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Concordia students head to the polls

by Kate Sheridan November 25, 2014
Concordia students head to the polls

CSU byelections to take place from Nov. 25-27 on both campuses

Concordia students can shape the way their student union acts as voting in the Concordia Student Union (CSU) byelections opens today, Nov. 25. Voting will continue until Thursday, Nov. 27.

Several referendum questions are on the ballot this semester, including a fee levy to support the Model UN program, student housing, and the CSU’s endorsement of the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel and in support of Palestine.

BDS

The question about the BDS movement is one of the more contentious referendum issues in this election and calls on people to boycott and divest from Israeli companies, as well as companies that support Israel, and also calls on governments to levy sanctions against Israel.

Supporters of the BDS movement say that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory and violating human rights. If the question passes, the CSU will endorse the movement and they could apply pressure on the university to do the same.

Those who oppose the CSU’s endorsement of the BDS movement are worried it will polarize and divide the campus.

Tangible results of the question would be felt only within the CSU. This position would make it difficult for CSU clubs and groups to purchase any products that come from Israel or bring in speakers, though it would not have any direct impact on the business of the university itself, such as the availability of exchange programs with Israeli institutions.

The precise wording of the question has also been a source of controversy.

On November 16, the CSU’s chief electoral officer (CEO), Andre-Marcel Baril, changed the wording of the question to read that the CSU would endorse the BDS movement “until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.” The question previously asked if the CSU would call for a “boycott of all academic and consumer ties with any institution or company that aids in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

Baril as CEO has the power to change the wording of a referendum question up to seven days before the voting period if the question might be prejudicial to one side or affect the outcome of the election.

A Judicial Board complaint was filed on Monday, alleging that Baril’s edits were manifestly unreasonable because they made the question prejudicial and because the No campaign was not notified of the edits.

The Judicial Board ruled Monday, Nov. 24, that Baril had made the new version of the question publicly available by posting it online but the wording of the question should be amended again.

“We did not feel that he had been manifestly unreasonable, but we felt the question could be more clear than the one that was going to appear on the ballot,” said Judicial Board chairperson Zach Braman.

The final wording of the question as it is to be seen my students will be, “Do you approve of the CSU endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel?”

“Our goal was to allow students to have a voice and make the question simple and not ambiguous,” Braman said.“Our job is just to make sure that the students say what they really want to say.”

Baril could not be reached for comment.

 

MODEL UN

Concordia’s Model UN referendum question is looking to have the right to collect seven cents per credit from every student. The fee levy would give the Model UN far more money—and more financial independence—than the $7,500 per year it currently gets from the CSU.

The fee levy would bring in around $49,000 for the group each year, which would go towards expanding the organization’s leadership training program and speaker series.

Between 100 to 200 people currently attend the group’s leadership training sessions.

Ten per cent of the new fee levy would also fund financial transparency initiatives like hiring an external auditor, according to Nathanaël Dagane, the president of the group. He says none of the funds would offset travel expenses, although some may be applied to conference and delegate fees the club incurs.

STUDENT HOUSING

If approved, the question about student housing would allow the CSU to support student co-op housing projects. Recently, the CSU Council heard a presentation about one ongoing project spearheaded by the Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE).

Several student co-op housing units already exist in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Kingston, and Guelph.

“Honestly, I’m surprised this has yet to occur in Montreal, a student city, given its innovative social economy sector,” said Terry Wilkings, CSU’s VP Academic and Advocacy.

Student co-op housing could remove students from the greater Montreal rental market, which Wilkings said might allow families to re-occupy units now used by students.

The explanation from the Yes committee said that student co-op housing would also help prevent students from being affected by predatory rental practices, especially students from other provinces and countries.

The question could allow the CSU to allocate money from the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency Fund (SSAELC).

“However, before any big projects are started it’s nearly inevitable that students will be consulted again through a democratic process,” Wilkings said.

Other referendum questions could ratify the CSU executives’ decision to use money from the SSAELC fund to create and launch the new Hive Café and not use its operating budget to repay the loan. (The cost would represent 1 per cent of the SSAELC funds.) Another question would increase the fee levy for the International and Ethnic Associations Council, which is hoping to separate from the CSU.

Other potential CSU stances include opposing austerity measures and budget cuts, and supporting a campus daycare.

Six new CSU Councillors will also be elected. One councillor will be elected for the faculty of Arts and Science, one for Engineering and Computer Science and three for JMSB. A candidate for the independent councillor position is running unopposed.

All undergraduate Concordia students who are registered for at least one class in the winter semester are eligible to vote. Several voting booths are available downtown in the Hall Building lobby, the MB lobby, the Visual Arts Building Lobby, and the Webster Library Atrium. At Loyola, polling stations will be set up in the SP Building lobby, in the Vanier Library, and on the main floor of the AD Building.

For more information, visit csuelections.wordpress.com.

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