The Marxist Students’ Association has obtained 1,700 signatures on a petition to hold a referendum to approve the establishment of a General Assembly (GA)within the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).
“The idea came about while having a discussion with fellow students as to why the Ontario student movement has reached an all-time crawl while our Quebecois counterparts represent one of the most mobilized political forces in the country,” said Jean-Philippe Ouellet, a spokesperson for the movement and member of the Marxist Students’ Association.
He said that in Quebec, the GA model allows students to be involved in the decision-making process and develop a strong culture of political involvement.
“The representative democratic model used in Ontario has only alienated the majority of the student population and reduced political participation to a small political elite,” he said. “It competes for power once a year in an election, all while relying on a absurdly low 10 per cent voter turnout to maintain its legitimacy.”
The GA would be established as the highest decision-making body of the SFUO with control over a variety of the SFUO’s responsibilities, like finances, elections, by-laws, and policies.
“Anybody can be in the General Assembly,” said SFUO president Anne–Marie Roy. “It’s for every student to check into every semester to make sure the SFUO is representative of what they want to see.”
However, Roy also said that even if the referendum approves the establishment of a GA, the long-term success of the project is dependent upon student participation.
“We are hoping to solidify the decision by January, so we can have the first GA in the winter session,” Roy said. “We’re going to try and do it once a semester to start. We’ll see if students are engaging, if they want to get involved, if they are participating.”
Fourth-year health sciences student and BOA member Daniel Stojanovic said although GAs have been effective in Quebec universities, those institutions are much smaller than the University of Ottawa and he therefore doubts the viability of a GA.
“I have significant doubts that in a room of 400+ students (just over one per cent of the undergraduate student body) each student will be able to have their individual voice heard,” he wrote in an email to the Fulcrum.
Third-year international studies and modern languages student Yerke Abildayeva is vice-president of academic affairs for her program within the Political, International, and Development Studies Student Association and was a signatory of the petition.
“A girl came up to me in the cafeteria and asked me to sign the petition,” she said. “Once she explained what it was all about, I agreed it was a good idea since it would involve a higher level of transparency and accountability within the SFUO. I think there is a lack of information; they should have promoted the project a lot more. If the girl hadn’t spoke to me in the cafeteria I never would have known about the project. I think there lacks awareness.”
Stojanovic agreed that several questions have been unanswered, and that students must take it upon themselves to research the consequences of their vote and the creation of a GA.
“There are a lot of questions that we may be ignoring due to the idyllic disposition of trust common to eager university students,” he said.
Roy said if the GA were successfully implemented, it would be a move toward offering students greater access to information and would be a great outlet for voicing their concerns.
Second-year political science and law student Dana Fan said the benefits of the assembly are clear to her, although she has heard people dismiss the project as a radical left-wing movement.
“It’s simply a new tool that’s going to help get our voices out there,” she said. “We have more of a say in our education system.”
The referendum is scheduled for Nov. 26–28.