On Sept 30, the second BUSAC meeting of the 2015-2016 academic year stretched well into the morning hours as councillors, presenters and community members debated. While it was not necessarily the focus of BUSAC’s agenda, the quality of food was a consistently addressed issue raised by councillors and observers from the community.
The five-and-a-half hour presentations, discussions and open period questioning was primarily concerned with Fed Up: the Affordable Food Project. This self-described anti-poverty, social justice organization ran a successful referendum campaign in the March 2014 election. The referendum asked, “Do you support a $2.80 per credit fee to fund Fed Up The Affordable Food Project, as per the Memorandum of Understanding?”. 1,805 students (57.41 per cent) voted “yes”, while 1,040 students (33.08 per cent) voted “no”, so the referendum passed and a fee of $2.80 per registered credit was added to each students’ ancillary fees.
Now however, after 11 months of funding, some students are wondering what the champions of ‘affordable food’ on campus have been doing, and more importantly, how the approximately $200,000 of student fees have been spent.
Former Fed Up President, Em Heppler insisted that the organization has delivered thousands of pounds of food to students, and that the organization is in a good position and moving forward at a reasonable pace.
“When you look at similar organizations, compared to their first years of being in business, we’re doing great”, said Heppler. “Our first year was about building infrastructure. There are concerns, and we want your active participation, but we have only had funding for 11 months.”
Before Heppler presented at the meeting however, there were presentations by representatives from both Brock University and Brock University Student’s Union, featuring Brian Hutchings, Vice President of Finance and Administration and Kyle Rose, BUSU President, respectively. The two presentations presented similar accusations in regards to a lack of organization and financial “backbone” to Fed Up’s governance, and raised potential legal concerns that could potentially result by maintaining association with Fed Up.
“Fed Up has made poor decisions. [They’ve] failed to live up to its obligations and are not capable of meeting expectations,” said Hutchings. “Brock has worked closely with BUSU to investigate the problem.”
Brock University is currently more than half way through a binding contract with international food supplier, Sodexo, which maintains the legal right to food distribution and service on campus. This means, according to Hutchings, that Fed Up has violated their Memorandum of Understanding and has put the university in a dangerous position of liability if Sodexo were to pursue legal action.
“I explained where Sodexo has rights to distribution. On four occasions, I explained where food could and could not be distributed,” said Hutchings. “[Fed Up does] not fully understand [the contract with] Sodexo, shown as recently as today by distributing food in Thistle Complex.”
Additionally, in preparation for the meeting, Rose spent about two and a half days collecting signatures for a petition to send Fed Up to referendum to be potentially defunded. In this short period of time, he collected 1,721 signatures, despite only needing approximately 344 signatures. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that 1,721 students explicitly agree that Fed Up should be “defunded”, but instead that 1,721 students are interested in having the fee re-assessed and opened up for students to decide to either continue or discontinue the funding.
“Since I was elected President, many concerns were brought to me about how the money is being spent,” said Rose, “It was made explicitly clear that the administrative council had concerns. I feel it was due diligence to bring a petition to students.”
Fed Up is a new organization however, and after having funding for only 11 months, two difficulties that may have contributed to their lack of efficiency are consistently delayed funding (as BUSU has withheld September 2015 funding until specific conditions are met), as well as OPIRG’s eviction from the Student Alumni Centre – which Fed Up used as their primary on-campus location.
Therefore, needing a headquarters, Fed Up purchased shares in a property in Downtown St. Catharines on St. Paul Street. The property will lease rooms for rent and lease to a comedy club as a way to make revenue. The remaining two bottom floors will be reserved for food service, a professional kitchen and office space.
“We got space right beside the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts because that’s the only place we can be close to a bunch of students,” said Heppler.
This decision to purchase a building, however, was not received well by many students who felt that this was a misuse of student funds, and that money should have gone to providing food to students.
After hours of questioning and debate, Heppler remained optimistic and apologetic, reiterating that despite the problems, he was content with what they [as an organization] are doing.
“[In last year’s BUSU election] almost every candidate mentioned food in their platform – that’s the first time that’s ever happened,” said Heppler. “We don’t want students to be locked into a meal plan where options are limited, we don’t want them to have to pay $13 for a meal. I’m excited by the fact that food [related] issues on campus are being taken seriously.”
Rose, who volunteered to run the “Yes” side to the referendum to defund Fed Up, consistently described the fact that [Roses’ own] opinion “did not matter” and that no personal bias was involved in the decision.
“No one is attacking Fed Up. We’re being critical because it’s our job to be. We offered Goodman Consulting Services… as well as [other] options… You did make food an issue, I just don’t believe you needed $200,000 to do it,” said Rose.
Ultimately, following the heated and passionate debates and lively question and answer periods, the 22 remaining councillors voted unanimously to send Fed Up: The Affordable Food Project to referendum.
The Fed Up referendum will be included in the October election, for which the voting period opens Tuesday, October 27 and closes Thursday, October 29 at 9:00 p.m. Voting can be done online through Brock e-mails, but with the daunting challenge of running either a “yes” or “no” only a few weeks away (campaigning begins Monday, October 19 at 9:00 a.m.) neither side has much time to plan or prepare.
For more news to follow regarding the October elections, referendums and student governance news in general, stay tuned to brockpress.com. To watch the recorded BUSAC meeting live in its entirety, visit livestream.com/brocktvlive