CSU to Choose Between Supporting Students and its Own Rules

Special Meeting Called to Address Ignoring Standing Regulations

  • CSU council met on Oct. 9. Photo Andrew Brennan

The Concordia Student Union was divided on a few issues at their last council meeting Oct. 9, but a dilemma on whether to break the union’s own standing regulations has resulted in a special council meeting being called this week in order to resolve the dispute.

Concerns arose surrounding the Concordia Food Coalition, food groups at Concordia looking to replace global conglomerate Chartwells as the major food service provider on campus. The food coalition is seeking approval to be included on the CSU’s by-election ballot to ask undergraduates to contribute a fee levy to the group per course credit.

“I think we should do whatever we can because they are highly prepared,” councillor Alanna Stacey told council.

But according to CSU Standing Regulation 138, any “non-CSU group seeking a new fee levy must submit an application to the policy committee for review and approval at least two months before the first day of the nomination period of the Fall by-elections […] in order to be considered by council.”

They must also present the group’s constitution and a petition signed by at least 750 undergraduates asking for the question to be included on the ballot.

VP Academic Gene Morrow, who serves as chairperson of the CSU’s policy committee, says he was approached by CFC member Gabriel Velasco in late September about including a referendum question in the CSU’s upcoming fall by-election asking students to supply the CFC with a new fee levy.

“I told [Velasco] that he was obviously outside the prescriptions of the standing regulations, but that given they had collected more than enough signatures in the time before they came to see me, that it was in their best interest to come and address council directly,” elaborated Morrow to council.

CFC members came with their constitution in hand, as well as a petition including 970 signatures—which VP Sustainability Ben Prunty was quick to point out is more students than the voting turnout for any councillor or executive in the last CSU election.

Despite not meeting the timeframe requirements of S.R. 138, some members of council—including Prunty, who is a member of the CFC—were open to the idea of
allowing the food coalition to put their fee levy question to students.

“If we are approached with 970 signatures from students saying that they would like to be given the opportunity to vote on something, saying they want to be directly consulted, then it is our job to listen to those 970 students and facilitate the process,” Prunty told The Link.

In an interview with The Link on Monday, Morrow said he erred by not properly vetting the required material from the CFC beforehand with the policy committee, so as to prepare council on the CFC’s organizational structure.

He also said the language used for the Standing Regulation article requiring two months’ notice was adapted from regular election requirements, not by-elections without a set date.

“Part of the issue that I see […] is that the general elections have a fixed date, so you can really work backwards from when they’re going to be and figure out what else the delays are,” he said.

He also told The Link he would personally prefer a set cut-off date for a fee levy question request rigid to the calendar year, or one that would follow the announcement of a by-election.

In order to supersede CSU Standing Regulations, council must ratify the motion in question with at least a two-thirds majority.

This allows for an ordinary motion to be “adopted with a clause stating that the motion operates regardless of the Code of Standing Regulations,” according to Standing Regulation 303.

With less than 50 per cent support, the motion to allow a referendum question from the CFC—regardless of the CSU’s own regulations—was defeated.

Velasco had told council he hoped the CFC would not have to wait until the spring general elections to put the coalition’s fee levy question to students.

But arts and science councillor Wendy Kraus-Heitmann—who did not vote for the motion—says council needed time and information to fairly evaluate the CFC’s request.

“The truth is, all fee levies are is a charitable donation to someone’s not-for-profit corporation, and if you want Concordia students to be obligated to give you a charitable donation indefinitely—like forever, it’s not like at McGill where it gets renewed every five years—then can you really tell me that two months is really that long for us to look over your stuff?” she said.

Kraus-Heitmann added this was not the first time she can recall council ignoring Standing Regulations in order to get a referendum question on an election ballot.

In 2011, campus television station CUTV was able to get a fee levy increase question on the ballot of the November byelections despite petitioning students in September.

The referendum question was successful, but managerial trouble and infighting among members led to staff being locked out of the offices, multiple resignations and the station’s accounts being frozen by the university one year later.

The station was attempting to expand into cable broadcasting, and included a transitional agreement where CUTV would transfer its assets from its parent organization, the Concordia Student Broadcasting Corporation, into a separate not-for-profit entity.

According to Kraus-Heitmann, who served as an emergency provisional board member for the station following the resignations of the transitional board members, what happened with CUTV should serve as an example for what happens if things are done hastily.

Engineering and computer science councillor Chuck Wilson echoed the need to be methodical and follow procedure.

“I still think [regulations] should be followed because it’s just the way we run things, and I’ll go out on a limb and assume that the reason that things are like they [are] for a reason,” he said.

“When we’re talking about big questions of student money, I think it becomes a different issue and we have to use more due diligence than we do with other decisions,” he added. “So I think when we’re talking about fee levy questions we probably should make sure we’re doing everything by the book.”

For Prunty, however, student support for the CFC and its initiatives is already clear. During the CSU general elections last March, a question to students asking if they would like to see the CSU “actively support the new affordable, sustainable, student-run food services initiatives on campus” passed with 89 per cent support.

“There are a multiplicity of reasons why we should put this question on the ballot, but only one possible reason why we shouldn’t,” he said, referring to Standing Regulation 138.

“I don’t consider a personal inclination against fee levies as a valid reason to deny students the right to decide on that for themselves.”

An earlier version of this article reported the CFC already receives a fee levy, which they do not. The Link regrets the error.

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