Shocking Brilhante disqualification magnifies HSF transparency issue

by | Mar 24, 2014 | Editorial

The bitterly controversial disqualification of current Humber Students’ Federation President Tim Brilhante, and vice presidential candidate Karnseh Barbaria from the recent HSF elections, should be a major concern for students at Humber College. A massive number of votes was nullified as a result of these disqualifications, and nothing is being done to justify or even clarify this decision by HSF, whose chief returning officer meted out the disqualifications without explanation or recourse to appeal.

A reelection is a must.

Over 2,400 people voted for Tim Brilhante, and to completely disregard these people’s opinion is democratically unjust. The massive contrast in the number of votes between president-elect Shawn Manahan and Brilhante – Manahan garnered less than a third as many votes — is a blatant indication that students are being inaccurately represented as a result of the controversial disqualification. HSF should also provide us with another concise explanation of Karnesh Barbaria’s disqualification from the VP presidential election, which closely resembles Brilhante’s situation.

If Brilhante and Karnesh are unable to appeal, the reelection should still be held in order to give those 2,400voters a chance to select a new president, and a new vice president, from the remaining candidates. This shouldn’t be a matter of money or time, it’s about fairness and accuracy. It’s about providing the student body with choices, and ensuring them that their best interests are at heart with a student government that handles nearly $10-million of their tuition money. Because what’s a student federation, if the students they represent are kept in the dark and ignored?

Many people on campus might simply provide a shoulder shrug to the controversial disqualification of Brilhante, and this is evident in the voter turnout, which was the lowest it’s ever been. Only 18 per cent of the total student population cast a ballot, — but this could well be a direct result of the lack of transparency HSF has with its students and the press. Why should students vote if they ultimately don’t feel they’re being affected at all by the federation that’s ostensibly representing them?

Yes, we see the posters about events and special guests around the school, but these are only a relatively modest portion of HSF’s responsibilities; moreover, there are many students out there who care very little such program, which often draw small numbers of participants. What those students may care about however, is how exactly HSF is handling their money, the aforementioned colossal $10 million budget. After health and dental insurance, is all of it going towards game rooms, guest speakers and special performances? How does that $10-million benefit students who don’t necessarily care about any of those things?

This is not to say that we want a static school environment. The events HSF provide us with are often tremendous and really help bring people together. But we still need to know how they support the student who doesn’t participate yet is required to pay thousands of dollars to attend college.

Maybe one day, that student decides to vote in an HSF election for the first time, because he or she feels one of the candidates deserve their vote, and he or she wants to take that first step in getting more involved with the school system. Maybe the candidate that gets this student’s vote is Tim Brilhante. The polls are coming to a close, but then Brilhante is disqualified. Now that student’s vote counts for nothing. No clear explanation, no appeal for Brilhante, and that student’s vote, and opinion, is rendered meaningless.

Knowing this is the scenario several students likely faced during the recent election period is disheartening.  It’s even more unfortunate knowing only 1,500 votes were needed to help fill the position of HSF president–a tiny fraction of the overall full-time student population, which consists of some 27,000 students.

HSF can be seen as a training ground for those looking to becoming leaders in their community outside of Humber College. Understandably, mistakes are sometimes made. In other institutions, people are held accountable for mistakes in order to prevent them from happening again.

In this case, however, the mistake of failing to provide adequate transparency with those outside of HSF has been an ongoing issue for some time now, and it should be rectified now.

It should start with a clear explanation of Brilhante’s disqualification, and answers to some basic questions.

Why is so much power devoted to one person — the chief returning officer Natalia Toussaint — who seemingly has the power to single-handedly nullify the results of a popular vote without ANY public accountability?

Why is there no discussion of a reelection between the three remaining candidates – Shawn Manahan, Mary Anne Savoie, and Kay Tracey?

How exactly is the $100,000 dollar budget for HSF elections utilized?

Let’s just step back for a second, forget about the election controversy for a few moments, and ask ourselves: What exactly do we know about the Humber Students’ Federation?

Aside from the thin Humber Life paper, which gives us a brief look at the happenings on campus, information surrounding the ins and outs of the student government is quite minimal.

As for press coverage, in our Humber newsroom any story assigned to a reporter regarding HSF has long been met with a frown, due to the grinding process involved with simply getting hold of someone in student government to talk to. It often takes nearly a week to confirm a meeting with someone within HSF, which is hardly a viable solution for reporters who need to meet deadlines on the same day stories are assigned. When a student federation, which stresses the importance of its relationship with the rest of the student population, makes the simple task of relaying information to campus news media a chore, it slowly becomes obvious there’s no interest in informing us about occurrences taking place behind their closed doors. does provide an outline of HSF’s mission statement, board members, and a brief consolidated operating and capital budget summary for the previous three years. Despite the amounts listed, details are still lacking. How is the $304,000 operating budget for “Student Communications” utilized? What are individual speakers and performers paid and how many audience members do they generate? Why is there not a line item budget made public?

The issue of transparency between the Humber Students’ Federation and the rest of the student body at Humber has, for quite a while now, been problematic, but the situation has never been more acute and dismaying than now. The students of Humber College should have the student government they deserve. With the unanswered questions surrounding the utterly muddy election still lingering in the air, it’s clear we deserve better.