Elections for the Arts and Sciences Federation of Associations should be of little significance. While ASFA is traditionally little more than a glorified party planning committee, it seems to be growing more politicized. But not exactly in a good sense. It is more political in the sense that CSU politics, with its petty scandals in tow, seem to be spreading to ASFA.

Two issues in this election have drawn particular concern. The first is the new electoral reforms proposed by ASFA chief electoral officer, Colby Briggs. The primary reform, requiring candidates to disclose any ties to other organizations, is a good idea 8212; Concordia students should be aware of the ties that their potential elected representatives may have.

Briggs has also required that any assistance and even advice from members of other organizations be declared to him, which frankly seems bizarre.
How Briggs intends to enforce these rules is a mystery, and what would exactly qualify as banned advice is equally unclear. As well, Briggs has given himself the ability to subtract votes from candidates for minor offences, telling the Concordian that: “The idea with these penalties is that they’re pretty severe. We’re taking a page out of the book of the government of China here.”

Of course, there are no elections in China where the outcome is not pre-decided. While we recognize that Briggs may have been joking in this instance, for someone who claims to be taking his responsibilities seriously, we find this shows, at best, a
lack of judgment. Moreover, the idea that the CEO can overrule the democratic will of students is shocking and plainly wrong. It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which removing legitimate votes from a candidate would be an appropriate remedy to some
violation of election rules. Briggs’ “reforms” do nothing to improve to integrity and transparency of the ASFA elections.

Instead, these subjective and discretionary reforms only make the abuse of power and the rigging of an election by the CEO easy. We have little reason to believe that Briggs has set out to rig this election, but we find his reforms highly suspicious and deeply concerning. Our second concern stems from the backgrounds of several candidates
running on the “Stronger ASFA” ticket. Presidential candidate Charles Brenchley is of particular concern. As the former president of the Dawson Student Union, around $43,000 was unaccounted for at the end of Brenchley’s term; over $29,000 of
that had been stolen by vice president finance, Shanice Rose. We do not believe that Brenchley did anything illegal, but the fact that a president’s failure to notice that
over 10 per cent of his union’s budget went into trips, clothing and jewelry for one of his colleagues shows at best a shocking level of naivety and at worst extreme negligence.

This alone should not be reason to disqualify an individual from holding public office in the future, were this incident turned into a learning experience. However, when asked what he had learned from the theft, Brenchley told the Concordian that he was sure ASFA’s stronger financial safeguards would prevent incidents like this. Hardly reassuring considering ASFA’s finances from last year are a mess, and the association’s auditor has thus far refused to sign off on them. Brenchley was also president of the DSU during a highly controversial vote &- supported by the student
union – to join the Canadian Federation of Students, a group that many Concordia students have expressed a desire to leave.

During that election, the “referendum oversight committee,” which was made up of two appointees from the union and two CFS appointees ruled that factually accurate signs created by the “no” side could not be posted as the information on them was too old or did not specifically relate to Dawson. Brenchley also served as the acting treasurer of CFS-Quebec for a period last year. That organization’s finances are a mess, and are
currently the subject of multiple lawsuits. He, along with colleagues Noah Stewart-Ornstein and Colin Goldfinch, refused to step down at the end of his term. He claims this was because he wanted to ensure that the group’s audits were completed. The three only stepped down after newly appointed board members went to court.

Brenchley may be innocent and well-intentioned but we have serious reservations about a candidate who seems to be followed by scandal and financial mismanagement. We also must question the judgment of the vice-presidential candidates and independent councillors who have chosen to stand alongside such an individual. And we must note that the slate includes Anna Goldfinch (Goldfinch’s younger sister) and Dania
Habib, who were both member’s of last year’s Change slate for CSU. It is our feeling that a “vote for a stronger ASFA” is a vote for petty corruption and gutter politics of Change and the late Unity era.

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Students pressure Courchesne to pay up

After a week, the rotating strike by Montreal’s blue-collar workers seems to be proceeding with minimal disruption.
In the past few years, the city of Montreal has had labour disputes with police officers, firefighters, paramedics, metro workers and now garbage collectors, snowplow drivers and arena staff. Perhaps it is not the unions that are being unreasonable. Perhaps it is Mayor Gérald Tremblay who should be taking a pay cut.

We believe there is a social good in paying government workers a decent middle-class wage. These blue-collar workers earn $42,000 a year on average. They are asking for a 10 per cent increase over four years, an amount slightly higher than the average rate of inflation over the past five years. They have been without a contract for two years. Few long-term workers in any sector would be expected to work for six years without a cost-of-living increase. These workers are not looking for a raise, they are looking to maintain their current wage.
There are, of course, the usual calls for city services to be privatized based on the assumption that the private sector would pay these workers lower wages. While there may be some truth to this 8212; there are a lot of low-paid workers in the private sector 8212; we must remember that when it comes to professionals and managers (we are aware that these are not the people currently on strike) the private sector pays far higher wages than the public service.

The private sector also has a poor history of managing public contracts, with cost overruns and delays having become the order of the day. Montreal’s two new “super” hospitals, both being built by a public-private partnership, are long past late, already far over budget – and ground has not even been broken.
In fact, because Montreal has delegated responsibility for snow clearing and garbage collection to the borough governments, along with the large number of demerged suburbs on the island, the public sector already faces competition from private contractors. There is no monopoly here. This system promotes efficiency in the public sector and keeps the private sector honest.
Contracting out these services may push wages down slightly, but it is unlikely to result in significant savings overall.

Moreover, we cannot fathom why pushing wages down among public employees is in any way a good thing.
Of course, we are opposed to wasteful spending by the government and we strongly believe that our government should live within its means. However, we do not understand why replacing decently paid, long-term workers with poorly-paid subcontractors would have any positive effect, beyond, perhaps, a minimal cost savings. Are we to suppose that paying workers less would make them more efficient? Or that they would work harder? Of course not. Yet this is what some are calling for.
We recognize we are living in tough economic times, and that governments are facing budget shortfalls. But Montreal would save far more money by clamping down on corruption at city hall than by denying garbage collectors a small cost-of-living increase.
There are far better places the city can look to save money than in the paycheques of its lowest-paid workers.

There are of course those who will cry that their tax dollars pay the salaries of these public servants, and that this somehow gives them the right to demand pay cuts. This is sheer silliness. Certainly some infinitesimal amount of your tax dollars goes toward these salaries, but as much of each dollar goes to every other service provided and salary paid by the government. Let us also not forget that these workers are taxpayers too 8212; they pay as much of their own salary to taxes as you do.
Most preposterous however, are the calls to fire all the striking workers, and replace them with non-unionized, lower-paid staff. Where exactly is this line-up of over 5,000 people who are willing to work for low pay with no hope of even cost-of-living increases? Canada may be coming out of a serious recession, but there are hardly breadlines of workers willing to do anything for any amount of pay.

One of the main drags on the economy during the recession has been what’s called a “lack of consumer confidence.” In English this means that people are not buying as much stuff as they were before. Keeping cash in the pockets of ordinary Canadians, like these workers, is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy.
It is time for the city to sit down with the blue collar workers and negotiate a fair solution to this conflict.

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