Per-Faculty Fee-Levy Question is About More than Voting

Accountability, Outreach and Opt-Out Process Motivate ‘Yes’ Campaign

Posters for the “Vote Yes” campaign appeared on Monday, the last regulation day of campaigning. Photo Shaun Michaud

By the end of the week, a simple majority of votes may no longer be enough for fee-levy groups to get their funding.

The “yes” campaign is arguing that a majority of Concordia undergrads deciding at the polls what groups all students automatically pay into has led these groups to focus on arts and sciences students.

They want votes to be counted on a per-faculty basis instead.

“Only about 1,000 students turn out to vote,” said Loïc Sanscartier, part of the “Vote Yes” committee and one of the three business students who presented two referendum petitions on fee-levy groups to council in February.

“If JMSB was able to get out 1,000 students, or ENCS, they would be able to impose free reign on faculties. That’s the way it works under the current system.”

In three of the last four CSU general elections, less than five per cent of students voted, amounting to about 1,400 voters last year. In 2011, a record number of students—over 6,000—went to the polls.

Sanscartier says this referendum question is a compromise to make these groups more accountable to students. Those who want a refund can receive it from the office of each group at the beginning of the semester.

“It’s not necessarily easy or worth everyone’s time to go to each fee-levy to collect the few cents that they pay into them,” said Sanscartier. “Some people don’t see the value in their time being spent to go to each fee levy but still recognize it’s a lot of money paying for services that don’t necessarily benefit them.”

But the “Vote No” campaign is saying fee-levy groups should have been approached about these concerns before an attempt to change their funding model was put to ballot.

“Going up to the fee-levy groups […] saying, ‘We want to be heard too’ would have been a better solution,” said Genevieve Bonin, chair of the “Vote No” committee.

The “Vote Yes” committee did not send anyone to either of last week’s debates to challenge the “Vote No” camp, but “Vote Yes” posters did appear on campus Monday. Campaigning after Monday is a violation of the CSU’s election regulations.

While Sanscartier says that requiring groups to get a majority of independent students’ and four faculties’ votes for full funding will increase their accountability, Bonin argues the services these groups offer can’t be divided along faculty lines.

“All of these fee-levy groups have missions and mandates. They’re a community; they’re for everyone,” she said. “You can’t make a distinction between faculties […] you can’t even just pinpoint arts and science students in the Hall Building.”

Still, Bonin knows there should be more outreach to all Concordia students by some groups—a concern shared by the “Vote Yes” camp.

“People that have not been able to visit Cinema Politica, or gone to People’s Potato for lunch, they’re not aware of it, or they just think it’s all the hippies that go to People’s Potato because it’s all vegan food,” she said.

Sanscartier agrees, noting that the CSU and faculty associations could play a part in getting the word out, but that the onus is ultimately on the fee-levy groups.

“They are collecting a significant amount of money from students, we’re talking millions of dollars collectively, so they are responsible for communicating these services to the students,” he said.

While opting-out from fee-levy groups is not an option on the ballot this week, the original petitions had intended for it to be.

CSU council put the per-faculty fee-levy question to ballot based on one petition, but a second petition sought to have all undergraduates in JMSB automatically stop paying fees to Art Matters, Cinema Politica, the Concordia Food Coalition, CUTV, le Frigo Vert and QPIRG-Concordia.

After chief electoral officer Andre-Marcel Baril asked for a decision on the legality of the questions, the six-group opt-out question was ruled to be prejudicial, because it misrepresented the total per-credit savings as $1.50, when it was actually $1.21.

The Judicial Board has allowed the per-faculty fee-levy question to go to ballot with slightly altered wording, although QPIRG-Concordia is appealing the decision at a special council meeting on Wednesday—the second day of elections, with the question already on the ballot.

Bonin says it’s tough enough to get students involved without individuals from an entire faculty having to manually opt-in to a group they wish to fund.

“The students will be like, ‘I guess I can just pay less,’” she said. “Students won’t naturally go to see what it is if they’re just given the choice to opt-out.”