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-Québec) 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”.