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SU Elections 2019 Q&A: Referendum and Plebiscites

The creation of a dedicated fee unit (DFU), a fee collected by a student group, has to be approved by referendum. Additionally, DFUs are re-evaluated through a plebiscite every five years as mandated by Students’ Union bylaw.

Additionally, a “Yes” side manager is tasked representing the group behind the fee during the election, and to make the case why their fee should be created or renewed. There is the option for a “No” side campaign to be created, but none were registered this year.

This year, students will be voting on whether they want to pay a new fee for Aboriginal Student Council, as well as whether they want to continue paying fees for CJSR and Student Legal Services. The following interviews have been condensed and simplified for clarity.


Aboriginal Student Council Referendum (“Yes” Side): Katherine Belcourt and Nathan Sunday

Aboriginal Student Council is hoping to create a new opt-outable $1.00 per term fee for full-time students and $0.50 per term for part-time students that would go towards cultural programming for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, as well as to help subsidize child care for students who parent. Because this is a referendum, the vote will be the final deciding factor on whether this initiative can move forward.

Managing the “Yes” side of the Aboriginal Student Council referendum is third-year native studies student Nathan Sunday, and Katherine Belcourt, a third-year science student and president of Aboriginal Student Council. Both Sunday and Belcourt are also councillors in Students’ Council.

What is this referendum trying to accomplish?

Nathan Sunday: The purpose of the referendum is to give Aboriginal Student Council access to funds so it can continue to provide services and programming that students need, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. It is about bringing culture to campus and helping Indigenous students feel safe and supported while attending the U of A.

However, it is also about meeting with our non-Indigenous allies who are interested in participating in culture. It is also as much about them and creating a safe and open environment for them to participate.

A part of the dedicated funding unit will also go towards funding a child care subsidy. Something we have come to learn is that there are a lot of Aboriginal students who are also parents. That can create a double burden, especially if you are a single parent or are away from your community. The subsidy will go toward students who need it, and both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal students will be able to access it.

For those who don’t know, what is Aboriginal Student Council?

Sunday: ASC is over 25 years old. It used to be called the Native Students Club. We provide a sense of community that is rooted in a sense of positive relationships between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal students that centers on culture and understanding. We do advocacy, we provide events.

Katherine Belcourt: It is a place for Indigenous students to go where they would feel like friends and family. People can come and talk about things they are experiencing on campus. It is a place where people can bring their children and there are lockers and sage. It is just a really calm and safe place to be.

We have an opportunity to expand and grow here through this referendum. We have an opportunity to expand our connections and offer students and the university a way to come together. There are a lot of gaps on campus right now between Indigenous students and the university, that can change for sure.

How much will students be paying if this referendum passes and how was that cost determined?

Sunday: Students who are full-time will be paying $1.00 per term. Part-time students will pay $0.50. Augustana students are exempt. We wanted to make sure the fee is opt-outable. We will make sure to advertise that fact as well.

We came up with the amounts through comparison of the other existing Students’ Union dedicated fee units. The average was a dollar. We thought asking students for a dollar would be a good starting point for us. That would mean it would be about $90,000 for us, excluding opt-outs. We realize students are burdened right now so we did not want to take much.

If there is an uptake in services or students really enjoy using what we offer then we will reassess down the line if we need to heighten the fee.

Belcourt: ASC currently does not have any funds outside of fundraising right now. Any funding we have access to right now is just through small fundraisers.

Why should students care about Aboriginal Student Council?

Sunday: There is an increased demand in both non-Aboriginal students and Aboriginal students and the university wanting to access Aboriginal student groups and their knowledge. The level of funding we have access to right now does not match this increased demand. This DFU would really allow us to provide what students want.

In the last couple of years, there has been a fair increase in non-Aboriginal students wanting to learn more about culture and wanting to participate in culture. I’ve had people come up to me after a ceremony, whether it be a talking circle or smudging, and saying how much it helped them. I really want to provide that opportunity to students.

We want students to be able to access and experience culture. This is not just for Aboriginal people. Students should care because culture is something that affects all of us. This will also give an opportunity to learn, which, at the end of the day, all students are at the university in order to learn.


CJSR Plebiscite (“Yes” Side): Kesia Dias

CJSR, the campus-based radio station, will be asking students whether they support continuing to pay $2.18 per term in the Fall and Winter semesters for full-time students and $0.78 per term for part-time students. Because this is a plebiscite question, Students’ Council will hold the final say on continuing the CJSR fee if it fails at the polls.

Managing the “Yes” side of the CJSR plebiscite is fifth-year science student Kesia Dias.

Full disclaimer: The Gateway runs a bi-monthly radio show on CJSR called “The Gateway Presents.”

What is this plebiscite trying to accomplish?

Kesia Dias: This plebiscite runs every five years, and it’s to ensure the students on campus really want this service. The funding that provides for CJSR’s equipment is only half-funded by the students at the undergrad level. We also have funding at the graduate level, we also have donations and a big fundraiser we do called Fundrive.

So this contribution, the 50 per cent that comes from undergrads, is really a big deal for CJSR, and because we have the campus-centric focus we want to see if students really want to have this on campus or not.

For those who don’t know, what is CJSR?

Dias: CJSR is a radio station on campus, and they provide programming that is very diverse. I’m part of the one [show] called Terra Informa, and it does environmental news and radio documentaries.

There are other groups on CJSR that do local music. A lot of artists that want to have their first-time debut, they’ll come to CJSR and they’ll be able to play on public radio, which is a really big deal because they get a lot of followers and listeners right away.

There are also other groups like Adamant Eve, which is again a very big show on CJSR. You can pretty much hear it in your car, listen to it on Soundcloud, or you can listen to it on the player app on the website itself.

How much will students be paying if this plebiscite passes and how was that cost determined?

Dias: I believe it’s $2.21 [this year], and the cost goes directly for the equipment, the upkeep, operational cost and for rent for the CJSR. Again, donations and grants cover a big chunk of other operational costs at CJSR.

We also do have a technician that works at CJSR to make sure all the equipment is running smoothly, so the money also goes towards providing a salary for that. But we are a non-for-profit volunteer-based group.

Why should students care about CJSR?

Dias: Because we don’t have a journalism school here, a lot of people who want to do something that’s related to reporting, journalism, or they want to grow their music, grow their platform, and even filmmakers, can definitely come to CJSR and start their beginnings. It’s this really cool starting ground for this entire journalism group.

Also, it’s a very creative thing. So for myself, I didn’t want to go particularly into that journalism stream. But for me, it was more of a creative outlet. I can do a podcast, I can do documentaries, I can do interviews, I can learn how to edit on software, which you don’t learn in classes.

Classes are very much theory-based, here’s your midterm, you’ve got to learn these things, but when you have that hands-on application, it’s really cool to be able to do.


Student Legal Services Plebiscite (“Yes” Side): Sarah McFadyen

Student Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals in Edmonton, will be asking students whether they support continuing to pay $0.75 per term. Because this is a plebiscite question, Students’ Council will hold the final say on continuing the fee if it fails at the polls.

Managing the “Yes” side of the Student Legal Services plebiscite is second-year law student Sarah McFadyen.

What is this plebiscite trying to accomplish?

Sarah McFadyen: We’re trying to renew our designated fee. This funding essentially helps us function as an organization. We received some funding from the government and some funding from other organizations but this funding just helps us fill the amount we’re missing from those other organizations.

For those who don’t know, what is Student Legal Services?

McFadyen: Student Legal Services is a student-run organization, it’s run by law students. We basically provide University of Alberta students and low-income individuals with free legal assistance and information. So we help individuals with civil matters, family matters, and criminal matters. We also do outreaches at places like Bissell Centre, Boyle Street, all of those organizations and provide individuals who come into those areas with legal information.

How much will students be paying if this plebiscite passes and how was the cost determined?

McFadyen: The cost is $0.75 per term, so that’s $7 over four years. I can’t speak directly to how the cost was determined, but basically once again to fill that sort of gap from out other funding and we also want to be charging students a very low a very reasonable fee. So we’re trying to keep it nice and low.

Why should students care about this service?

McFadyen: This service is great because we are an income-based organization. But because undergrad students pay this fee, we don’t look at their income guidelines. If you can prove you’re an undergrad student, we can assist you with your matter. Whereas many students, including myself, live at home so we look at your gross household income and probably wouldn’t be able to assist a lot of students if they didn’t pay this fee.

Haley Dang

Haley Dang is a elementary education student who writes and takes photos for The Gateway. When there's no snow on the ground, she enjoys spending time in her garden growing petunias. As long as snow is falling, though, she’ll be hiding indoors with a cup of tea.

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