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SU response to Cannon conflict of interest shows that they no longer act for students

October 20, 2017 —

We’ve written repeatedly this year that the Students’ Union has lost its purpose since losing the MacHall injunction. They no longer seem to fight for students’ interests.

The SU is giving Quality Money applications to U of C administration at the same time as its own committee. At Students’ Legislative Council, SU executives continually decline to provide verbal reports. SU president Branden Cave has sided with administration over students by defending administrators’ inflated salaries. The SU’s integrity and the advocacy function of the organization is dwindling because of decisions like these. And now it’s happening again.

Last week, a report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that U of C president Elizabeth Cannon’s connection with the energy company Enbridge compromised academic freedom on campus and her involvement constituted a conflict of interest. The report found that Enbridge garnered a strong influence on campus through large donations and through Cannon’s six-figure salary as an independent director of the Enbridge Income Fund. It added that faculty members at the U of C were too intimidated to openly talk about their concerns. The U of C rejected this report, saying they considered the matter closed after an initial investigation — commissioned by the U of C Board of Governors — by retired Justice Terrence McMahon cleared them of any wrongdoing.

In the past, the SU was vocal in calling on an independent investigation into the Enbridge affair. But Cave caved under the pressure and gave a near-verbatim rehashing of the U of C’s statements in response to the CAUT report.

“We’ve considered it closed since [the McMahon Report was released],” Cave said — a statement that contradicts quotes from former-SU president Levi Nilson to the CBC at the time.

It’s fine for the SU to give the U of C credit in cases where it’s warranted — but this isn’t one of those times. This new report should have raised concerns for the SU because of their position as a student-advocacy organization. Instead, they chose to reiterate the same talking points as the U of C, standing by administration instead of representing students’ interests. Their actions seem even more alienated from student voices now that the U of C Faculty Association announced they are reaching out to the Alberta government to address the concerns raised in the report. And the Alberta government’s ongoing review of all public agencies, boards and commissions is working to establish conflict of interest policies at all post-secondary institutions. This should matter to the SU.

It’s clear that the Enbridge case is far from closed and the SU needs to acknowledge that. Since May, SU executives have repeatedly said they want to “rebuild relationships with administration.” They’ve done this through standing by administration at the expense of students. After winning the MacHall injunction and gaining control over tenant’s rent, the SU has become financially dependent on the administration. At any moment, U of C could stop providing them that money. This could partially explain the SU’s actions, but it doesn’t justify them.

It wasn’t always like this. Students showed up in droves when the MacHall case was first heard in court. SU presidents and executives have fought to hold administrators and the provincial government accountable on issues like market modifiers, administration’s salaries and conflicts of interest in the past. This can’t be lost.

The SU needs to acknowledge it is nothing without its students’ support. We strongly believe that students should care about student government, because it can influence important change. But an SU held hostage by the university warrants no support from students or the government. The SU needs to realize it can still do the right thing — stand up for students and regain its dignity.

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