The recent Winter Carnival referendum has left some students questioning Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) policies about submitting an issue to referendum multiple times.
Last year an increase of student fees by five dollars to fund the carnival was put to referendum, and students voted it down, with 54.2 per cent opposed, 39.4 per cent in favour, and 6.4 percent abstaining.
This year’s referendum also failed to pass. Only 29.9 per cent of the student body voted, failing to meet the requisite fifty per cent plus one. Of those who did vote, sixty-four per cent were in favour and thirty-six per cent opposed.
During the first Student’s Administrative Council meeting of the academic year on September 16, MASU Vice-President, Campus Life, Heather Webster put forward the motion to approve a Winter Carnival referendum question. After some debate, council approved the following wording: “Do you support a five dollar increase in student fees towards the cost of winter Carnival that would ensure that all events taking place during Winter Carnival are free of charge for students?”
Natalie Brunet, a former Social Science Senator and a fourth-year student pursuing an Honours degree in International Relations, first voiced her concerns about the second iteration of the referendum question through an Off-Campus Councilor, Annie Sherry.
Brunet stated her problem was not with the idea of asking the student population for input: “Referenda are a really good idea. They are helpful because they are directly asking the student population whether they want something.” She went on to say, “If you’re going to have referenda they should be binding. Referenda are actually binding if we vote yes for them, so why is there no binding period if they are shut down?”
Webster defended the choice to resubmit the referendum question, saying, “I’m doing what students asked from me. A lot of them asked for a Winter Carnival, they want more variety in events, and people complain about our events now.”
MASU Vice-President, Operations and Finance Josh Outerbridge and several SAC councilors suggested that a five dollar fee increase for everyone is a more economical way for students to pay for the series of events, instead of paying an entry fee for each event.
Webster referenced last year’s quorum referendum in defending the decision to run the question again. She also stated that concerns about referenda questions being asked multiple times were “brought up at council last week, and so I think that’s something that will be changing. We’re going to reevaluate that. [… T]here are definitely some things that need to change, and that would probably be one of them.”
There is MASU precedent for repeating referenda questions. Last year the SAC twice put a referendum question forward concerning the lowering of the quorum for MASU meetings, only to have it defeated both times.
According to the union’s constitution, any referendum in which at least twenty-five per cent of members have voted is valid, and is “deemed binding if passed by at least a two-thirds (2/3) majority of MASU Members.” However, for a referendum to be considered passed by students it only needs a fifty-per-cent-plus-one approval.
Referenda are to be “the supreme policymaking forum of the MASU. Policy approved by referenda may only be amended or repealed by subsequent referenda.” MASU is constitutionally required to hold a referendum on any increase of student fees, unless it is an increase because of inflation, up to four per cent.