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Students vote overwhelmingly in favour of GA, but turnout too low to pass

Photo by Mico Mazza

Despite 84 per cent of voters opting in favour of student federation General Assemblies (GAs), the referendum failed because it did not meet the minimum requirement for voter turnout.

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) announced the results of the GA referendum at the Jock Turcot University Centre lounge Nov. 28. The announcement revealed 1,199 votes in favour and 216 opposed.

The total 1,428 voters represented just short of four per cent of all undergraduate students at the U of O. At least five per cent of students were required to vote in order to meet quorum.

SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy said she remains positive because the vast majority of students voted in favour of a GA. Roy plans to discuss the future of GAs with SFUO executives and those involved with the “yes” campaign. She said the number of students voting for the referendum demonstrates a desire for the assembly.

Roy put forth a motion at the Board of Administration (BOA) meeting Dec. 1 to ask students to vote on a GA referendum for a second time during the February general elections. The motion was passed.

“I anticipate that because we’re having this referendum at the same time as the general election that we are going to be meeting quorum,” she said.

“I’m hoping that moving forward we can utilize General Assemblies or other mechanisms we have through the student federation to better reach out to students and make sure our membership is engaged.”

Not all members of the BOA were in favour of asking students to vote on GAs a second time. One audience member asked if the SFUO should “continue with the failed referendum if it didn’t meet quorum?”

The cost of the referendum was a concern that was addressed at the meeting. Vp finance Dave Eaton said the referendum’s total cost would be made available the following week. The cost for the polling clerks, support staff, laptop rentals, and a referendum convener totalled approximately $8,000.

Katya Moussatova, BOA representative for the Faculty of Social Sciences, said the referendum’s failure is a good indicator of how students feel about the GA.

While she does not necessarily oppose the GA, she doesn’t think it’s a great way to get students’ voices heard on campus.

“We don’t live in ancient Greece,” she said. “Our student politics have so many levels to them—it’s almost like bureaucracy. It’s so hard to get anything passed that adding another level would slow decisions down.”

Prior to the referendum, Moussatova said the debates were not properly advertised and the “no” side was not properly represented.

She said the BOA should not have been imposed to vote on the GA motion at the next BOA meeting.

“It is completely inconsiderate for the president to go against students’ wishes and still push a General Assembly,” she said.

The BOA currently has the power to implement GAs without a student referendum. The creation of assemblies would require a two-thirds vote from the BOA to rewrite part of its constitution.

Under the terms of the Ontario Corporations Act, the SFUO is mandated to hold yearly general meetings in by-law 3.13. However, the constitution stipulates under section 2.1.1 that voting members in the federation are only individual members elected to the SFUO executive and BOA. The amendment would require the deletion of section 2.1.1 in order for other students to become active decision-makers in GAs.

At the beginning of November, the Marxist Students’ Association gathered 1,700 student signatures to petition for a GA, which would act as the highest decision-making body “with control of, but not limited to, finances, elections, by-laws and policies of the SFUO.” It was proposed that the GA consist of students as individual voting members, instead of reserving voting privileges only to those who are elected to the BOA.

Roy said poor weather and cancelled classes may have contributed to poor voter turnout.