Yesterday, you probably did not vote in the MSU SRA election. I do not blame you. There was no reason to vote unless you choose your candidate based upon the number of letters in their name, the fictional characters that attach their faces to, or the colour of paper they choose to put they names on. Really, was there anything else to this election?
There are exceptions to the above statement. Some candidates really put a good effort in, spoke to classes and attempted to engage students. Overall, however, I have heard more issues discussed in the South Park episode “Douche and Turd” than I have heard in all the SRA elections that have occurred in the past two years.
That having been said, I truly wish to believe that the 1/3rd of the SRA that is brand new consists of good people that are going to be guardians of student money. I thank all of the candidates for the effort they put forth in running for office and hope that the candidates who did not succeed this time run again.
Here are the issues that I believe the new SRA must immediately work on and find answers to:
The first issue is the firing, without cause, of the Silhouette Executive Editor (EE). This was done by the MSU President and the three Vice-Presidents. This was done, in my opinion as a student member of the MSU Bylaws Committee, in complete violation of MSU bylaws and operating policies. The Executive have now said, at the EB meeting on Sunday, that there were causes for the firing which they cannot discuss. They claim to have fired “without cause” to save the fired EE the stigma of having been fired with cause. There is a term for this: wrongful termination. You cannot fire someone without cause to avoid having to fire them with cause. It is a violation of employment law. Sadly, the MSU Executive will not be the ones footing the bill for their actions. We, the students, will be paying for this if it goes to court. The SRA must hold the Executive accountable for this wrongful action. If there truly were causes for the dismissal of the EE, there is a policy to follow to dismiss with cause which gives the power to a committee, not the Executive.
The second issue is Quarters. Quarters is one of only a handful of campus pubs in Canada to be losing money. Of that group, Quarters is bleeding the most money. It has lost over a Quarter of a million dollars in the last two years alone. We are spending more on Quarters than we are spending on all student groups combined! This is unacceptable and must be dealt with. The first step is for the SRA to vote to end their special privileges at the bar. The SRA gets line bypass (heaven forbid they have to line up with us lowly serfs), free cover and a 15% discount at the bar! We, the students, find this privilege unacceptable when we are watching money that could be better spent on student groups disappear into the budgetary black hole that is Quarters.
The Students’ Union at UNB held an independent inquiry into why their operations ran losses two years ago. I call on the SRA to immediately commission an independent inquiry into the massive losses at Quarters and empower this inquiry with all the power and resources it needs to find the truth.
The third issue is the black hole that is the MSU Used Bookstore. The MSU Executive has never released the costs involved so far. It is believed by reliable sources that almost $80,000 has been spent since May on this project without the approval of the SRA and without any business plan having been presented to the SRA. The costs of this project continue to rise and the space in the lower level of the Student Centre remains empty. The SRA needs to get answers on this project immediately.
The fourth issue is the MSU paying for extra police officers in Westdale to crackdown on student nuisance offences. The contract the MSU signed with the police is a “MSU Top Secret” contract. I have been able to calculate based on information released by the city in news releases and normal cost of paying for police services that the cost of the contract is somewhere between $40,000 – $60,000 a year. The MSU and University are jointly paying this expense. This is a significant amount of money. This contract was not approved by the SRA has required by the MSU Constitution. The money the MSU is spending to crackdown on students could be better spent on measures that benefit both students and the community. One of the biggest perceived problems the community complains about is “Mac students” being loud walking home from bars. Why not, instead of paying for a police crackdown, rent buses to take people home. It will be more effective and cost less. I know the reason that I walk home after a night out with friends is because there are no buses after one o’clock. The SRA must find better solutions and demand to know why our money is being spent without proper approval.
The fifth issue is the MSU Dental Plan. The dental plan bidding process was severely tainted by corporate gift taking by the Executive overseeing the bid process. Students found out about this only because of a whistleblower who informed the Silhouette that the Executive had received tickets to the World Cup of Hockey at ACC (Hockey Tickets cause MSU rift – Sil Oct 7/04). The MSU President admitted that it was not unheard of for MSU Executive to take corporate gifts and that it had never been an issue before.
This was, however, the first time that students were made aware gifts were taken.
I do not know if other gifts were taken during this process or if they have been taken since. The MSU Executive refuses to say either way. The company that gave the reported gift did not end up getting the contract for our dental plan. However, there are many questions about the dental plan that continue to swirl to this day. We have had the dental plan for over a year now. It is time to review the first year of the plan to find out if it is providing good value to McMaster students. We, the students, need to know how much money we paid into the plan and how much of this was paid out as benefits. The dental plan is twice as expense as the health plan. We need to know if it is worth that price. It is only prudent to review this new expense for students to make sure it is providing value.
This brings me to a sixth issue: corporate gift acceptance by the MSU Executive. Last year, I proposed that the MSU have a policy to ban the acceptance of corporate gifts by the MSU Executive. The MSU Executive was very much opposed to the idea. An outgoing member of the SRA last year moved a motion that the MSU should create a policy banning the acceptance of corporate gifts by the Executive. This has gone nowhere. I continue to believe this should be a top priority of the SRA.
These are just some of the issues within the MSU. It is your responsibility to solve them and to make sure that student money is not wasted or squandered. I have confidence that you have stood for election to the SRA in order to solve these problems and improve the quality of life for McMaster students.