Letter: SEIZE Campaign to CSU Councillors—Give Students Their Right To a Vote

The Concordia fee-levy system has been the topic of much discussion at Concordia—and rightly so.

This system is a rare gift, and a responsibility, granted to students as a result of the past work of people, like us, that helped spur the creation of the Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations. It is this act that allows Concordia’s fee-levy system to operate.

I’m part of a campaign at Concordia called SEIZE. We’re trying to create a solidarity economy incubator at Concordia, an organization that will train students on how to create cooperative and non-profit businesses. We want to work with student entrepreneurs to transition the economy into one that is owned and operated by workers and the community.

As part of our campaign, SEIZE is trying to get two referendum questions to ballot in the CSU elections. The first question asks students if they want to support the Solidarity Economy Incubation Zone (SEIZE) through the fee-levy system. The second question is an honouring of the right for students to decide for themselves if they want to increase their fees to support a new project, or re-invest parts of existing fees that are currently underutilized. The fees we’re talking about in this case are the ones we all pay into the CSU’s Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency Fund. The fund, which is currently valued at around $10 million, also makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in investment returns.

The CSU is a member-run organization, and the executives and councilors are supposed to facilitate the work of the union, as much as the spontaneous progress of its membership (in the form of votes, clubs, and fee levy groups, among other ways). In recent by-elections, the union, from its own high tower, gave students the right to choose between keeping the SSAELC fund fees very high, or to channel that funding to the CSU’s other operations.

But when SEIZE went through the process of getting our first referendum question to ballot, CSU council decided to shut it down in a secret vote. This came in spite of a petition of over 900 signatures, a previous referendum mandate to support it, and a unanimous recommendation from the CSU’s own policy committee.

When we look at the CSU meeting that surrounds this question, the story is shrouded in murkiness and secrecy. SEIZE was accused of everything from being “undemocratic” and “shady” to trying to institute a, “Marxist utopia which has killed millions of people in the past.” After the meeting had passed, councilors justified their actions in shutting down our first referendum question by citing concerns about the second, which was not even submitted at the time and in any case followed a different set of procedures. They did not just shut down SEIZE, they stopped you, and every student you see in every classroom at Concordia, from being able to take a direct vote on an issue that more than 900 students have clearly affirmed is an important vote for students.

So, the question we ask is, why does the CSU show contempt for their membership when we attempt to engage with questions of fees and referenda by using the union’s policies, as we are explicitly empowered to do? How else can we be expected to interact with the union that is supposed to represent us?

If students want to fund SEIZE and reduce the CSU fee, that’s up to us as students. If students want to fund SEIZE and keep the CSU fees as they are at the same time, that’s also our choice. SEIZE understands the importance of students deciding important issues for themselves; we won’t stand for a precedent like this to be set for any future group, and we refuse to back down now. We are not asking council to approve our project, we are demanding council give students their right to decide instead.

We want a campaign and a conversation with the student body because we know that most students believe what we do—that there is a growing need to transform our economy into one that serves the interests of people and the planet, and that SEIZE’s incubator will go a long way in facilitating that transition.

With the support of the Hive Café, SAF, and SASU now also backing the just over 900 petitioning students, and a clear history of democratic mandates to support the project, all out in the open, the message is clear: the CSU must reverse it’s position, and let their members decide for themselves.

Students expect a vote. We expect a vote.