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Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik

SFUO votes to hold new referendum with reworded question

Following a recent failed health-care referendum, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) held several focus groups in an effort to better inform students and find out their health-care needs going forward.

Meanwhile students will have another chance to vote to keep their health coverage in 2016. In a Board of Administration meeting on Dec. 6, the SFUO voted to have a new referendum question on the issue in the Feb. 2016 elections.

The groups started on Dec. 1 and continued over the course of three days, for a total of six sessions in the University Centre. The SFUO provided a survey for students to fill out in person or online, with the results helping rank the importance of different health-care services currently offered on campus in the event that cuts must be made to them.

However attendance of the sessions were extremely low.

Students were informed of the focus groups via e-mail, said Roméo Ahimakin, SFUO vice president of services and communications, and a Facebook event was created three days before the sessions began on Dec. 1.

However, Brendan Levac, a second-year medical student, isn’t impressed with the SFUOs efforts and said he didn’t receive an e-mail.

“One day’s notice is absolutely unacceptable notice, especially considering I’m two days away from an important final exam. Not to mention if it wasn’t for our wonderful representative, I would have had no idea this was occurring,” said Levac. “I rely on the minimal student health coverage and the idea of cutting more from it is rather unsettling.”

The health plan currently costs $80 for health coverage and $100 for dental, and covers prescription medication and medical items, professional services, vision care, emergency transportation, travel insurance, and dental services.

Although the SFUO provided food and timed the session in hopes of accommodating students, they saw low attendance. Ahimakin acknowledged that the notice period was limited and the timing coinciding with final exams also played a role in low turnout, among other factors.

“In our efforts to make it happen as soon as possible we’re doing it with kind of a little bit of short time notice,” he said. “We had a lot of different things that were happening in that mass e-mail, as well. That is totally something that can be part of the reason why there’s not that much attendance.”

In response to the lack of attendance, SFUO executives began directly approaching students throughout campus and giving class talks.

Siavash Ghazvinian, president of the International Development and Globalization Students’ Association and former co-manager of the health care referendum “yes” committee, said he understands the difficulty in getting students engaged.

“I honestly don’t know what there is that (the SFUO) could do at this point. It’s unfortunate that the university has the right to raise our fees as much as they want but the student union doesn’t when it concerns our health care,” he said.

Ahimakin wasn’t able to give a timeline estimate for negotiations with the health care provider, Green Shield Canada, saying the SFUO’s actions will be based on the results of the survey.