Monday, September 5, 2011

We Have Change; What’s Next?

Change is here!  Change can happen!  Students at Carleton for the 2011/2012 year have the outstanding benefit of working with a great President who was finally democratically elected by the students!

But let’s hope we’re out of the woods.  In the past, strange things have happened to Presidents-elect even though they were democratically elected by our students.  Let’s hope no mysterious holes appear in walls or no accusations by anonymous people arise before this President can take his rightful place.

The drop in Presidential votes is a clear sign that something is broken at CUSA, and it needs to be fixed.  The 2009/2010 Presidents’ race saw 4,485 people cast their votes; this year, only 3,779 people voted.  Not only is the drop in votes concerning, but this means only about 18% of students are even bothering to vote in CUSA elections!

Could you imagine if the population of Toronto (about 18% of Canada’s population) was the only population that was voting?  And further, that this population was able to make decisions for all of Canada?  There would be outrage!

Clearly, something is broken with the current system.

Although the President was elected as a member of the Students First slate, he is surrounded by opposition members.  Even if this President wants change, such as creating an opt-out option for the UPass and really supporting students, it is possible and likely that the opposition will work to ignore and sabotage anything he tries to pass.  In fact, the President of CUSA has relatively little power over the organization, basically acting as a ring leader or tiebreaker between the other executives and councillors.

Many councillors also campaigned on change.  Although they could not take formally take sides, it was clear that many of the councillors, not yet corrupted by external pressures or influences, knew CUSA needed change.

Let’s see if they can bring that change now that they’ve been elected.

So what’s next?

Let’s hope the executive can get past their partisan ways and actually run this organization like the neutral, responsible organization it can be.  In fact, although they may not have campaigned on all of the issues, there are clearly many changes that need to be passed to allow CUSA to attain accountability and responsibility:

  1. The UPass needs to have an opt-out option.  I have been one voice among many saying it is unfair to force students who have no need or use for a UPass to be paying an extra $290 so that the students who do need a UPass can benefit.  Do some students benefit? Yes.  But for those who don’t benefit, it makes so sense that they should have to pay.
  1. Restore and grant funding to legitimate groups, regardless of their political viewpoints. Earlier in the year we saw Carleton Lifeline lose their funding because their views on abortion conflicted with CUSA’s.  Ironically, this meant pro-life students were paying for a pro-choice agenda to be pushed by CUSA!  CUSA needs to grant funding based on whether the group is a legitimate organization of Carleton students, not whether or not CUSA likes that group’s message.
  1. The Chief Electoral Officer needs to be found, hired, and trained entirely independent from CUSA’s control or influence.  Gone are the days where this essential position can be hand-picked by the reigning CUSA executive, only to have the new executive mysteriously represent the old executive’s interests.  Perhaps Carleton’s administration could select and appoint a CEO for us.
  1. Drastic change needs to happen to allow for online campaigning.  Using the internet is essential to current and future politics.  Federal, provincial, and municipal elections all allow for online campaigning; why not CUSA?
  1. Oliver’s Pub and Haven Books have proven to be wasteful money pits.  They are, like any other business, there to make money.  And yet in the 2008/2009 year Oliver’s lost $199,000!  If your business is not making money, you need to seriously change the business model so that you are making money.  This may mean cutting salaries, charging a higher cover fee, or removing unnecessary expenses.
  1. Put the budget online!  How did I get those numbers for Oliver’s and Haven?  Someone sent me a copy they had personally downloaded before it was mysteriously taken offline after too many students started asking questions about where the money from the budget was going.  How can this organization be accountable and transparent when you need to personally ask people for their internal copies of the budget?
  1. Furthermore regarding the budget, it clearly requires more transparency.  Oliver’s spent almost $10,000 on “miscellaneous expenses.”  What are these various expenses?  Why could they not be categorized under something else?  Likewise, to spend $3,900 on “projects” is not good enough.  Which projects?  What did they do?  Where are they now?
  1. But don’t worry, the budget is now online for everyone to read and question:  What are your student fees paying for?  In 2008 Haven Books spent $4,800 on phone bills!  In fact, although CUSA profits almost $2 Million a year, they barely make $50,000 after all the losses.  This needs to change.
  1. Did you know your tuition fees are being used to give CUSA staff a ride home after work?[1] Why are students paying for this?  Isn’t getting to and from work the person’s responsibility as an employee?
Although not all of these issues were campaigned on during the election, they are clearly issues that need to be addressed.  I am hopeful this President can pull council and the executive together to enact real change to fix these issues.  I am also prepared to see no sort of progress, regardless of how hard the President tries.