University of Ottawa will vote to pick next student association

The University of Ottawa plans to hold a referendum next year on who will represent students at the school, potentially replacing the group plagued by concerns about how it manages money.

Former student federation lost its status over concerns about money management

Students will vote next year on who they want to represent them on campus. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The University of Ottawa plans to hold a referendum next year on who will represent students, potentially replacing the group plagued by concerns about how it manages money.

After fraud allegations emerged this summer, the university suspended transfer payments to the Student Federation of Ottawa (SFUO).

In September the university announced it would not recognize the SFUO as the official voice for students after the end of this semester.

At the time, there were allegations that student funds has been misappropriated for personal expenses.

Several contracts also went to family members of student executives.

​Audit done, but university isn't satisfied

The university asked the student federation to conduct a forensic audit, then president Rizki Rachiq stepped down from his post.

The SFUO released the results of that audit on Nov. 7, saying it showed the facts didn't support the fraud allegations, which were about money paid for catering services linked to relatives of SFUO staff that weren't actually provided.

In one case, the catering company wasn't actually hired and in the other, there were no issues with the catering or the approval of the contract under the federation's policies at the time, according to the SFUO.

Auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers recommended the federation make a conflict of interest and procurement policy and appoint a full-time vice-president of finance who has an accounting background. The federation said it is working on it.

The SFUO said it hopes this is a positive step toward re-establishing itself with the university.

Without giving specifics, the university said last week the audit "has not restored the university's confidence in the SFUO's ability to practice sound financial management."

Changes made 

Rachiq said he stands behind his decision to step down and is glad the audit showed there was no fraud involved.

He said the concerns were a misunderstanding but he still feels it was best for him to get out of the way.

"I want to ensure the needs of 36,000 students comes before mine," he told CBC Radio's All In A Day.  

Paige Booth, the federation's acting president and one of two executives who did not resign, said the fraud concerns forced change.

"We are very strict and tight with our operations, especially when it comes to student money and finances," she said.

University calls for vote 

David Graham, the university's provost and vice-president of academic affairs, said in a statement that the forensic audit and changes aren't enough.

"The university believes that undergraduate students deserve legitimate and trustworthy student government that respects the principles of sound financial management and demonstrates respect for transparent and accountable governance," he said.

The referendum will happen in the first three months of 2019 and will let groups campaign to be the next recognized student association.

An election would then be held in March and the university would negotiate a new agreement with the elected leaders.

Booth said if the SFUO is removed in the referendum, all the services it provides and business relationships it has created will go with it, and that students will be the ones who ultimately lose.

"The student union has existed for over 60 years and we offer so many essential services," she said. "We would have to build everything from the ground up."

The university is promising more details in the coming weeks about student services and the referendum.