LUSU’s AGM and the concern around financial statements
By Sam Mathers, News Editor
The Lakehead University Student Union’s Annual General Meeting took place on Thursday, after being rescheduled when the initial meeting did not meet quorum.
This time around, The Study was full – including three security guards who remained standing at the back of the coffeehouse for the duration of the meeting. According to LUSU President Leah Ching the Thunder Bay executive, “the crowd was a very large one for the Study, which is a venue used to smaller crowds. This was merely a precaution as the staff is not trained to handle large crowds.”
The meeting was called to order at 4:36 pm by Ching. Though the meeting lasted only fifteen minutes, tensions ran high when Lakehead University student Dawson Mihichuk objected the motion to approve the financial statements.
Mihichuk spoke to The Argus regarding his concerns around the AGM, saying, “my main concern was the improper and illegal way in which it was conducted. In violation of not only LUSU’s constitution but provincial law, LUSU held its AGM after the last business day in October. The AGM they tried to hold in October was in the morning, when most were in class. Of course, quorum was not met.”
Beginning with a review of the agenda items and the consideration of the minutes from last year’s AGM, representatives in Orillia had concerns before approving the minutes regarding the incorrect spelling of several names on the sheet. Ultimately, the minutes were approved with corrections reflecting the proper spelling of all names.
The financial statements were presented by Amy Martin, a Senior Manager from BDO Canada, who began by noting, “there’s a lot of cash that goes through The Outpost and as auditors, there isn’t necessarily a way that we can physically see evidence that all the cash was properly accounted for. Other than that, nothing came to our attention, there’s no reason to believe that anything could be misstated and we don’t think that there’s anything misstated with those cash transactions, it’s just that there’s no way for us to verify that for sure.”
Overall, Martin stressed that the balance sheet is strong: “there’s more than enough assets to cover the liabilities of the organization, so there’s no risk of financial troubles.”
Martin then covered the Statement of Operations. Notably, alcohol sales are down at the Outpost, due to a recent focus on healthy food options. Most revenues are up due to higher student enrollment, particularly graduate students.
Expenses regarding administration wages are down, due to less employee turnover that required less training. The health plan, U-Pass, and student fees are up, again, due to higher student enrollment.
Martin concluded by saying that the management and staff were helpful with the audit “and have also put in a lot of checks and balances” to ensure the appropriate use of credit cards and the accountability of cash, adding, “any suggestions that we have, they’re always more than willing to implement additional controls.”
While the minutes from the 2016 AGM were attached to the agenda distributed to students prior to the meeting, a copy of the financial statements were not. This proved to be a concern for Mihichuk. When President Ching took discussion on the auditor’s report and financial statements, Mihichuk stated: “the report could be good, it could be bad, the point is, we don’t know. We got a two-minute presentation and the report has not been circulated to the members. I cannot vote to accept this report if I have not seen it and if I have not been able to review it, I will not be voting yes to this report and I urge my colleagues to not vote yes either.”
Adrian Smith, a board director from Orillia, added that the board had reviewed the statements and wanted students to know it had done its due diligence.
Noting that there had been one for (Smith) and one against (Mihichuk), President Ching moved to call the question, to which Mihichuk objected. Ching still moved to calling the question, asking all in favour to raise their hands, then all against.
Mihichuk told The Argus that by doing so, Ching “inappropriately abused her position as chair to silence debate…The chair should not call the question. The chair is there to impartially oversee the meeting, and should only put the question to a vote when there is no more debate. When I objected to this she called the vote anyway, which should have been a vote to end debate, however after that vote carried, another vote was not taken. Meaning that constitutionally and legally, the audited financial statements were not approved.”
After Ching stated the motion had passed, Mihichuk called for division, requiring the chair to count the vote. Ching moved to the next item on the agenda, before Mihichuk returned to the microphone to let her know the vote had to be counted.
When everyone in favour raised their hands, Vice President of Finance, Farhan Yousaf said: “Dawson, would you like to count?”
After counting the votes, the motion passed.
LUSU President Leah Ching and the Thunder Bay executive told The Argus in a statement: “Notice about the meeting, and the contents of the agenda, were distributed two weeks beforehand, with the first scheduled AGM’s notice and agenda contents being distributed two weeks prior to that. Students were given adequate notice that the financial statements would be up for review, and were welcome to respond to emails asking questions, or come to the LUSU office to ask any questions to the executives about the financial statements. Any students having questions about the audit, the financial statements, or about LUSU’s operating budget, are more than welcome to bring these questions to the LUSU executive, or the LUSU board of directors at any time. Any student with concerns is able to meet with the executives regarding financial, (or any other) concerns at their earliest convenience. If students would like to see the LUSU budget, the executive has no problem making themselves available for such viewing.”
A former member of the board, Mihichuk left earlier this year, feeling he can “do more work against this broken system from outside than [he] can within.” He told The Argus, “LUSU has a deeply ingrained corporate culture to it. When you become a director, your individuality is stripped away and you are no longer able to speak for yourself. You cannot represent the students that elected you by criticizing the board or the Executive without running into trouble regarding ‘board solidarity,’ [meaning] the board speaks with one voice.”
He believes there are funds being misappropriated, saying: “In my time on the board I never was given access to financial documents, despite being constitutionally required to have access and requesting multiple times. This begs the question of why they would not show me, and why they were afraid to have me see. What are they hiding?”
Mihichuk describes his experience on the board as a negative one, and the organization as dysfunctional. “Imagine if opposition MPs in Ottawa were not allowed to speak out against the government. That is LUSU.”
If you would like additional information regarding the financial state of the Lakehead University Student Union, you are encouraged to contact VP-Finance Farhan Yousaf, at firstname.lastname@example.org.