Putting the big decisions in student's hands

Cole: referendum questions legally binding

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Gym space concept art

From deciding the physical layout of our campus to putting major issues to rest, the importance of the referendum process should not be underestimated.

“Referendums are important because it’s a true exercise of democracy,” University Students’ Council President Stephen Lecce said.

“We pose a question to students and the majority of students provide the USC with direction on key issues and key policy outcomes.”

The process is initiated when a motion is held at a council meeting to change, improve or look into a pressing issue. A decision is then made to hold either a referendum or a plebiscite.

“A plebiscite isn’t meant to bind the USC to the result,” Jacqueline Cole, USC VP-university affairs, said.

“For example, with the selling of cigarettes in Mustang Alley [last year], we wanted to know what students thought. We could have chosen to ignore the results, but we felt it was important to do what the students asked.”

Should council decide to hold a referendum, there are two distinct ways of organizing and disseminating information to voters.

“They have the option of a Yes and No Campaign that effectively provides students with two campaigns that are funded and resourced with the goal of presenting two sides to students so they can make a decision on this important issue,” Lecce said.

“An information campaign can also be decided and that is typically administered by the USC Elections Committee to promote and to communicate to the student population very dispassionate information.”

Unlike an information-based referendum, registered interest party referendums require representatives for each campaign.

“The general amount that is allotted to the referendum is $1,500 to both the Yes and No sides,” Matt Kington, USC VP-finance, said. “If you have Yes and No sides you look to put together a volunteer team.”

Once the referendum type is decided, Elections Committee is then made responsible for creating the referendum question.

“We can’t necessarily put a ton of detail into the referendum question, because it is legally binding. We are bound to that [wording] for 20 years,” Cole said.

“For example, if we tell a certain club they will have space in the renovated building, that’s legally binding for 20 years.”

Once Elections Committee has decided a referendum type and question, council must ratify the question.

According to Lecce, referendums are generally held at the same time as USC elections in order to gather the required voter turnout.

“5,500 students must vote " which represents 20 per cent of our student population " in order for referendum to pass. If they don’t reach quorum the outcome isn’t binding.”

Referendum Question
Do you agree to the collection of an annual student fee that will fund the renovation and maintenance of portions of the University Community Centre (UCC) managed by the University Students’ Council (USC), as per the following:

  1. Renovations to newly-acquired and existing space will commence in 2009 and are expected to be completed in 2011;
  2. A student fee not to exceed ninety-five dollars ($95.00) will commence in the 2009/2010 academic year to fund a mortgage for the renovations;
  3. The fee will be collected until such time as the mortgage has been retired, not to exceed twenty (20) years; and,
  4. Upon retirement, a ten dollar ($10.00) student fee will be instituted and collected in perpetuity to maintain UCC space managed by the USC.


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