I would hardly consider myself an uninformed student. In fact, I think that my experiences here have yielded quite the opposite. There is a certain level of credibility that is afforded as a result of experience. In my time at Brock, I served as a BUSAC Councillor, Senator, BUSU VP, Finance and Administration and Board Member. In that time, I authored dozens of pieces of legislation, and co-authored many more. I led two successful referendum campaigns, and drafted the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the first Programming Levy Referendum in 2014, so I have little trouble saying that when it comes to analyzing policy and legislation, it is definitely a passion of mine. I include this information not for shameless self-promotion, but to provide context for my opposition. In no way was it my intention to comment on the dialogue so vociferously haranguing the Programming Levy online, but in reading the comments, both for and against, there are a few critical issues which have been either limited or entirely absent in the discussion. These concerns are listed below, and if you find any of these applying to you I would suggest you reconsider your stance on the Programming Levy.
Program Levy compared to the U-Pass Levy.
The first of these issues concerns the direct comparison to the U-Pass Fee (currently $195.45) which is charged to each full-time student taking 1.5 credits or more a year. The comparison is apt in one way and one way only, and that is that they are flat fees, charged once a year. Transit is a necessity, not a luxury; for some 2/3 of the student population it is their only means to and from campus for lecture, seminar, labs, etc. Even the most zealous advocates would have difficulty in arguing that the Programming Levy will be used by 2/3 of the student population year over year. The logic of ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ flounders if the many do not outnumber the few, which is the case when you try to apply the same rational for fees that support ‘essential’ services (transit, healthcare, etc) to those that support ‘additional’ services. Compare alcohol to food, you enjoy both but only one is a necessity. If the comparison to the U-Pass Fee is going to be made then perhaps the current executive team should be more heavily focused on getting the university to contribute more to the U-Pass (currently only $150,000/year, which amounts to roughly 4.2 per cent of the U-Pass transit costs) in order to allow for transit improvements rather than a way to tax students for programming.
Students need to make an ‘educated’ and ‘informed’ vote.
Not all arguments that are born out of naivety are incorrect, and for that reason alone these discussions are worth entertaining. Everyone should take the opportunity to examine all documentation and information from both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides of the referendum. But you cannot dismiss arguments simply because your opponent lacks information, because that lacking may yield a line of questions that have real merit. Additionally, it is not the fault of those asking questions that information has been omitted, that responsibility falls elsewhere. If the only documentation available justifying a $100.00 fee is little more than a screenshot of a budget that includes outdated information, with personal notes to the documents’ creator still present, then maybe more justification is needed.
Where did ethical decision making go?
I consider democratic principles to be fairly high on my list for ensuring morally and ethically sound decision-making when it comes to governance. So I find myself at a loss as to how BUSU, and BUSAC were able to justify proposing a fee when only 25 percent of the voters will bear the financial repercussions. Some may say that this method balances out over time, and in four years students will have paid once and had access covered for the remainder of their time at Brock. While correct, this view entirely misses the concern of the present, where 100 percent of the population has the opportunity to benefit from fees charged to only a quarter. This would be akin to the federal government holding a referendum on Quebec sovereignty as they did in 1995 but instead of only asking Quebec if they want to leave the nation, you would ask all of Canada. It is not difficult to imagine what the result would be. Having everyone vote on a tax only a minority will pay is the very definition of ‘taxation without representation’. If you are left with a situation where you need to question the moral and ethical decision-making behind a proposal, then you need to question the whole proposal.
Let the students choose what they want:
I am not sure when it happened, but we as students have been pushed towards a world where we lack freedom of choice in what we want to do. I find it confusing that the solution to declining interest in ‘Gold Card/VIB’ sales is not to question programming, but instead force all students to pay for something most did not want. When given the option most students prioritize their studies and work over other programming, which follows a growing trend across the Post-Secondary Education sector. I think most students would agree that when it comes to events and programming they are a better judge of where to put their $100 than someone else is. Declining sales is indicative of a trend that the student population as a whole is not interested in the programming offered, so why force them to pay more for something that they are not interested in?
Mental Health as Promotion:
I would be dishonest if I did not note that I take personal issue with the final concern. While the above issues were raised from a rational aspect in terms of policy analysis this one is raised out of sheer offensiveness to a member and advocate of the mental health community. A couple of issues back I wrote an article focused on addressing the tactic some BUSU executive candidates used by placing ‘Mental Health’ as a buzzword in their campaigns, something I found deeply offensive and distasteful. I am appalled, frankly, at the fact that this issue has risen again, not two months after the previous display, only this time to justify a new cost to students. I consider myself a dedicated advocate for mental health issues, specifically for students both on and off campus. So when I see a fee promoted in a way that indicates MENTAL HEALTH initiatives I cannot help but ask ‘who was consulted?’, ‘what initiatives?’ and ‘how will these be implemented?’ The Programming Levy MOU does not include a single mention of mental illness or mental health, so it is disgraceful for a students’ union to market the fee with a headline such as mental health when it has no provisions to address the issue. In fact I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that there are no provisions for an issue some 20 per cent of the population faces or the fact that mental health is being used as the ‘sex appeal’ to try and sway voters.
In the current decade student interest at PSE institutions across the province (and certainly at Brock University) has moved away from a partying culture. Primarily due to greater focus on schoolwork, increased awareness of mental health concerns, and the growing cost of education and work requirements to pay for it, this is why the vast majority of students each year do not attend the O-Week ‘Big Ticket’ concert, and likely never will.
As indicated previously, my initial desire was not to take a stance on the issue and simply observe the discourse from afar. However, my interest in ethicality and morality of the proposed levy dictated a response. While this online (and likely in person) discussion certainly yielded prominent points on both sides it failed to address the critical issues noted above. I would suggest that if any of these concerns struck a chord with you, explore them further and I have no doubt you will come to the same conclusions, chief among them that this fee should not be supported and certainly not be approved.