Here we are, 26 days into January and 35 into the annual ascent of the sun, and having seen barely an inch of powder in these parts. It’s never correct of course to blame isolated occurrences on ongoing phenomena, but to my perception, this ranks as one of the warmest winters in memory. Climate scientists say that on average, Canada has warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius from 1945 – 2005, and my on the ground observations certainly seem consistent with the trend that scientists are identifying. One might say there is a crisis unfolding before our eyes, but human nature being what it is, we seem powerless to act.
Since my last update, which was mostly about the upcoming referendums and some of my thoughts on them, a few things have changed. The math was found to be inadequate with the Chilliwack – Abbotsford shuttle bus levy being set at $6, so we bumped it up to $6.75. The CASA referendum questions have more or less been scrapped for the time being. To date, I haven’t gone in on the two Health and Dental referendums in any detail.
All members should be aware that there will be a referendum on bumping the Health and Dental premium from the currently $159.99 to $229.92 – a $70 increase – to pay for essentially maintaining the current services offered inside the plan (note there is some confusion on whether the increase would increase services or merely maintain them – I will obtain clarification on that).
Why the sudden shortfall, you ask?
Well. Interesting question, that.
There was a SUS board….many years ago. This Board of Directors looked at their Health and Dental fund, and said, “Hey! There are a whole bunch of reserve funds sitting here that aren’t being used! We could cut the H&D premium substantially and still maintain the services! But then the Student Union would lose revenue….and we don’t want that to happen…” (even if it would benefit the members).
So they said….“…let’s cut the cost of the H&D….but let’s only do it if the members agree to replace the money they’re saving with some other fee! Hey! High-five! Let’s reduce the Health and Dental by $40 annually….but only if the members will institute a $70 annual Capital Building Fund to pay for a Student Union Building! We’re brilliant! ‘Nother high five!”
And wouldn’t you know it, that referendum to reduce the Health and Dental by $40 while creating a Capital Building Fund of $70…passed with a 2% margin, with only 12% of eligible students voting!
Fast forward a few years….and…hey, guess what! The Health and Dental fund kept having overages? And now the reserve fund is gone? What about that! Who could have guessed! Well, we’d better raise it back up again!
Do you see how, by temporarily eliminating the ability to build up a reserve fund, and then using the reserve fund that had been built to fund cost over-runs, the SUS that you like to believe you can love and trust has essentially used a bait and switch tactic, whether intentional or not, to replace sufficient coverage inside the Health and Dental network with a Capital Building Fund Levy…only to now give members the option of reinstating the initial cost of H&D – and then some – but not giving the option to remove the Capital Building Fund in a manner that would have been consistent with the original question?
In the past few months, I’ve been agitating a bit here and there because I don’t get how people can blithely sign over $30 plus various fees for various programs without doing some due diligence to see how that money is being spent. All in all, my opinion is essentially the same as it was when I started; the Student Union functions in this awkward grey zone where its fees aren’t high enough for it to be worth members’ time to object in any kind of a meaningful way, but the mandatory nature of them without many concrete results is succeeding at causing members to be apathetic or cynical about the student union. This is the situation more or less at every student union across Canada.
It’s actually quite funny to be privy to discussions among student leaders when they inevitably lament the cliched ‘student apathy’ and ‘lack of involvement’ as if it’s some kind of unsolveable mystery. It’s totally not. When you commandeer someone else’s money, then earnestly argue that it is your right and duty to ‘represent’ them (when did they ask to be ‘represented’ anyway?), and don’t do much more than provide a forum at which to, yes, engage in debate and discussion, but not without becoming immersed in stifling political procedures, of course you are going to get apathy and cynicism.
What do you expect you would get?
(To be totally fair, it’s governmental legislation that legislates student unions into existence in the first place).
The sentiment worth clinging to is potential. With a $650 000 annual budget that is essentially to be spent at student’s discretion with almost no restrictions, this student union, and student unions across Canada (most of whom have much larger budgets with which to conduct research, lobbying, and advocacy, as well as host events) student unions have a tremendous amount of potential. Now that our President has shifted the budgetary development process over to the student leaders outside of SUS – both a political and organizational stroke of brilliance – control over the budget is shifted outside of the hands of a few directors, and into the hands of the members. There is of course, a risk of a “too many chefs in the kitchen” phenomenon occurring, but I have long thought that the allocation of this budget is SUS’s single greatest creative opportunity, and this move promises to free up that creativity.
At the same time, with the October hiring of Meghan McDonald, SUS has a really wonderful general manager, who, I will say, understands exceptionally well the role that student organizations play, and will be one of SUS members’ greatest assets in developing an effective organization that delivers more value to students. Working with Meghan, our future members and directors can really accomplish a lot. There is tremendous potential housed within SUS, and if future editions of this organization can overcome the really crippling obstacle of the annual turnover of directors and members, that potential can be exercised. I would say that the really poignant potential that lies dormant here almost outweighs the really questionable value that our members get out of SUS’s existence. It’s what has kept me around anyway.
There is one other point to be made: I say there are almost no restrictions on the dedication of student union budgets, but there is one huge caveat. In Australia, when student unions started to be especially critical of the governing parties, that government got fed up with the criticism, and make student unionism optional – which goes to show that if student unions ever started to be really effective at lobbying and opposing senior government spending, it’s possible to simply have the rug pulled out from under us.
Where does all this leave us with Health and Dental? Even though I have a hard time getting over my frustration at the fact that this organization temporarily reduced a premium, in order to institute another (larger) fee, only to bump the other fee back up plus a bit a few years later, we are where we are. In the big picture, it’s not a big enough deal for students to have a revolution over since we are already the beneficiaries of a large subsidy from senior governments, and these developments only slightly reduce the impact of that subsidy. I am certainly not going to tell or even suggest how anybody should vote on this. Beyond being frustrated with the ramifications of one referendum several years ago that I have argued to little avail was un-representative even if it wasn’t illegal, I don’t currently have a large role to play in this. Do the research, and vote whichever way you think is best.
To close, what am I working on until the end of March?
Continued U-PASS business discount program expansion
a broad level survey of what members would like to see as SUS’s financial priorities
open houses/all-candidates meetings for the upcoming Provincial Election
Cinema Politica films – starting with Edible City and Eau Trouble en Bouteille
whatever else I can squeeze in of provincial and federal lobbying, a series called “Viewpoints” for UFV students to express and debate their political or philosophical leanings, etc.