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by Archives March 18, 2008

No. Concordia cannot afford perennial fee levy campaigns

Tobi Elliott

The question should rather be: how would Concordia survive a never-ending campaign season? Imagine life if even five student groups had to run for re-election every November and March: random strangers pressing leaflets into potential voters’ hands, Facebook used mercilessly and incessantly as a vehicle of promotion, your friends being hit up to pass out suckers, candy and condoms until our poster-packed school starts to sink into a sea of distracting, useless waste.
It’s just not worth it.
Having just come through a campaign last November to increase our own paper’s fee levy, I can tell you it’s not only a drain on limited resources, personnel and creativity, but it sets back actual operations by about a third. It’s remarkably ineffective in terms of longevity.
How can you build a workable mandate, plan for future projects and ensure an institution’s stability if you have to campaign for re-election every three years?
And it just felt wrong to (temporarily) compromise my duties as a journalist and take up the role of PR-specialist in order to convince students this paper was worth an extra 10 cents. But like it or not, any group going into a referendum with their funding up for grabs, is going to have to become good at promotion.
Why don’t we ask Canadians to vote in a referendum every three years to decide whether they want to “opt-in” to the health care system? Simple. Because it’s become an institution that people rely on. When something becomes a part of society’s fabric, you don’t ask whether it’s worth the relatively small cost to keep it. When you need it, you use it, and you don’t question having to pay for it.
Paying small fees into a larger pool where the benefit derived is exponentially greater than the small cost paid in, is a practice
found in stable, essential institutions, such as our health care system. For all its failings, and there are many, our health care system is still a source of pride for Canadians.
If accountability is the issue, then a new system of financial checks should be in place such as annual mandatory audits. Forcing groups to campaign every few years is not the answer.
The recent referendum for the McGill Daily, where it received massive support from students, should not be seen as a successful model that all fee levy groups could follow. The Daily happens to be a firmly-planted institution on campus for 97 years. As a newspaper, it is also capable of adapting to and satisfying a variety of student interests. But what about lesser-known groups on campus which do not cater to mass appeal? Without regular support, the People’s Potato wouldn’t be able to feed nearly 300 students every day. The various forms of campus media – CUTV, CJLO radio, our two weekly student newspapers, and magazines like the Void and L’Organe – couldn’t contribute as vibrantly to the community as they do. And a host of other groups would simply fade into oblivion or wither away just from the lack of mass appeal. Do we gauge the merits of each group based on their popularity?
The longevity and even the existence of what was once no doubt an ad hoc group depends on regular funding, long-term planning and stability – and that’s not something bi-annual referendums would give to Concordia. With the latter, there would be an actual rate of turnover amongst student-funded groups.
And I think we’ve seen just about enough posters for this year.

Yes. Make Concordia’s clubs responsible and accountable

Andrew Haig

Over the past few weeks, McGill’s administration has forced the student newspaper, the Daily, to seek student support for its continued funding through a referendum campaign (at the request of the administration, such referendums will be repeated every five years).
Not long ago, Concordia’s Student Union tried to foist a similar ploy on its various clubs and fee levy groups, in an effort to reign in uncontrolled spending and to bring some accountability to organizations whose funds had been voted on once, two decades previously. At that time, a combination of these groups successfully lobbied the CSU to kill the idea, arguing that any sort of review or accountability would be tantamount to bringing the axe down on all of Concordia’s clubs.
Despite such predictions of doom, the McGill Daily won big in its referendum challenge, garnering nearly 80 per cent of student support for the continuation of its funding. And now that we finally have clear evidence that students may, in fact, be willing to support those institutions that actually serve their interests, I’d say it’s time to bring this policy back up for debate at Concordia.
After all, our current system of club funding serves less to maintain those groups which succeed, and which provide tangible results to students, than to subsidy those groups most able to wheedle money out of the system.
By way of example, as of the end of the fall semester, approximately $16,500 had been spent by the CSU’s 63 clubs; of that amount, more than $10,200 had been spent by only 5 of the groups.
Without naming names, one of Concordia’s particularly active groups, which had spent more than $1,500 by December, managed to blow the entire amount on photocopies and office supplies, while another spent more than $700 on the same ridiculous expense. All of this while the CSU spends tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to cut down on paper waste.
What is worse than the waste, however, is that money sitting unused in the coffers of clubs who qualified for fees years ago (but who haven’t done anything about it) could easily have gone to fund real initiatives that serve student interests.
But we can hardly blame the clubs, after all. If we are not going to hold them to account, it is only in their interest to abuse a system that most Concordian students take for granted.
The most obvious solution would be to simply strip the funding from clubs that do not use their budgets each year; but as anyone who has worked in a company can tell you, when budgets have to be spent, they will be. Obliging spending will only increase the amount of student money wasted each year on ill thought out projects and presidential lunches.
The only reasonable solution, which allows students some real voice regarding which projects they value, is to force fee-recipients to submit to the will of the student body from time to time. Opponents of accountability will argue that this gives too great a voice to the average student and gives too little respect to organizations; but such voices, if they are honest, must admit that theirs is literally an argument against the value of democracy.

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