CSU By-Election Referendum Walkthrough
Six Questions Will Appear on the By-Election Ballot
IEAC Separation and Fee Levy
In two referendum questions, the International and Ethnic Association Council is asking to separate from the Concordia Student Union and double its fee-levy.
The IEAC is currently a part of the CSU that represents international clubs and promotes multiculturalism.
The IEAC falls under the CSU umbrella and acts as the go-between for those clubs, whose memberships total 8,000 students in all faculties.
Right now, the IEAC only represents 11 international clubs. With separation from the CSU it can represent more clubs, but doesn’t know how many cultural clubs will actually join.
The coalition wants to represent all the cultural groups at Concordia, in the same way CASA represents commerce students or the Fine Arts Student Alliance represents everyone studying fine arts.
Separation from the CSU also means more autonomy to finance the group’s projects without having to go through the CSU each time. The IEAC is also in the middle of becoming incorporated.
By doubling their fee-levy from $0.06 to $0.12 per credit, the IEAC says it will be able to provide funding to the new clubs.
It says a bigger budget is needed to provide funding for cultural clubs and to entice them to stay under the IEAC umbrella.
The IEAC organizes international events like last week’s free international food event and World Cup viewing parties during the summer.
The IEAC doesn’t have a visible campaign for the referendum questions, even though those questions, if passed, will change the entire structure of the group.
The Hive Café CSU Loan
The CSU is asking students to approve loaning money from the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency Fund (SSAELC) to pay back the Hive Café Co-op’s startup costs.
The union is asking to borrow $102,536.79 from the SSAELC fund, which is supposed to be used for student space initiatives and projects that make the university more accessible.
The CSU is currently riding on the support they received last year to open the Hive Café in the Hall building mezzanine.
According to a document released by CSU President Benjamin Prunty, the Hive has 2,000 co-op members and is fulfilling its mandate to engage students.
In the scramble to open the café for this semester’s orientation, the CSU says it was unable to fundraise in the same way it did for Loyola’s Hive Café, which resulted in the $100,000-plus price tag.
Last March students voted in favour of using SSAELC money to encourage student-run food projects on campus, which is the basis on which the Hive was opened. The money was already taken from the SSAELC fund, with the approval of council, but the CSU needs a second confirmation from students since the fund is actually separate from the CSU’s operating account.
To pay this money back to the SSAELC fund, the CSU has two options: borrow the money from a bank and pay it back over five years along with 2 to 5 per cent interest rates (that would mean the CSU dedicates $20,000 a year plus interest towards paying the loan back to the bank), or not paying back the fund at all.
The CSU is asking for student approval to consider new student co-op housing initiatives as a student space project. At the last student council meeting, l’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant presented its work on creating student-housing co-ops in Montreal.
UTILE has been working with the Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank (HoJo) on the study and a website that will act as an online resource for students about the housing.
Working with UTILE and passing the referendum will help put student housing issues at the forefront, according to Hannah Brais from HoJo.
She says the number of international and out-of-province students is high in Concordia and Montreal—and these students are the most likely to pay higher rent and be unaware of their rights as tenants.
“We’re always dealing with people in crisis mode,” Brais said. Working with UTILE on a housing co-op initiative will provide solutions and decent housing for students so they don’t have to visit HoJo in a crisis.
UTILE already has a pilot project in the works, with the help of the provincial government. At the council meeting they presented different approaches to creating more housing co-ops through restoring existing residential buildings or commercial buildings, or building something completely new.
They’re seeking support from different interest groups, including student unions, that can invest equity or loan initial startup funds.
The CSU has a fee-levy in place to fund student space initiatives under the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency fund, which already holds over $12 million.
Initially the money was supposed to be used on a building or a space on campus reserved for student activities.
The feasibility study by UTILE on how the CSU can support co-op housing was paid for through the SSAELC. It’s expected that the fund will also be used to invest in projects like UTILE’s. in the future if students vote “Yes.”
Model UN Fee Levy
Concordia’s Model United Nations club, known as CONMUN, is looking to become a fee-levy group, at the cost of seven cents per credit.
According to the group’s executives, CONMUN has 50 active members and is steadily growing in event attendance and popularity, with the petition for a fee levy garnering 1,400 signatures.
CONMUN sends Concordia students to Model UN conferences in Canada and abroad. Participating students research a country’s foreign policies and then represent its positions in a simulation of a United Nations committee.
Currently, CONMUN’s only funding is through a club budget, an annual allocation determined by the CSU based on a submitted budget proposal.
The CSU doesn’t fund travel expenses, which represent the majority of CONMUN’s expenses, according to the club’s executives.
“Most of the funding has had to come out of students’ pocket. […] It ends up excluding students,” said Alex Chaboud, CONMUN’s VP Strategy and Marketing.
Though they have tried to cut corners with van rentals and cheap hotels, Nathanaël Dagane, president of CONMUN, insists their current financial situation is “not sustainable.”
The requested seven cents per credit will provide CONMUN with an estimated $50,000 annually, according to its executives.
A part of the funding will be used to reduce the financial burden on participating students and ensure that the Model UN is as accessible as possible to all students. “The basis of the campaign is to be as inclusive as possible,” said Chaboud.
The funding will also be used to cover the costs of holding training sessions that students can attend to improve their debate skills and learn more about Model UN.
It would also allow the club to bring speakers to the university from around the world to talk about diplomacy.
The referendum question on austerity in this by-election will ask, “Do you wish for the CSU to take the position of officially opposing the budget cuts to the education sector and the public sector in general?”
University expenses climb higher every year and funding isn’t increasing to keep up.
Austerity measures in the education sector were originally implemented by the Parti Québécois government in 2012.
They announced that Quebec universities’ operating funds would be reduced by $124.3 million on an “annual, non-permanent basis.” Thus, if the economy were to take a turn for the better, the operating budget would be restored.
When the Liberals came into office last spring, that number climbed to $173 million and was made permanent, forcing universities and CEGEPs to cut still deeper into their operating expenses.
The third wave of cutbacks came just months ago, when the provincial government imposed a further $31.6 million in budget cuts, bringing the total cuts to the Quebec university sector to just over $200 million.
As of Nov. 18, Concordia expects that $17.2 million will be eliminated from its operating budget. The university introduced the Voluntary Departure Program in September to allow staff members who had been at the university for ten years or more to leave their positions with a severance package.
Concordia President Alan Shepard recently announced that fewer staff members than previously anticipated chose to leave as part of the program—only 90 accepted the offer instead of the expected 180.
This Halloween, a province-wide protest against the austerity measures took place. Labour unions, student associations and other organizations officially denounced the cuts to both the educational and public sector, including the Students of Philosophy Association and the Fine Arts Students Alliance at Concordia.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
One question on the ballot is asking undergrads to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The student group opposed to this referendum, Concordians United Against BDS, said that the CSU should not take a side on “complex, foreign political issues” that have no effect on students’ quality of life on campus, according to its Facebook page.
The group continued by saying that if the CSU supported BDS, it would limit the “free flow of ideas” and create a “rift” in the community as well as “legitimize hostility” toward some students on campus, according to the same page.
A representative from Concordians United Against BDS said the committee could not directly comment on the referendum over concerns about CSU election regulations.
In response to the notion that the movement will marginalize certain students, Javier Hoyos, the chair of Concordians In Support of BDS, said it is a “legitimate” concern but added that there is precedent in other universities who adopted it without substantial controversy.
Hoyos pointed to the case of Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association, which officially endorsed the movement last year.
“We’re asking for equality. We’re asking for everyone to be entitled to a life with dignity,” Hoyos continued. “I don’t see how asking for equality for Palestinians will actually be asking to marginalize another sector of society.”
Hoyos said that approval for the CSU to endorse the campaign is mainly “symbolic” and “important to create awareness.” He added that students are historically the “spearheads” for social justice and that Israel is currently in violation of human rights.
Hoyos also dismissed accusations of anti-Semitism, saying commentary regarding financial sanctions placed on Islamic nations such as Iran rarely leads to discussions about Islamophobia.
“We hope this will spread throughout [Canada],” Hoyos said about the movement’s growth worldwide. “It’s not going to take one or two years—it could take a decade—but I believe that it will happen. I just hope Concordia is on the right side.”
After an appeal by the Concordians United Against BDS committee, the CSU Judicial Board chose to use the alternate question created by CSU Chief Electoral Officer Andre-Marcel Baril, which removed the phrasing, “occupation of Palestine until Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights” on Monday night.
Judicial Board chair Zach Braman said the altered referendum question is the “most reasonable, clear and least ambiguous” wording.
CSU Daycare Centre
The CSU is asking students to give them a mandate to move forward with planning an on-campus daycare centre.
A 2011 report commissioned by Concordia found that student parents make “large sacrifices” in order to strike a balance between work, school and family responsibilities.
According to the report, there are 130 daycare slots available to students, faculty and staff at the university, but faculty members often get priority and waiting lists stretch up to four years.
The report recommended creating more flexible and affordable childcare at the university, as only two in five survey respondents said they had access to subsidized daycare, and a quarter relied on unpaid care, such as babysitting by family members or friends.
The CSU council voted in September to spend $1,500 on a feasibility report looking into the possibility of opening a CSU-run daycare centre. The funding for the report came from the union’s Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency fund.
Terry Wilkings, the CSU’s VP Academic and Advocacy, said the feasibility study will be presented to council soon. “It’s just a matter of finalizing all of the documentation because it was quite a comprehensive report,” he said.
If undergrads vote “yes” in this referendum, the CSU will start negotiating with the university for a physical space, he said. It would also mean that the CSU could use the SSAELC fund to have architectural plans drawn up once a space is chosen.
Wilkings said student support for the daycare project would demonstrate “a need to prioritize this project” to the university.
The CSU doesn’t know yet how much opening a daycare centre would cost.
“The feasibility study included scenarios for different sizes for the daycare,” Wilkings said. “The costs for renovating a space to meet the requirements [for a permit] will be dependent on the scenario and the size of the space that’s available.”
Adding to the uncertainty about the total cost is the fact that the CSU could obtain government subsidies to help pay for the construction.
“We’ll be exploring as many funding streams from the government in terms of subsidies and grants,” Wilkings said. “But I think it’s safe to say that the general start-up costs would be using the SSAELC.”
Once the CSU has a better understanding of the scale and scope of the project, as well as the daycare’s operating costs, it will consult students again for final approval, Wilkings added.