UVSS talks annual report, divestment at Semi-Annual General Meeting

Campus News
Screenshot via https://uvss.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/UVSS_2019_ANNUALREPORT_WEB.pdf

On Feb. 6, students met for the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) in the Vertigo lounge of the Student Union Building (SUB). To clarify (or confuse?), we are talking about the UVSS SAGM in the SUB.

The meeting was a relatively tame affair, mainly due to the fact that quorum (the  number of undergraduate students in attendance) required for most motions to be discussed and voted on (107 student society members) was never met.

The SAGM still proved fruitful, as UVSS Lead Directors reported on their respective portfolios, questions were asked by members of the audience about Divest UVic and the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG), and the UVSS Food Bank and Free Store provided an important update on their operations.

Following a 30-minute attempt to meet quorum, the meeting skipped passed all main motions to the director reports, where each Lead Director presented on their portfolio as part of the 2019 UVSS Annual Report.

Curtis Whittla, Director of Finance and Operations, noted that the UVSS’s deficit of $9 000 from the beginning of his tenure — down from $130 000 at the start of the 2017-2018 fiscal year — would be non-existent by the end of this fiscal year.

Whittla also spoke to the two-tiered health plan that was implemented during his time on the board, as a result of the referendum held last spring.

Ainsley Kerr, Director of Campaigns and Community Relations, highlighted several campaigns that she has furthered during her time as Lead Director. These included Rent With Rights, a campaign that lobbies for safe and affordable student housing on- and off-campus; ReThink Mental Health, a campaign that aims to de-stigmatize mental health and provide tools for self-care; Let’s Get Consensual, the joint campaign between the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and the UVSS focusing on consent training and education; and the student-run Peer Support Centre that was launched in the fall of 2018.

Isabella Lee, Director of Student Affairs, spoke about her involvement with the 175 active UVSS clubs this year, a new shared storage space for clubs and course unions, and the implementation of new technologies for improved organization.

Noor Chasib, Director of Events, spoke about some of the events he spearheaded over the year, including the Campus Kick Off in the fall of 2018 and the November reading break ferry shuttle with direct service from UVic to Swartz Bay. In fact, the ferry shuttle was so successful that Chasib announced at the SAGM there will be another shuttle on Friday, Feb. 15 for the February reading break.

Lastly, Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, Director of Outreach and University Relations, noted this year’s UVSS annual survey broke records with over 2 000 responses. He also reported on the success of the municipal elections outreach conducted by the UVSS, which included hosting debates for candidates from Saanich and Oak Bay. Angelblazer said that voter engagement doubled at the UVic polling stations compared to the previous municipal elections.

Ages said the spike in international students using the Food Bank and Free Store is a direct result of UVic’s international student tuition hikes.

Then came a report from Alexandra Ages, coordinator for the UVSS Food Bank and Free Store, who spoke positively about the successful referendum held last year to increase the organization’s student levy. With the increased funding, Ages said their outreach and community engagement campaigns have improved, adding that weekly attendance is approximately 300-500 students, 40 per cent of whom are international students. Ages said the spike in international students using the Food Bank and Free Store is a direct result of UVic’s international student tuition hikes.

Question period came quickly, with the first question asked by audience member Jonathan Granirer. Granirer asked the board how the decision came about to decide to put VIPIRG’s funding to a referendum — and why they chose to take the “most extreme action.”

Angelblazer responded, noting that this was “not actually the most extreme action.”

“First off, we can ask them to get better, which we did, and we saw that that didn’t happen,” said Angelblazer. “[The] second [option] is a referendum.”

Angelblazer added that the most extreme option would have been to withhold VIPIRG’s fee completely.

“[This] is done in instances when fraud is detected. For example that happened at the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa. So that is the most extreme option, and that is not what we decided to do here,” he said.

It is unclear whether the UVSS is legally allowed to withhold an organization’s fee without holding a referendum, as Angelblazer stated in his response, however this point was not questioned.

Audience member Ziggy Sveinsson had the next question for the board, pertaining to the UVSS’s role in addressing climate change.

“How will the UVSS hold up student voices and take a greater role in these politics and the solutions that we need to try and find, rather than just focusing on strictly campus-based things?” he asked.

Kerr responded, implying that there was little thus far the UVSS board had done to address these issues.

“Right now there’s not really a campaign about ecological topics,” said Kerr. “[There’s] Divest UVic but their status is somewhat unclear. For instance when I took on my role, they weren’t introduced to me as a UVSS campaign that was within my portfolio. But I was in contact with them a couple weeks ago, and [have started] talking with them a little bit about that.”

Audience member Dakota McGovern spoke next, asking the board about the proposed motion (that could not be motivated, discussed, or voted on because quorum was not met) that would see the UVSS no longer have to advertise their AGM and SAGM agendas in the Martlet two weeks prior to the meeting. This is at least the third time the UVSS board has tried and failed to put this through in recent years.

Angelblazer answered to this question, noting that the Martlet’s printing schedule was inconvenient when it comes to the UVSS advertising for these meetings.

“[What] happened [this time] was, we got it in three weeks ago to fit within our by-laws, but then what happened is obviously [the Martlet] printed a new edition, and so obviously all of the newspapers that would have had our [agenda] in them are now not there,” Angelblazer explained.

“The thing is,” Angelblazer continued, “if we decided that there’s something that we needed to talk about, say someone on the board [was] being violent or something like that, and we [needed] to impeach someone, or any other reason why we’d need to have a general meeting, then we would need to be able to have a short amount of notice.”

Another audience member then asked a question about the UVSS’s efforts pertaining to improved transit services from and to the UVic campus.

“[Is the UVSS] doing any further lobbying for improvements in the system or even for rail on the island here?” they asked.

Kerr answered, noting that the UVSS is not currently lobbying for rail options, instead highlighting the affordable summer bus pass that is likely to be implemented later this year.

“[B.C. Transit have] actually told us that they’re taking it to the commission and pretty much told us they’re going to get it. They’re pretty certain it will pass. So we’re already working on trying to create processes to let students purchase that, and apply it to their U-Pass,” said Kerr.

“[How can] continuity reports and continuity between student governments … be bettered in order to promote things like divestment being considered in future years?”

The last question came from Juliet Watts, a member of the recently re-invigorated Divest UVic group. Watts referred to the UVSS referendum held in 2015 where 77 per cent of participants voted in favour of divestment, and noted that the board hadn’t seemed to have lobbied in favour of the referendum results since that time.

“[How can] continuity reports and continuity between student governments … be bettered in order to promote things like divestment being considered in future years?” asked Watts.

Kerr took responsibility for any error in follow-through on the board’s behalf. “I personally apologize to you and the rest of Divest, because that’s no fun when [a lack of continuity is] affecting people’s abilities to lobby for something they’re passionate about,” she said.

Kerr acknowledged that continuity can be troublesome, as it depends on when the handbook for the position of Director of Campaigns and Community Relations is handed down from the predecessor to the current Lead Director.

“I was a little delayed in receiving mine,” said Kerr. “It depends on the individual creating and writing the handbook.”

Kerr added that the 2015 referendum about divestment was somewhat vague, noting there was no clear timeline for lobbying for divestment, and that the Director of Campaigns and Community Relations has a wide range of issues under its mandate.

“The campaigns account has lots of documents in it — so there’s a lot. It’s something that I have to consciously sit down and sort through, and … that’s something that I started doing a couple of weeks ago after being approached by Divest.”

At this, question period came to an end, as did the SAGM. Though quorum was never reached, the meeting proved to be an interesting hour-and-a-half with respectful questions, presentations, and reports.

The board meeting on Monday, Feb. 11 was cancelled due to snow, and a rescheduled date has not yet been announced. However, with UVSS elections now in full swing, our readers can expect articles on slates, debates, and UVSS updates in the weeks to come! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more information — we will be live-Tweeting debates, forums, and meetings as usual.