Dart plebsicite question confused students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

With the chaos of this year’s University Students’ Council presidential election finished, the USC can now direct its attention to the results of the controversial plebiscite question.

Although this year’s election turnout was low with 6,898 voters, a 58 per cent majority decided the USC-owned convenience store Mustang Alley should not sell cigarettes.

Since the question of cigarette sales was put to a plebiscite and not a referendum, the results are non-binding.

There are several different interested student groups who wish to express an opinion on the plebiscite results, according to USC President Tom Stevenson.

Stevenson explained the groups will make presentations to the USC and then council will revisit the results of the plebiscite.

David Simmonds, VP-university affairs for the USC, claimed the manner by which the plebiscite question was posed might not have carried all of the potential financial implications.

“It is still my firm position that if students were made fully aware, in a very direct way, of the cost of limiting those sales in Mustang Alley to student programming " which I know they value " the result may have been different,” Simmonds said.

Simmonds went on to explain surpluses in the USC’s business operations funded student programming " a fact that may not have been entirely clear to students.

“I think the question was framed incorrectly to be completely honest with you. I think it was framed as a question of ‘Do you agree with cigarette sales at Mustang Alley,’ when that is not, to me, the case,” Simmonds said.

“To me, the case is ‘Do you wish to eliminate cigarettes or tobacco sales from Mustang Alley at the expense of almost $50,000 in funds that fund student programming and create student jobs?’”

When asked about the reasoning behind the wording of the plebiscite question, USC communications officer Amy Bi explained the Elections Committee, which is in charge of plebiscite and referendum questions, wished to keep the question as straightforward as possible.

“In the past we had heard there was confusion with plebiscite and referendum questions,” Bi said.

Despite the Elections Committee’s effort, confusion seems to have occurred again.

Bi explained she heard feedback that students may not have read through the question thoroughly, voting ‘No’ with the intent of voting ‘Yes.’

But this is not an argument science councillor Fred Wu is buying.

Wu, who moved the initial Mustang Alley cigarette motion, said he would give voters more credit.

“The elections website had a very comprehensive summary of both sides of the issue,” Wu said. “The argument could be made in the other direction as well. Isn’t the crossover going to be the same rate?”

Wu also noted the plebiscite question was approved by council.

Should council choose to remove cigarettes from Mustang Alley, VP-finance for the USC David Singh stated significant changes would come to the store, though it would not necessarily have to shut down business.

“I think we’ll have to discuss other aspects … their staffing levels, potentially hours of operation.

“Is the real interest behind [the motion] student safety or people’s personal opinions?” Singh remarked.

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