Several MAs now say they are leaving the organization, for good
It’s Schrödinger’s ballot box: until Thursday, ASFA—as it is now—is both alive and dead.
Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) held a referendum from March 16 to 18, turning to students to decide its future. The organization was asking whether or not its constituents—some 15,000 Arts and Science students—wanted the association to change its bylaws and restructure itself into a new organization, one primarily focused on supporting member associations (MAs).
The motion failed, with 329 votes against the proposed restructuring. 277 students voted in favour—a difference of only 52 votes. 95 voters abstained.
However, whether or not the vote is valid will be decided at ASFA council. Due to factors in the electoral process, combined with the narrow margin that decided victory, the legitimacy of the result has been called into question.
Question 3, which asked students whether or not they supported the bylaw changes, did not clarify what the bylaw changes were. A printed version of the proposed bylaws were also supposed to be available at the voting booths, however, for at least half a day, they were not.
“We asked the [Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)] to add a preamble to the question so there would be clarity that a change in bylaws meant an entire new structure for ASFA, however, he did not add a preamble,” said ASFA President Jenna Cocullo. “[This] could have resulted in many ‘No’s or abstentions due to inadequate information being presented … So we feel students were very uninformed and confused as to what they were voting on.”
The challenges do not end at the question itself. Jason Poirier Lavoie, President of the Political Science Student Association (PSSA) believes many factors could have affected the outcome. “By removing the preamble, changing the resolution on the referendum question, by removing the ballot package, by not training clerks, by misinforming students and even permitting campaigning material on the table, we believe that that difference in votes is so small that [the CEO’s] actions could have compromised it,” said Poirier Lavoie.
But others don’t believe the electoral regulations had any effect on the outcome. Elizabeth Duong, ASFA councilor for the Concordia Undergraduate Psychology Association (CUPA) and restructuring opponent, said the No Committee did not even campaign during the voting period. “There was an incident where there was a poster that said ‘Vote Yes for Referendum’ right on the polling booth,” Duong recalled.
David Easey, who was tabling one of the voting booths, described situations that made him question the electoral practices of his fellow clerks. (Easey also works as a member of the masthead at The Concordian.)
“A lot of people working at the tables would refer to the bylaw changes as having no frosh, when in fact, it was much more than that. And I felt that was a biased aspect, because frosh obviously resonates with a lot of people,” said Easey. “I don’t think people understood it was a complete restructuring, they saw it as a loss of a social event.”
Easey also referred to strange practices, such as photographing the ID cards of students officers deemed “sketchy” without the students’ knowledge, and placing the votes of certain students into envelopes with their ID numbers on them. “From what I understood, that’s not normal at all,” said Easey.
If council decides the question should be re-posed to the population, a second referendum will take place during General Elections, tentatively scheduled in approximately a month. But Duong believes that reviving the question would be an insult to students.
“It’s like ‘Hey we didn’t like your opinion so we’re going to keep doing it until we get a ‘yes’.’ I don’t think that’s fair to the students who really voiced their opinions to vote ‘No’,” said Duong, who believes the ‘Yes’ side is not accepting the result. “You ran in student politics to be there for the students, so to neglect what the students—the majority of students—wanted because it does not coincide and agree with what you wanted, I think it’s really unfair.”
But Poirier Lavoie believes a second referendum would let students understand what they are really voting on. “This gives us the opportunity to re-run the question, given all of these procedural errors that were done,” he said.
The results of the vote may have been the last straw for some, with seven MAs now claiming that they are going to leave ASFA. These MAs—who, historically, have been in support of the proposed restructuring—have formed a coalition to form their own non-profit, separate from ASFA as an organization.
While nothing has been confirmed in a written contract, “an agreement [has been] made between policy committee and this new coalition, where ASFA would transfer the money proportionate to the [student] population leaving ASFA,” said Poirier Lavoie, whose association—the PSSA—is one of the seven MAs who are planning on leaving the organization.
Other MAs include the Students of Philosophy Association (SoPhiA), the School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA) and the Liberal Arts Society (LAS). Poirier Lavoie confirmed there are some MAs that have not decided if they will be joining the coalition. The students belonging to the departing MAs will need to vote to approve their representatives leaving ASFA. At the Student Congress hosted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) on March 21, a motion was passed in support of the MAs going independent.
“The MAs that wanted to pursue [the restructuring] … I’m not surprised that they would find another alternative means to step away from ASFA,” said Duong. “It’s up to their choice. If they want to separate from ASFA that’s what they’re going to do. They found a legal way to do it.”
Duong, who is also on ASFA’s policy committee, confirmed that they have discussed with members of the new coalition and are deliberating more concrete ideas regarding their departure. However the “contract isn’t official and hasn’t been ratified through council yet,” said Duong.
The council meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 24, will have council voting on whether or not to take the referendum to General Elections. The contract between departing MAs and ASFA will also be discussed.
Two other questions were included on the referendum ballot, both of which passed. The first asked students to approve ASFA increasing its fees per credit in order to remain tied to inflation, which was approved with 333 votes for and 300 votes against, for a difference of 33 votes.
The second question sought to approve a new fee levy to fund The Hive’s Free Lunch Program, which would add an additional fee of 10 cents per credit per student. Due to an error in wording, the ballots from the first day of voting were spoiled. However, ASFA representatives claim the motion passed regardless with over 66 per cent of the vote.