Health care town hall sums up every UVSS problem

Editorials Opinions

Low turnout. A stand-offish attitude. An unwillingness to apologize.

The Nov. 9 town hall on UVSS health care encapsulated every single problem this UVSS board has faced this year. They mumbled through apologies, offset the blame for the low participation, and acted without a shred of the responsibility they hold for over 18 000 students.

There were no more than 60 people at the town hall on Thursday, Nov. 9, despite the fact that most UVic undergraduate students rely on the UVSS if they need health-care coverage. It’s understandable that it’s difficult to get students to care about their health care. It’s a complicated subject — some students may be covered under their parent’s plans, and others may not have serious illnesses that require expensive medication. There are ways, however, to apologize for the low turnout and pledge to do better.

Interestingly enough, the UVSS went for the “it’s not our fault” technique — a strategy that might have worked better if it wasn’t entirely the UVSS’s fault that there weren’t more people there.

The UVSS were subjected to a lot of critical feedback from students at the health care town hall. Photo by Cormac O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief

Mackenzie Cumberland, Director of Finance and Operations, said the UVSS was promoting the event with posters, tabling efforts, and social media posts. She then asked a student questioning their promotional efforts if he had any better ideas about how to engage students.

There are many students who have better ideas. We’ve even included a letter to the editor from a student who outlines a few of them. But it’s actually not the student body’s job to come up with a communications strategy — it’s the UVSS’s. Students could suggest any number of things, but, unlike the employees of the UVSS, they’re not getting paid to think of them.

Student participation isn’t a new problem for the UVSS, and it’s not even a new problem with this year’s board. Just a month ago, they failed to make quorum at their AGM. Have there been any steps taken to improve engagement from students?

There certainly hasn’t been any discussion about this at board meetings since then, and backpedaling seems to be on the board’s mind more than moving forward.

Is it impossible to engage with students? Not at all, as the AVP proved with a 21 per cent turnout for their latest referendum that passed on Nov. 10. Other commenters on Facebook chimed in with their own feedback, suggesting classroom visits and paid Facebook posts.

But it’s not just communication — it’s an attitude thing, too.

We understand that this town hall must have been incredibly difficult for this UVSS board. You’re dealing with students — some who have had their life expectancy shortened by the health-care switch — getting upset at you for a problem you inherited. That’s not fun.

But this is what student politicians sign up for when they run for election, and the least the board can do now is take ownership for the fact that they are in charge of this health plan and its impact.

The job of the UVSS is so, so important. It has to be taken with the gravity it deserves. But instead of seriousness, we get defensiveness.

At the town hall, a student demanded that somebody in the room take responsibility for the failure to effectively communicate health-care changes. “Be an adult. Take responsibility for this. Someone.”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking for is completely fair,” replied Cumberland, who was then interrupted by a student at the town hall.

“So the way you answer that question,” the student said, “is ‘yes, we could’ve done more and I’m sorry.’”

“I’m sure I could’ve done more,” said Cumberland. “However, all of us could have.”

If no UVSS Director can say sorry to a room full of people that have been screwed over by the institution they represent (this isn’t just Cumberland, by the way — no other UVSS director stepped in to apologize either) then they don’t deserve to be a part of that institution.

If all this board is doing is continually repeating the time-old mistakes, all while refusing to apologize for the errors they make along the way, they may as well call it a day and not bother to show up anymore.

But you certainly won’t hear us at the Martlet complaining if they stick around and refuse to change anything. What else would we write about otherwise?