Students Decry Reductions Proposed for CSU Fee-Levy

Solidarity Economy Incubator Shut Down by Council

  • Despite SEIZE having over 900 student signature’s the CSU voted against a referendum question through secret ballot on Feb. 20. File Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Three years ago over 700 undergraduate students said they wanted the Concordia Student Union to finance the development of a Concordia-based solidarity economy incubator through referendum.

The project later emerged under SEIZE, now looking to establish itself as a full blown incubator for student-run co-op businesses and not-for-profits.

Those behind the incubator had little doubt they’d be able to get their request for a $0.35 per-credit fee-levy on the ballots for the CSU’s general elections. With over 900 signatures on their petition for a fee-levy, it was clear the people had spoken.

“Unfortunately that’s not the way it went down,” explained Marcus Peters, one of the main organizers of the SEIZE campaign.

Instead council blocked the request through secret ballot at a council meeting on Feb. 20. With that, Peters says he’ll be appealing their decision through the union’s judicial board.

The main point of contention was the groups suggestion that $0.35 be removed from the fee-levy collected for the union’s Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency Fund.

Courtesy SEIZE

Peters explained that as long as students agreed to both fee-levy changes, they wouldn’t have to face any new increases in their tuition.

The incubator is hoping to see that as a separate referendum question on ballots. On Feb. 20, SEIZE quickly became a target for criticisms once the floor realized the SSAELC fund referendum question was omitted from their presentation to council that day.

“It’s not just that they didn’t mention it, it’s that they argued council shouldn’t be considering the other [referendum] question when voting on SEIZE,” said Arts and Science Councillor Rowan Gaudet.

“Council has to make decisions in the best interest of the organization, and that includes looking at the context before reaching a decision.”

Samantha Candido helped vet their fee-levy request through the union’s policy committee, and said the group didn’t address the fact that they were pushing for two separate questions despite being asked about it.

According to CSU regulations any proposed reductions in student fees have to be approved by the election’s Chief Electoral Officer, who has yet to be appointed. Peters said he didn’t bring up the SSAELC fund question with council since regulations clearly state reductions in fee-levies are solely approved by the election CEO.

The SSAELC fund collected a $0.75 per-credit fee-levy until this January, when students voted to reduce it’s fee-levy by $0.36 to help the union balance their budget. Gaudet said he’s particularly worried about its funding lowering since it’s the union’s main resource when they pursue legal action.

“The CSU’s attempts to force the university to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable, or to protect students from legal ramifications of speaking out against professor harassers, as has happened at McGill, are all things that the CSU can fight because it has a large reserve of renewable funding,” he said.

Peters told The Link he was appalled by council’s decision.

“Council arbitrarily silenced the voices of students by rejecting a question from going to referendum that has tremendous student support,” he said. “As if council was the sole voice of the student body.”

He mentioned his request to decrease the SSAELC fund also wasn’t arbitrary.

The fund worth $10 million generated nearly $182,000 from stock investments after ending the year in May 2018, and also ended with a surplus over $445,000. “I honestly don’t think that most of them do know that,” said Peters.

In 2017 the same fund ended the year in a $1,077,500 surplus.

“People are acting as if we’re talking about deleting the SSAELC fund,” he continued.

When undergraduates voted to support the incubator in 2015, they agreed the CSU should support it through the SSAELC fund. Peters said the incubator also requested a $2,000 grant through the fund this January but that council turned down the request.

“We’ve been running a curriculum for two semesters, and double the amount of people apply that we can take in,” said Peters.

“We have 900 signatures on one petition, we have 500 people on our mailing list. The only signs we’ve ever gotten in every case is support. We have endorsements, from The Hive Café, from the Sociology and Anthropology Student Union.”

They’ve also gotten grants from the Dean of Students office, Concordia’s Sustainability Action Fund and from external organizations like the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation.

John Molson School of Business Councillor Danielle Beaudin said she voted it down because she didn’t have faith in the project.

“I’m just very concerned their going to end up being one of these organization that may not as much as we hoped,” Beaudin said. “They’ve been around for three years […] I asked if they had any success stories and they weren’t really able to give me any.”

She said she was also concerned about the demands required to be considered a member of the organization.

In particular, she mentioned their draft by-laws didn’t specify that any undergraduate would be able to vote at their general annual meetings.

“The membership of the co-op shall be limited to those persons interested in furthering the objectives of the co-op,” writes SEIZE’s proposed by-laws.

Only members can vote at annual general meetings, and to be considered an entry-level member students are required to either complete SEIZE’s curriculum workshops, 40 hours of volunteer work or have “equivalent training or experience.”

She highlighted that most fee-levy groups allow all undergraduates the right to participate in their annual general meetings.

“Our membership requirement right now is basically that people demonstrate a basic knowledge of and interest in solidarity economies, which is an obvious and easy requirement for anyone that wants to be a member,” Peters said. “It can, of course, be spun one way or another.”

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