February 8, 2019 —
For the first time since 2014, students will be asked a referendum question when they vote in this year’s Students’ Union general election. The referendum asks whether to double the fee for Volunteer Services — but doubling it doesn’t amount to a lot. If it passes, full-time students will pay $1.50 and part-time students will pay $1 per semester towards Volunteer Services.
Currently, full-time students pay $23 in SU ancillary fees per semester. Part-time students pay $17.25. Of these amounts, full- and part-time students pay $0.75 and $0.50 per semester to Volunteer Services, respectively. It’s a paltry fee for some of the most valuable services offered by the SU on campus. And these fees are already some of the lowest in Canada.
If students vote in favour of the increase, the SU estimates an increase of $30,000 in revenue for Volunteer Services. This would increase the financial sustainability of the programs it offers, which have been under strain in recent years.
Volunteer Services run many programs on campus, the most notable of which include the campus food bank, the breakfast program, the information centre/lost and found, the Q Centre and the volunteer tax program. All of these programs provide tangible benefits to students, especially those who are under the most financial pressure.
The fee for Volunteer Services was created in 1991 when students voted in a referendum for its creation. Since then, the fee has remained at its original levels. A previous referendum in 2003 to raise the Volunteer Services fee by $1.50 failed to pass, with 63 per cent of students voting against the hike.
Seventy-five cents per student doesn’t go as far as it did in the early ‘90s. Due to inflation and the growing amount of programs offered by Volunteer Services since its inception, the current levy cannot sustain its programs.
Any proposal to raise student fees should be met with a critical eye, no matter how small the increase is. We deserve to believe that these fees add value to our campus.
The value Volunteer Services adds to our campus makes the levy increase worth it. This is especially true for the campus food bank, which is an integral program run on our campus. Given Calgary’s economic downturn, the campus food bank has been hurting in recent years, with donations plummeting and its reserve fund strained. The current $0.75 fee for Volunteer Services is already spread thin.
If the past is any indication on how students will vote, those campaigning for the increase have their work cut out for them, despite the meagre amount. Since 2010, students have voted in favour of a referendum only once, which was to increase the Refugee Student Program fee to its current amount. In 2014, a referendum to add $1 to the levy fee to CJSW, the campus radio station, failed. Not afraid to admit our loss, a 2013 referendum to increase the fee to the Gauntlet by $0.25 for full-time students — only a quarter — failed, with 58 per cent of students voting against. It’s a hard sell to ask students to pay more, no matter how small the increase is.
SU elections are just over a month away. Still, it’s important to have these conversations now so students can make an informed vote when they head to the polls. A vote in favour of the fee increase is a vote to help ensure the programs offered by Volunteer Services can continue to help vulnerable students.
— Derek Baker, Gauntlet editorial board