PIRG, OER referenda fail to meet quorum during online fall electoral event

Campus News

Despite a majority of “yes” votes, only 5.9 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots 

File graphic by Niusha Derakhshan.

During the UVSS fall electoral event, students voted on introducing an open educational resources (OER) fee and ending the collection of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) fee.

Proponents Jonathan Granirer and Evan Guildford ran their campaigns entirely online this year. Although they made numerous social media posts, neither campaign was successful in reaching the necessary quorum for the referenda to pass. 

According to UVSS electoral policy, 15 per cent of undergraduate students must vote in a referendum for it to pass. Of course, the question also has to receive a majority votes in favour of it. 

The three referenda in this year’s fall electoral event saw students voting in their favour, but not enough students voted to cross that 15 per cent threshold. The first referendum question was about establishing a fee to fund the creation of OERs by UVic professors. The other two questions concerned ending the PIRG fee and distributing the money that has been collected while there has not been a PIRG on campus. Had that referendum passed, the money would have been split between a UVic scholarship fund and the UVSS general operating fund. 

OER referendum fails for second time over quorum

The OER referendum received 891 (80.6 per cent) “yes” votes and 214 “no” votes. Although Granirer expressed his disappointment with the result, he said he was also happy to see so many votes in favour. 

Granirer has been advocating for OERs for over a year. During his time as last year’s UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations, Granirer led a lobbying effort with the hope of getting UVic to invest more in OERs. 

In the spring, Granirer led his first OER referendum campaign. The referendum asked students if they wanted to have $1.50 added to their student fees (or $0.75 for part-time students) for OERs. The money would ultimately go to UVic’s OER grants. These grants provide professors with funding to create OERs for their classes. 

The spring referendum failed because it was just shy of the 15 per cent turnout quorum. Only 144 votes were needed to reach quorum. This year, Granirer was hopeful that more social media posts and class talks would help me get more students out to vote. 

Despite two referenda failing by not meeting quorum, Granirer doesn’t want to see the UVSS quorum changed. He called referenda “the most important way that the UVSS conducts its democracy.”

Granirer believes that the main barriers to his campaign were that the referendum was held online and took place in the fall. He hopes the UVSS board opts for spring referenda in the future. For candidates and proponents campaigning online in the spring, Granirer encouraged them to do lots of class talks. 

“[Online campaigning] was challenging,” Granirer said. “Not being able to have those meaningful connections [with students in person] is tough.”

Granirer said he will continue to advocate for OERs as a student senator. 

PIRG referenda also fail to meet quorum

The PIRG has an even longer history with the UVSS. The result of this year’s referenda failing will force the UVSS to continue collecting the PIRG fee, even though no PIRG currently exists. For 30 years, the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG) used this fee to fund scholarships and research projects for marginalized communities. 

The first referendum question, which asked students if they are in favour of ending the collection of the fee, failed due to quorum. Of those 1 099 eligible votes cast, 903 (82.2 per cent) were in favour and 196 were against.  

The second referendum question asked students about what should be done with the PIRG fees already collected. After VIPIRG terminated their relationship with the UVSS in 2019, the PIRG fee was still collected. The UVSS placed it in trust. As of Aug. 10, $128 848.17 was in that account. 

The referendum question asked if students are in favour of those funds being “split evenly between a student bursary/award and the UVSS Operating Fund.” 902 votes (82.5 per cent) were in favour and 191 votes were against. 

In the referendum question, it states that the PIRG fees will be administered “in the best interests of students at the University of Victoria until such time as a service provider is identified to fulfill the purpose of a PIRG, or the collection of the PIRG fee is ended.” 

The proponent for both questions, Guildford, explained that the fund will be held in trust until a new PIRG is found or another referendum passes. Because the result was overwhelmingly in favour, Guildford hopes to see another PIRG referendum in the spring.

“I’d like to thank everyone that voted in the referendum,” Guildford said. “It’s hard to always pay attention to everything going on, so I appreciate the people that took the time.”

In 2019, VIPIRG ended their relationship with the UVSS. They moved downtown and renamed themselves Coastal Research, Education, and Advocacy Network (CREAN)

The UVSS invited prospective groups to pitch their projects to the board. Last year’s board was unable to find a PIRG proposal that suited them. The main reason Guildford cites is that all of the eligible proposals wanted to be independent from the UVSS. 

VIPIRG stated that they were dissatisfied with the actions of previous UVSS boards. They said the UVSS board disapproved of their grant projects and attempted to interfere with their operations. 

In spring 2019, the UVSS put forward a referendum that sought to end VIPIRG’s funding entirely. When VIPIRG campaigned for themselves, they found out they were in violation of UVSS electoral policy. The election was so rife with complaints that the UVSS Electoral Office recommended it be redone. 

These two referenda are the latest chapter in a long saga between VIPIRG and the UVSS. Since they both failed, the UVSS will continue to collect a fee for a PIRG. 

No PIRG exists on campus and the UVSS have not announced any other PIRG proposals undergoing consideration.

Please note that all results are unofficial at the time of writing.