With the referendum date fast approaching, and many students left feeling their questions have gone unanswered by the CSU, an unofficial campaign opposing the student centre emerged and has been spreading their point of view in the halls, in the streets and online.
In under a week, a “Vote NO! to student centre FEE HIKES” event on Facebook has approximately 450 people listed “attending,” while the “YES for a Student Centre!!!” page has only 160 people.
Sibona MaDewa, creator of the event and a student very involved in the “No” movement, identified many issues and concerns about the opposing “Yes” campaign. She said that the CSU’s posters were misleading in that they tell students to vote yes for a student centre, when really they’re voting on a fee levy increase. “We get the student centre whether we vote yes or no, it’s just the case of when,” she said.
The CSU had already been grilled about the wording of the referendum question by their own councillors, and by ASFA members and other students about their decision to not reveal potential locations. Both of these aspects have also been targeted by the “No” movement.
“Several years ago we voted no to the Faubourg, because we were told it was the Faubourg. And then in March we voted no to the $2.50 because we were told it was $2.50,” MaDewa said. “Now we’re being asked to vote on a location unknown and incremental fees up to $2.50, no longer just the $2.50. It’s the secrecy and the mystery [that we object to].”
Though she admitted it sounds like a conspiracy theory, MaDewa even asserted her belief that the location is the Faubourg and that “the school doesn’t want to pay for the renovations for the [building], they want [students] to pay and then they’ll eventually take it over.”
When asked whether the CSU had set its sights on the Faubourg, VP external & projects Adrien Severyns said, “We’re still studying the options and no contract has been signed whatsoever. So the allegations of the Faubourg are just rumours to this point.”
Those involved in the “No” movement also stressed the many issues they have with the student centre plans and agreement, but ownership stuck out as the biggest concern, one that they raised at an open sit-down Q&A with members of the CSU executive and the CSU’s lawyer on Monday.
“The lawyer said the 62 per cent ownership can be modified,” MaDewa said, noting her surprise. “It’s a target, it’s not set.” The 300-page student centre agreement between the CSU and the University only stipulates that the student union’s proportionate share of control of the centre could not ever fall below 50 per cent. If you add in the fact that the 20 per cent retail space would come out of the students’ share of the building, MaDewa says that students may not have the degree of control they’re being told they will.
Reinforcing this point, she said, is the fact that many important decisions need to be passed unanimously by the building’s board, which would likely seat two members of the administration.
“These are the promises you make but technically you can’t fulfill them without the “yes” of those two members,” MaDewa said.
The “No” movement entered the campaign late because it was “paper season” MaDewa said, adding that they were initially unaware of the procedure of how to begin a campaign. They were informed by ASFA’s chief electoral officer Nick Cuillerier about the need to register, but were unable to because the deadline had passed.
MaDewa claims, however, that after speaking with the CSU’s CEO Oliver Cohen, he had initially agreed to register them and reimburse their posters. Soon after, she said, he called back saying that he’d need an extra day to register them. During a third phone call, Cohen told MaDewa they would not, in fact, be allowed to register their campaign at all.
The fact that she says he denied ever agreeing to register their campaign angered her more than the refusal itself, MaDewa said. “He essentially said to us, no I never said that, I didn’t agree.”
Cohen did not respond by print time.
Severyns himself, at the helm of the “Yes” campaign, thought it was unfortunate that the opposition could not be registered. Though he acknowledged that Cohen was following procedure, he said that they should possibly consider reviewing the rules because “it’s very, very tough for us, who are registered and who are doing everything according to the book.”
“Whenever something happens, we can’t really report it,” Severyns continued. “Or when we do report it, there’s no official opposition to refer it to.”
Despite having their posters taken down, MaDewa said the Facebook group had already been created and as private students, and not an official campaign, they would continue to inform other students about their own views on the matter.
With the campaign picking up steam online, MaDewa pointed out that it is mostly independent students who are questioning the fee levy increase and student centre, while it is almost exclusively CSU-affiliated students and the executive members that have defended the proposal online.
Pier-Luc Therrien, VP finance of the political science student association and another student mobilizing against the fee levy increase, noted that both of the events pages have been flooded with “No” supporters asking questions about the student centre project. “But the CSU has been responding with indirect answers,” he said.
Ultimately, members of the “No” campaign have various opinions of the idea of a student centre, but they all share the same opinion about this referendum.
“We’re not saying no to the student centre. We’re just saying we’re not going to fund something that we don’t know enough about.”
Many students who have expressed themselves online and on campus, like political science student Ehsan Torkamanzehi, would tend to agree. “The nature of how they’re trying to push this through is not transparent, it’s completely deceptive,” he said. “In my mind, it looks to me that we’ve got a bunch of executives concerned about having some sort of legacy when they leave.”
Severyns agreed that a project of this magnitude would inevitably leave a “beautiful” legacy, but that it would be the legacy of “Concordia and the student body.”