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Political scandal shatters student apathy

by admin December 1, 2009

Concordia students continue to show their apathy to almost all things political-university related. The results of the fall byelections are in, showing that barely one student in 30 bothered to have their say in the democratic process. This lack of any political interest amongst students has some student executives worried.

Concordia Student Union President Amine Dabchy said he thought the CSU was doing a good job fighting the trend, citing their open door office policy, bi-weekly coffee sessions with students and town hall meetings. “I’m sure that in March, students will vote in a more numerous manner. We had one of the highest voter turnouts last year,” said Dabchy.

Auob Muntasar, CSU VP external, expressed some unease with Concordia’s participation level. “Students take their vote for granted in general. I don’t think students realize how much money they pay into the student union,” says Muntasar, but stressed that the urge to participate should be for more than the money. “Students should be interested because the CSU is advocating their rights and doing the right thing.”
While Muntasar said he thought the best way to engage students was for executives to “push the right buttons,” the University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society may have found a more effective way: political scandal. A unanimous vote from UBC’s student council demanded the resignations of AMS president Blake Frederick and VP Administration Tim Chu at an emergency meeting held Saturday evening. The move came after Frederick and Chu, along with former AMS executive Tristan Markle, filed a human rights complaint with the United Nations saying that the Governments of Canada and British Columbia had failed to live up to their obligations under the 1976 UN Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, of which Canada is a signatory. An article in the covenant states, “Higher education shall be made accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

While UBC’s tactics were debatable, they certainly caught the interest of students- over 200 students showed up to Saturday’s special meeting, a record turnout. Most of them showed up for one reason 8212;to express their disappointment with Frederick and Chu. “This has been a huge wake up call to the student population. It’s a huge undermining of the democratic system that we have in place,” said Emily Laflamme, an executive on last year’s AMS. “Spending student fees on an issue that has not gone through the proper procedure is irresponsible.” The unprecedented number of angry UBC students who showed up at the meeting, forced a change of locations to a lecture hall in order to accommodate the crowd.

Muntasar and Dabchy said they don’t believe the best way to gain the interests of students is through political debacle. On the other hand, the UBC example seems to show that a good old scandal might trump the best efforts of reaching out to students. Whatever the approach, Muntasar concedes there is a problem no strategy can solve: “You only find out about people once they’ve got into office. Unfortunately, that’s the limitation of student politics.”

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