Contentious Referendum Questions Monopolize CSA Board Meeting

Monday, March 5, 2007

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

About three quarters of last Wednesday’s CSA Board of Directors meeting were spent on going through the referendum questions that will be on the ballots in the elections later this month. With campaigning starting last Friday (although the University closure voided in practice the first day of the campaign), the questions had to be approved by the board before being considered by the voting population.

Two issues emerged as especially contentious. The first one was the information pertaining current funding that should be displayed when considering additional funding requests in the form of referendum questions. In essence, this would allow voters to put into context what the funding request would mean in relation with the breakdown of the fees that are already paid by students.

However, these concerns were expressed by the board too late in the electoral process; Charles Beatty, the CSA’s Chief Electoral Officer, felt that changing the online ballots was not an option at this stage, and rewording the questions following a standardized format that includes this information was impossible to do in the one day between the board meeting and the beginning of the referenda campaign. In the end, the Board agreed to include instructions and links for the relevant information in the general webpage that will have to be accessed before going into the individual online ballots. The Board also agreed to consider other possibilities (including partially standardizing the questions) for future elections and will submit these possibilities for consideration by the relevant bodies.

The second issue was the content of some questions, specifically those that generally aim to improve the purchasing practices of UoG. Two questions about giving the administration mandates to enforce the exclusive sale of Fair Trade coffee on campus outlets and to replace Coca-Cola with a “more ethical beverage supplier” upon the upcoming expiration of its contract with the University.

The Board raised all kinds of objections to both the wording and the content of the questions. Many board members voiced their concern that the questions were vague enough to be non-binding and therefore questioned their effectiveness at influencing the Administration. Beatty assured the Board members that he had indeed tried to keep vague questions out of referenda this year and that the mandate implied within the contested questions was, in his opinion and experience, strong enough to get results.

The wording of the questions also sparked some controversy. The term “exclusive” seemed to draw some fire because the University has a signed agreement with Tim Horton’s (not a purchaser of Free Trade coffee) which will not expire for a few more years. The term “ethical” came under similar attack because, in opinion of some Board members, it was, again, “too vague.” The wording of both questions had to be changed around before they were approved by the board.

In other related matters, the CSA will only endorse one referendum question: it will ask for a 2-year, Fall and Winter semester fee increase of $2 to increase financial aid from the union’s own endowment fund. This means that the CSA will fund and campaign for a “yes” in that question. One of the most contentious referendum questions will request a 12-year, $10-fee increase per student in the Fall and Winter semesters ($2 per 0.5 credits for part-time students) that several students groups are pursuing in order to be able to finance part of an energy retrofit program.

Reporter's note: This article, and a later posting, have been edited to reflect the fact that the retrofit referendum question has been brought forward and campaigned for by a large coalition of student groups, not by the University Administration. We extend our apology to anyone who might have felt that this mistake was detrimental to the referendum itself.

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