Letter from the editor: A case for the student fee referendum

Op-eds Opinions

Myles Sauer - Editor-in-Chief / edit@martlet.ca

Over the last few days of what I hoped would be a very chill student election campaign period, I’ve been struggling with the opposition to one of the two referendums on which students are being asked to vote: the referendum that would adjust student fees to match Canada’s inflation target, starting in January 2019.

And though the voting period is already well underway, I want to take this opportunity to explain why you, the undecided voter, should vote in favour of that referendum.

Much of my case is similar to the one made by Kevin Tupper, UVSS director of finance and operations, in our report on the referendum. Basically, as the Canadian dollar depreciates over time, the UVSS’s student society fee of $76.60 (per full-time student, per semester) becomes less and less effective. Implementing an annual adjustment on that fee so that it matches Canada’s inflation target would ensure that the society — and by extension, the affiliated groups that rely on their individual levies to operate — could continue to pay for the services it provides.

I engaged with someone online this week who said students shouldn’t vote in favour of this referendum, which would work out to around $1.53 being added in the first year to a student’s overall society fees, because students “will never see anything change.”

Let’s take apart that claim and do a quick little experiment, using the Martlet’s levy fee as an example. In 1999, a referendum was passed which implemented our current semesterly fee of $3.75 per full-time student. (It’s $1.88 per part-time student.) We have not asked for a fee increase since (though we’ve thought about it), and have relied on that levy fee, plus advertising, to maintain our operating budget.

But according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, if that fee was adjusted to match inflation, we would now be receiving $5.31 per full-time student.

Five dollars. And thirty-one cents.

That means this year, we are receiving 59 per cent of what our levy was originally meant to provide.

It’s a similar situation for every advocacy group, affiliated group, and every single portion of the society’s fee structure. Though some groups may not have seen as drastic a drop in their levy’s buying power, especially those who only recently won their current levies, the point remains that every group is watching their part of the pie dwindle.

Expanding and diversifying businesses in the SUB to generate revenue will not, despite statements to the contrary, help organizations like the Martlet, CFUV, or VIPIRG mitigate the costs of inflation. It doesn’t matter how much extra revenue the SUB brings in; we do not have access to that revenue stream, period.

And voting yes on this referendum is not, despite more statements to the contrary, letting students decide on what students should pay in the future — at least, not any more than current fee increases already are. It’s a non sequitur argument that ignores the reality: a levy approved by students almost twenty years ago is now almost half as effective as it was back then.

Arguing that things wouldn’t change if this referendum passed ignores that things have already changed, and that’s why so many groups run individual referendums for fee increases every year; their buying power keeps shrinking, and they have to constantly bump up their levy to keep up and function properly. 

I am reeling thinking about how we’ve struggled for the last few years at the Martlet to fund things like conference trips, a new website, new equipment, and new staff, and how it shouldn’t be that way. And while implementing this adjustment in 2019 wouldn’t help us right away, it would ensure that organizations like ours and the other various groups in the SUB could continue to operate efficiently in the future.

If you vote in favour of this referendum, you’re not voting in favour of throwing away what amounts to less than a cup of coffee, nor are you subjecting students of the future to an unreasonable fee increase. Rather, you’re voting in favour of investing in the society and its services, and ensuring that it can have any future at all.

Voting is open on both referendums from now until 10:15 a.m. on Friday, March 3, at webvote.uvic.ca.

CORRECTION: I erroneously said the student’s society fees total $76.70. They’re actually $76.60.