Pride referendum stirs up debate at board meeting

Campus News
The UVSS Board of Directors was drawn into a debate on Aug. 10 over a referendum that would provide the UVic Pride Collective with a student fee increase. Photo by the Martlet.
The UVSS Board of Directors was drawn into a debate on Aug. 10 over a referendum that would give the UVic Pride Collective a student fee increase. Photo by the Martlet.

Emotions were running high in the SUB Upper Lounge on Aug. 10, as the UVSS Board of Directors discussed a referendum that would ask students for approval of a fee increase for UVic Pride.

Other business on the agenda included filling the usual committee vacancies, amendments to the UVSS Disability, Excluded Personnel, and Finance and Operations policies, and a recommendation by the Finance and Operations Committee that “a capital expenditure of $10 000 be made for the purchase of a frozen yogurt machine and accompanying freezer unit for Bean There.”

Also on the docket was an in camera session to discuss “personnel.”

Members of UVic Pride were in attendance to argue for the fee increase, with Pride Office Coordinator Tribesty Nguyen explaining that with all the services Pride provides UVic students, they have had to hire a second office coordinator. Therefore, the current funding UVic Pride receives from students would be inadequate to continue those operations.

The referendum would be scheduled for November 2015, and would read as follows:

Do you support an increase to the student fee for UVic Pride in the amount of 74¢ per semester for full-time students, and 37¢ per semester for part-time students, for the purposes of expanding accessible resource initiatives, such as safer sex, harm reduction, and trans and queer services/supplies?

Currently, UVic students pay $7.90 per full-time semester and $3.95 per part-time semester to advocacy groups in the student union; Pride receives 95¢ and 45¢, respectively. The fee increase, should it be approved in a referendum, would not go into effect until September 2016. The referendum itself would cost between $9 000 and $10 000, according to Director of Finance Tristan Ryan.

Ryan introduced an amendment to the motion saying that the referendum should be held in the spring of 2016, rather than this fall.

Speaking to the Martlet afterwards, Ryan clarified that he introduced the amendment because of financial concerns. Board members have a fiduciary duty to the students, Ryan said, and incurring referendum costs would go against that duty.

“I believe Pride does really important work and I personally support them looking for these funds. The nature of my amendment wasn’t arguing that they ought not seek that,” Ryan said.

In response to the amendment, Nguyen explained that the collective weighed numerous factors into their decision to push for a November referendum, as holding it in the spring would risk putting it up against other possible fee increases. With students possibly facing a choice of two increases, the Pride referendum could stand a lesser chance of passing.

Director of Student Affairs Kaylee Szakacs said that the decision was a catch-22: she wanted to support Pride’s initiatives in anyway possible, but reiterated Ryan’s point that they had a duty to the students. Szakacs said she was “emotionally torn and mentally separated, but I have to speak for the amendment.”

Director-at-large Katrina Woollgar said that while the board did have a duty to its students, it also has a duty to the groups within the union. If Pride comes with specific requests of the board, Woollgar said, it would be hypocritical of the board to ignore that request while simultaneously saying it supported the collective’s operations.

UVSS General Manager Dale Robertson then explained that the union did have a certain amount of money — $34 000 — set aside in its elections fund that would cover the cost of a referendum.   

This was not known to the board members prior to the meeting.

Director-at-large Bernadette Peterson said that she couldn’t in good conscience speak for the amendment on financial grounds when the agenda included a motion to approve $10 000 for a frozen yogurt machine.

After some further back and forth between the board and Pride, Ryan withdrew his amendment, with apologies to everyone for putting them through the discussion. Chairperson Brontë Renwick-Shields made it clear to Nguyen that the board went into the meeting unaware of the money set aside in the elections fund. The motion to bring the referendum to students in November, as it was originally written, passed.

After a brief recess, the board decided to adjourn early as some members were visibly distraught. As the board got up to leave, Szakacs implored everyone to “just be nice to each other.”

An emergency meeting to discuss what was left on the agenda was set for next Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m.

The fate of the frozen yogurt machine was undecided.

Editor’s note: The emergency board meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 18, due to a scheduling conflict with the Unis’tot’en speaker series. This article has been edited to reflect the change.