Op-Ed: The Truth About the SFUO Referendum

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this piece are that of the individual writer and not necessarily that of Her Campus.  

Last week, the SFUO hosted a university-wide referendum. This referendum asked the following question: “Do you agree that the SFUO should establish General Assemblies as the highest decision making body with control of, but not limited to, finances, elections, by-laws and policies of the SFUO?” My guess is that you probably didn’t know about the referendum. Well, you’re not alone. This election was not publicized, nor fair in any sense of the term. But here’s the good news (well, bad for democracy): the election doesn’t even count… because not enough people voted!

Essentially, a general assembly implies that any undergraduate student would be able to vote on school finances, motions, and everyday business. A GA would count as long as 1% of the student body showed up (about 320 people). As of now, we vote in the Board of Administration (BOA) at every general election. The BOA then votes throughout the year on financial, policy, and university affairs matters. So why would we need another body to do the same thing? Good question. Representative democracies (aka. General Assemblies) only work when there is a small select group of people participating in them. With an undergraduate population of over 32,000 students, GA’s simply wouldn’t function. There would be chaos at every meeting! Even with only 1% of the student body required to participate in order to reach quorum, approximately 320 people would still need to show up to every assembly.

Besides, would you want 1% of the student population voting on issues that affect the way the school is run? Right now, you vote every March to elect representatives. You wouldn’t be voting for those 320 people… Moreover, the fact that the Marxist Students Association originally proposed the idea of GA’s speaks volumes…

Regardless of the pros and cons of General Assemblies, the fact still remains that the referendum was completely unfair to the student population. Apparently since last February, the Marxist Student Association circulated a petition that 1,700 students signed to support GA’s. However, the idea of the referendum was proposed only in the beginning of October to the BOA. At that point, the “Yes” side had already been organized. A couple weeks later, the SFUO sent out an email to every student stating that a “No” side could also be formed… only the due date to form the group was the next day.

Then came the debates. The SFUO organized a “debate” to publicly argue the pros and cons of GA’s. However, the “Yes” side was the only side represented. Additionally, the event was publicized only on facebook, the event was created only a couple of hours before the debate itself, and only about 400 people were invited to it. Now that is the definition of fairness and organization right?

It only gets worse though. The President of the SFUO, Anne-Marie Roy, has now said that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, she will make sure GA’s pass through the BOA. It doesn’t matter if students don’t agree. She’s the President, and can obviously do whatever the heck she wants!

While I am vehemently against this idea (sorry but we are no longer living in Ancient Greece!), the outcome of the referendum deeply saddens me. Why? Because no one voted. Quorum wasn’t reached. Less than 5% of the student body cared enough to go cast a ballot. Was there any publicity surrounding these elections? No. Was there any chance given to those that opposed to idea to speak up? No. How can we vote in a referendum when the very idea of democracy is being crushed? I've come to terms with the fact that GA’s will most probably act as the highest governing body for the SFUO in the future. What I haven't come to terms with is how the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa is completely and utterly unrepresentative of its constituents - the students of this university! This needs to change. 

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