Concordia Student Union needs a clarity act

The Concordia Student Union is in the midst of their by-elections this week. The small sibling to its March general election, this poll fills council seats left vacant, and asks referendum questions that people couldn’t get their act together in time to get on the March ballot.

The CSU is still trying to figure out if two of its current councillors were properly elected in March. The council nullified a decision of its own judicial branch under suspicious circumstances and has now used stalling techniques to avoid the issue of whether two independent students (those that don’t belong to one of the school’s four faculties) were in fact independent at the time of their election.

Nevertheless, it’s trying to conduct a clean election.

I can’t speak for the candidates (six candidates for three seats, with clear party affiliations), but the referendum questions leave much to be desired.

Three of the four involve fee increases (student-imposed student fees have skyrocketed this decade), and they’re all written by the people who want the fees approved instead of an impartial third party. As such, they include irrelevant statements about what the fees will pay for.

The Concordian student newspaper, which is desperately trying to increase its fee to bring it on par with its competitor The Link (some background on their bickering here), has this question on the ballot:

Do you agree to raise the fee level of The Concordian, a free weekly, independent newspaper covering news, sports, arts, music, features and opinions for Concordia by $0.09 per credit, from $0.10 to $0.19 per credit, to cover the rising costs of printing the newspaper, repairing old and failing equipment and increasing the creative quality and scope of the paper? This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

The problem is that the question implies that the fee increase will only cover rising costs of printing and equipment replacement. Though that’s part of it, the editors are also interested in offering contributors a small honorarium and saving some money for a rainy day.

If a competent election officer was running the show, the question would look like this:

Do you agree to raise the fee level of The Concordian by $0.09 per credit, from $0.10 to $0.19 per credit? This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

The other two fee questions have the same problem. Unnecessary campaigning is emphasized below:

Do you agree to raise the Concordia Student Union Fee Levy by $0.25 per credit, from $1.50 to $1.75 per credit in order to fund important services and initiatives such as the creation of an emergency food bank for students in need, a free daily lunch offered to Loyola students and Concordia Student Union 101’s. This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

Do you agree to adjust the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) membership fee levy (which includes the membership fees of the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Federation of Students- Services and the Canadian Federation of Students-QuĂ©bec) to $0.41 per credit per student, thereby continuing to support the increased demand for campaigns and services of CFS, some of which include lobbying for student debt reduction, better student financial aid, more funding for post-secondary education, cell phone discounts through StudentPhones, student discounts at hundreds of retailers in and around Montreal and free ISIC cards? The fee adjustment would represent a $0.01 decrease for Arts & Science, Fine Arts, and Independent students, and a $0.41 increase for Engineering and Computer Science and John Molson School of Business students, thereby equalizing the fee levy paid by ALL undergraduate students. The fee adjustment would be implemented in the Winter (2008/4) term and collected in accordance with the University’s tuition billing and refund policy.

The last question is even worse. In order to correct a decades-old discrepancy between fees paid by various faculties, it proposes to “equalize” the fees by slightly decreasing the fee for the largest group (Arts and Science, Fine Arts and independent students represent more than 65% of the population) and creating the fee out of nothing for the rest. The large group will vote to decrease their fees, and even if engineering and commerce students vote against their huge fee increase en masse, it won’t matter because other students make that decision for them.

It’s a horribly unfair system.

So why are these dirty referendum tricks tolerated? Because they have been used for years.

Just about every fee-related referendum question for the past five years has included unnecessary and leading information. The Art Matters festival, People’s Potato free lunch service, CJLO Radio, Frigo Vert, Sustainable Concordia and the Concordia chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group have all used this technique to get fee questions passed.

The divide-and-conquer equalization technique, meanwhile, was first used by the Concordia Student Union itself back in 2001, and has been adapted for use at The Link (full disclosure: while I was an editor there, though I still feel bad about it). Other groups like QPIRG have used a similar technique but with a slight increase instead of a decrease for the majority.

I suppose I could just let it go and dismiss it as the work of uneducated students, but some of these people are going to be involved in real politics someday (Mario Dumont was a Concordia graduate). They’re going to have to learn at some point that this kind of manipulation of the electoral process isn’t kosher. It might as well be now.

UPDATE (Dec. 1): This post is referenced in Macleans.ca’s Nov. 30 daily campus update. Though it’s “Concordia Student Union”, not “Concordia Student’s Union”.

Also The Concordian’s Tobi Elliott informs me that The Concordian’s referendum question passed. So did all the other ones. What a surprise.

6 thoughts on “Concordia Student Union needs a clarity act

  1. Tobi Elliott

    I’m curious to know where you got the idea The Concordian is angling for more money so it can give contributors an honorarium or put aside some for a rainy day?

    Is this assumption based on your intimate knowledge of the inner workings of student newspapers? Right, of course. If The Link does it, therefore The Concordian must want it.

    For the record, The Concordian couldn’t even think about handing out honorariums – to contributors OR editors OR photographers – until it gets the production equipment it needs to produce a newspaper. My editors are doing layout on their own freakin’ LAPTOPS.

    And we’re far from the point of “putting aside money for a rainy day” if we can’t spend $60 to pay for gas to get a sports editor to Quebec City to cover an away game.

    This vote was not about a slush fund, or protection from an eventual legal suit, but about lifting this newspaper out of a 15-year outdated budget and into a relatively competitive position. More than that, the referendum question was about setting up a functional, energetic media force that will contribute to the student body for the next 10, 15 years.

    As editor of this paper, the last thing I want is to take anything away from students. If students feel the benefits of equalizing finances between two student media are outweighed by the “leading” wording of a referendum question, or that four bucks a year is just one student fee too many, they are perfectly free to say no, as they did last March.

    No matter where your allegiance lies, you have the chance to decide: it’s yes or no, do you support this paper or not.

    I take your point about transparency and election questions. An objective third party SHOULD be making up the questions. But with Concordia politics being what they are, I can’t imagine what elections would look like if there wasn’t even the semblance of an argument on the ballot.

    How much more ridiculous would the ‘election-crazies’ be, if, instead of being about a well-articulated issue that’s LAID OUT on the BALLOT, it was about how aggressive a group’s election campaign was to the average, uninformed student? You’re essentially asking for a popularity contest.

    Flashy posters, cookies, BBQs, apples, any kind of gimmick has become the norm during elections. The CEO already had to forbid groups this year from using food as a means of campaigning because last year’s election threatened to spiral out of control.

    What has also sadly become the norm is how some people’s brains apparently take leave of their reason around election period.

    During the ballot-counting tonight, a Link staffer, insisting on being shown where the electoral regs state they couldn’t be an observer in the room where ballots were being tallied, was duly shown the rules, then had to be physically thrown out by elections officers when s/he still wouldn’t leave.

    Even when regs are clear as day, some people insist on their right to be shown the door. Maybe if there was a fundamental respect for the rules of the game in the first place, then when good rules are finally set in place, the election-crazies will stop.

    Reply
  2. steph

    I did vet questions as CEO. I did change language to make questions less egregious.

    …and many of them failed. I was blamed for that.

    Reply
  3. CSUconspiracytheoris

    Fagstein, you completely missed the most sketchy referendum question of all. The fourth one: “minor” changes to CSU by-laws, aka by-law E. They kept it simple.

    What “uninformed students” didn’t know was that, for those thinking they were merely helping the CSU make some necessary adjustments to the by-laws, was actually approval for the CSU to gain the sole legal rights to a $7 million building fund. Couldn’t find that information could you?

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Fagstein » Those wacky Concordia kids are still at it

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