student representatives.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act.

Reporting by Eli Ridder,
Christian Aguire; Files
from Joelle Awad

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