Yesterday’s protest was the low point in a long and passionate campaign for the Student Refugee Program — a charity supporting a refugee student with an education in Canada.
They worked hard to get a fee for their club on the March ballot and when the University Students’ Council called the referendum invalid, months of work were also invalidated.
But if the USC’s decision does anything, it gives us time to consider a litany of problems surrounding referendums and the SRP fee.
The margin of victory — almost two to one in favour of supporting the SRP fee — tells a story: plenty of students voted with their hearts, not necessarily their heads.
The 8,553 votes cast for the SRP question came from a mix of informed and uninformed voters, but more likely the latter. Because the fee proposal dovetailed with two more self-serving and attractive proposals — late-night busing and 12-month bus passes. Anyone with a philanthropic bone in their body would approve a 52-cent SRP fee after checking “yes” to both those costly conveniences.
Compounding these problems is the campus referendum system. While USC officials praise referendums for putting choice into students’ hands, average turnout hovers around 25 per cent.
In a democracy, it’s never the majority that wins, but the loudest voice at the table. In other words, whoever shows up. And with moral questions like SRP funding, the supporters will always be motivated to the voting booth more often than the opposition, who votes with abstentions.
It’s interesting then, that the best “Vote No” campaign might be no campaign at all. If everyone who voted “no” in the referendum withheld their vote entirely, none of the questions would have passed; we wouldn’t have reached the minimum number of votes to make the referendum considered valid. Is that democracy?
The USC’s decision will hang in the air as SRP plans their appeal — one surely relying on the fact that the USC could keep the “Vote Yes” side disqualified without canning the results.
It’s fitting that so many demerit points were awarded for fairly trivial things like sending emails. It’s part of the USC’s agonizing “culture of control” — the idea that they must oversee and legislate student lives into a cesspool of bureaucracy. Campaigning on election day only helps promote the vote — something the USC could always use to boost turnout. Yes, they broke the rules and should be penalized. But we have some time before the next referendum to consider what, exactly, these rules are trying to prevent.
If nothing changes, we’ll see the SRP question appear on next year’s ballot and if this year is any indication, it’ll pass. But now’s the perfect time to breathe while USC councillors consider alternatives and SRP advocates listen. Other schools have better systems: a “charity menu” where students decide which charities among a list they should support. Or an opt-out charity fee worth several dollars that goes to a variety of charities at once.
The university should also take notice and consider how they’ll play a role with the SRP next year.
In the meantime, visit the SRP website or call to donate 52 cents. But only if that’s your thing.
Visit the site at bit.ly/uwo-srp or call 1-800-267-8699 to make a donation.