Zero-sum politics hurts everyone

We must stop viewing UMSU politics as a win-or-lose enterprise

Shortly before the special board meeting to discuss the recent University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) elections on March 30, a student asked me how I knew Victoria Romero, the runner-up. To her surprise, I said that I had only met her for the first time a few minutes earlier.

The student then said that they had heard I was close with her, and that they thought this was the reason I was trying to call for a revote — to make Romero president instead of president-elect Tracy Karuhogo. They had also heard that I was keen to remove the president-elect from her position due to my personal opposition to her.

These ascribed relationships and motivations for my actions were news to me. Prior to the election, I barely knew any of the candidates and didn’t have a strong preference between them. To the extent that I did have my own opinions about the race, I thought that Tracy was a solid choice.

On the first day of voting, a friend of mine texted me asking who he should vote for. I responded, “both Roleen [Alarab] and Tracy are good for Pres. I think Tracy will win, so I voted for Roleen because I appreciated the campaign Roleen put on, and want to support efforts like that.”

In other words, while I wasn’t exactly a campaign volunteer-level supporter of Tracy, I certainly wasn’t an opponent of hers either.

I even put one of her posters up in Robson Hall, although I would have done the same for any candidate who asked. I was grateful to all of them for putting their names forward and giving students a number of credible options to vote for.

The rumours I’ve heard about my motivations for pressing for a revote don’t make sense given my actions during and after the election. But the rumours do make sense if one considers student politics to be a zero-sum game, in which one participant’s gain always comes at the direct expense of another.

If student politics is a zero-sum game, then my questioning of whether an election was conducted properly would have been done at the expense of the president-elect, and to the benefit of the runner-up.

In this scenario, those of us who pushed for a revote must have done so because we were for the runner-up and against the president-elect. To those who view student politics this way, it becomes impossible to imagine that one might be motivated to call for a revote simply because they care about election integrity.

I don’t feel particularly victimized by these rumours, but I do think it’s worth suggesting that they began because of a toxic culture in UMSU politics, in which everyone is assumed to be either for or against the various individuals involved.

It goes without saying that this culture can discourage students who might otherwise make excellent student leaders from getting involved. Good leaders don’t look at every development as something that will help them at the direct expense of others. Instead, they try to work collaboratively and support or oppose ideas, rather than the people who bring them forward.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see much of this approach in my experiences with UMSU as a student this past year.

I’m not sure how to change this culture, but I hope that when issues come up in the future, they’re addressed with more focus on policy and less on personality.

As an incoming member of the UMSU board of directors, I hope to encourage this shift in the coming months. And I hope that students hold me and the other board members to this standard as we work with a president who, as I’ve always believed, is a good choice for the job.