Volume 96, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 11, 2003

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A massive toothache

The University Students' Council's dental plan referendum has sparked significant controversy and garnered a host of concerns from students over its legitimacy.

At last Wednesday's USC meeting, an engineering student approached council with concerns stating the winning "yes" vote for the dental plan was not valid.

It was argued the dental plan did not reach quorum, which entails that 20 per cent of Western's eligible student voters cast a ballot on the issue. Critics also allege that half the referendum question was not on the online ballot for a majority of the first voting day, part-time students could vote despite their inability to receive coverage and the question itself was unclear and ambiguous. Perhaps council should have included USC/English dictionaries for voters so they could interpret the question clearly and understand exactly what it was they were voting on.

The USC claims the dental plan is not a policy issue, but a financial one, and therefore quorum is not required. However, the same referendum was held in 1997 and was considered a policy issue. The USC Board of Directors determines whether or not an initiative, such as the dental plan, is a policy issue – and this year's Board has changed the interpretation. It is unclear why an issue considered to affect policy a few years ago, would be any different today.

Council decided the issue could not be discussed because it was currently under investigation by the elections committee. However, the issue was resurrected later in the meeting and council voted to ensure that an adequate investigation was completed.

The USC has been sloppy in dealing with the entire issue of the dental plan referendum. It also seems ironic that a group constantly complaining about student apathy was so quick to dismiss the legitimate concerns of a student not associated with the USC. Despite the student's articulate and intelligent argument at last week's USC meeting, council paid relatively little attention to the matter at hand. The USC is, by definition, obligated to listen to the concerns of the students they exist to represent.

The USC's inefficient handling of the referendum is also exemplified by the fact that, for a significant period of time, the complete question was not on the electronic ballot. It's not difficult to see how this could skew the votes and subsequently the outcome of the referendum. With something as important as a referendum, the USC should have been more meticulous with regards to the issue. What is the point of holding a referendum if it is not properly conducted?

The USC dropped the ball when they posed a referendum question that lacked clarity and their delayed reaction to a student concerned over the issue did little to compensate for their mistake.



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