URSU referendum shows “serious disregard” for member interests

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Shine on, you crazy trash fire. Jeremy Davis manipulated by Kate Thiessen

Some say referendum violates bylaws, students are concerned

The University of Regina Students’ Union referendum campaign has caused frustration with students, some of whom say the campaign has “shown serious disregard for its members’ interests.”

The referendum is proposing two new programs, The Saskatchewan Provincial Students Union (SPSU) and the Student Legal Advocacy Clinic (SLAC). Emily Lints, one of the organizers of the Speak Up and Vote No campaign against the referendum, said that there has not been enough research behind the programs. The anti-referendum campaign is encouraging students to “vote no” to implementing addition fees.

“I do want to say that we are not against free legal support for students,” said Lints. “We absolutely support that. It’s just how they’re going about it. In initially asking students to pay for it before they fully explored other avenues of payment, have partnerships with other legal clinics, getting commitments from the provincial and federal government, [or] getting grant commitments.”

The referendum requires a new $45 fee to put SLAC in place. Co-organizer Tayef Ahmed said that at other universities across western Canada, costs for Student Legal Clinics cost anywhere from $0-$5 per student, per semester. The University of Saskatchewan currently pays nothing for students to receive legal benefits.

“We are not supporters of an under researched program, and we are not supporting increasing tuition fees,” said Ahmed. “I believe in sustainability. I believe in a lot of things. So what we would do is direct conversation with the students and then actually assess how many students even need those services.”

Ahmed was warned by a member of URSU that the information on the Speak Up and Vote No campaign was not approved. Ahmed was warned that each item should be subject to approval before posting. Ahmed was not made aware of any false information or bylaws that the anti-referendum campaign was posting. 

Lints explained that justification for SLAC was a demand for students across the UofR campuses. However, different campuses that are affiliated with the UofR, such as the First Nations University and the Prince Albert Campus, already have a legal system available to students.

“I don’t think we should be voting on payment commitments,” said Lints. “I think we should be voting on the idea, then figuring out how to pay for it.

The SPSU is promoted through @advocacy.ursu “for one united voice to lower tuition fees across the province,” but URSU member-at-large Style Stenberg explains that they are “leery” that USASK will not accept the offer because they decided not to support the “Freeze the Fees” campaign.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense to add on more fees to students when we’re not going to have the support of the rest of the province anyways,” said Stenberg.

“No one signed up,” said Lints. “No other campus has said ‘yes, we’re going to come in and then work with you.’ The University of Regina students are going to be the only ones paying for it.”

In 2020, the U of R students gave clear direction for URSU to opt out of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) which collected approximately $150,000 per year for federal and provincial advocacy. Students are unsure if the process has begun to opt out of CFS fees or if we need to petition once again to be rid of them.

Stenberg said that the mismanagement of money and lack of accountability has resulted in Election bylaws being broken. “I feel there’s a mismanagement of power going on between the Board of Administration,” said Stenberg. “I feel that the board of directors is being corralled, by administration, just simply because there’s such a lack of transparency and such a lack of accountability.”

The budget needs to be approved prior to the start of the campaigning period. However, Stenberg said that the referendum was not approved approximately four to six days into the campaign period. Stenberg went on to explain that the motion to start the referendum was moved by President Tait on Dec. 21, 2021. 

“Administration and the Board of Directors has had since December to put this together to let members know. In every single one of Hannah’s reports to the board, she mentions the referendums coming up,” said Stenberg. “It’s not like, it’s not like the board didn’t know that this was coming up or did not know that they had to make this decision.”

The postponement of the referendum violates bylaw 3.3.3: Referendum Funding, Expenses and Campaigning of the URSU Election and Referendum Bylaw second half, which states “all members of the URSU may campaign for or against the referendum question(s) but may not claim to represent URSU in doing so. URSU may allow students who wish to campaign on a referendum question to apply to the fund for reimbursement of campaign expenses. Such reimbursements must be approved by the Board of Directors.”

The URSU administrative page campaigned for the referendum on March 22 which was taken down soon after Stenberg pointed out that it violated bylaw 3.3.3. The post encouraging students to “vote yes” to the referendum remains on the @advocacy.ursu social media platforms. The post does not mention anything on the surface about additional fees. Ahead of the referendum post is a Rally for the ‘Freeze the Fees’ tuition rally.

Ahmed and Lints both refer to the referendum and advocation to freeze tuition as “counter-intuitive.”

“They’re starting with asking students to pay for it, and then just hoping in the future that they can lower those fees once they find support,” said Lints. “So we’re really thinking that they should have done that background research first, they should be able to come to us with a plan of how it’ll be funded, not asking students to pay well over what other students across the country are paying.”

In comment from the URSU Board of Directors, they say that they did not approve of the promotional use of the referendum on the URSU administrative page, and this falls on the responsibility of the Elections Committee. The board also explains that they can advocate for or against the referendum, as long as they represent themselves as student members.

“The board is neutral, but directors can do what they wish as student members. The board and executive never passed a motion or gave direction for URSU to specifically be on the yes or no side. In section 3.4.1 and 3.4.2 of the Elections and Referendums by-law, it outlines that board members and executives should promote neutral participation in the referendum.”

Voting will commence on March 29-30.

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