UMSU VP student services steps aside amid controversy

Jeremiah Kopp accuses outgoing executive of absenteeism, partisanship

With less than two months remaining in the current executive term, University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) vice-president student services Jessica Morrison submitted her resignation at a raucous regular council meeting March 10.

After proposing an emergency motion initiating a forensic audit of expenses made to an UMSU executive credit card by president Jeremiah Kopp, Morrison forwarded her resignation and incoming vice-president student services Jessica Smith was sworn in to serve the remainder of the term.

Prior to the council meeting – which in addition to hearing questions surrounding expenses also saw a petition introduced calling for a vote to recall the president – Kopp told the Manitoban he requested Morrison’s resignation upon learning she had taken on full-time work out of province.

He accused Morrison of being out of office for much of her term, which includes a leave in the fall when she worked with as an organizer for the Liberal party throughout the federal election, and said numerous complaints were fielded from student groups at the time.

“I think it’s really poor form for somebody to work two jobs for six months of their UMSU term, to be paid by a partisan political organization while representing students and then to resign two months early after several periods of absence,” he said. “She was elected by the students to do a job, I don’t believe she’s done that job. It’s disappointing.”

Kopp, who was president of the Manitoba chapter of the Young Liberals of Canada in 2012, said his issues with Morrison’s performance are unrelated to the emergency motions she brought forward at the last council meeting, which resulted in him being cut off from his executive credit card while an audit of the union’s finances is conducted.

Morrison declined to comment.

Kopp acknowledged he volunteered for the Liberal party in the fall campaign but drew a distinction between volunteer and paid partisan activities.

“As soon as you receive financial compensation, I think that that is a conflict of interest with a job of this nature in a way that simply volunteering on your own volition is not,” he said.

“Perhaps people are dependent on financial remuneration, perhaps it’s just benefiting them personally, but it’s still a definite conflict of interest in a way volunteering isn’t.”

The two ran on a ticket together in the 2015 UMSU general election and while Kopp admitted he saw no evidence Morrison’s paid work directly impacted her UMSU duties, he said it could appear that way to students.

“Jessica is a professional and so I think that this is a matter of optics in this context, what it looks like to students,” he said. Kopp added he would like the UMSU policy and bylaws committee to look at drafting guidelines on secondary employment and partisan activities.

“There is a huge amount of leeway right now and we need to be as accountable and transparent with the student body as possible and that means increased oversight,” he said.

Vice-president internal Zach LeClerc, who ran as an independent in the latest UMSU election, disputes Kopp’s claims of Morrison’s performance and said he didn’t hear complaints of her outside work in the fall.

“I think anyone trying to bring up issues now is being petty and little,” he said.
He noted he has held other work on top of his UMSU duties and said that partisan work, whether volunteer or paid, shouldn’t be an issue, as long as executives remain neutral in their student union role.

“I don’t think there’s an issue working with a partisan group,” he said, adding, “You just shouldn’t be displaying those colours while you’re in office because you are meant to be non-partisan.”

While the current UMSU bylaws and governing documents don’t set limits on how much outside, secondary work executives can hold, incoming president Tanjit Nagra – who will lead a mixed-slate executive when she takes over in May – noted limits are set on the number of credit hours officials can pursue and said those should be extended to work as well.

Nagra also drew a line between volunteer and paid work, saying while individual partisanship is up to the person’s discretion, it is incumbent on the union as a whole to remain independent.

“Our role is to advocate for students and we have to be prepared to work with whichever party is elected,” she said. “Whether it’s federal or provincial […] we have to be prepared to work with anyone that is elected into that position of power.”