Referendum for Carleton University Student Union Building approaching ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ committees debate next week’s Student Union Building Referendum

The University Centre fourth floor atrium is abuzz with movement and noise. An array of two dozen chairs, the majority of them full, sit facing a single folding table. Behind this table sit the representatives of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ committees; Fahd Alhattab, Sophie Hayes, and Ruth Lau MacDonald.

On Nov. 30, 2016, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Jim Kennelly hosted a debate in Carleton’s University Centre to create a platform of discussion on the upcoming referendum regarding the creation of a new Student Union Building (SUB). The building would cost approximately $40 million and aims to create more study space, a common space for students, and a place for clubs and societies to meet.

The SUB would be built as a five or six floor extension onto the University Centre and would be completed sometime in 2020 or 2021. The plan of payment consists of students paying 50 per cent, the university paying 35 per cent, and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) would theoretically pay the remaining 15 per cent, although they have not yet agreed to do so.

The university would provide its portion of the money up-front to support the costs of building. Students would therefore not be required to pay until the SUB is complete and operational, at which point in time the students would be charged $40 a semester on a 30-to-35-year mortgage. This $40 levy is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and would grow with inflation to accommodate growth in production costs.

The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ committees were formed on Nov. 21, 2016, and each had a budget of $800 to spread the word on why their view was correct. The ‘Yes’ committee consists of president of the Carleton University Student’s Association Fahd Alhattab, David Andrews, Lauren Konalowski, and Abel Hazon—all members of CUSA. Their pursuit of the SUB, they claim, originates in their own interests and volition as students.

This point is contested in the debate by the ‘No’ committee, represented in the debate by Sophie Hayes and Ruth.

“With this referendum,” said Hayes, “CUSA is running the ‘Yes’ campaign and they’ve had a lot of advantages… They’re able to make their student-run businesses promote this. They have tons of informational materials that look nearly identical to the ‘Yes’ campaign materials.”

As mentioned earlier, each committee was given $800 to campaign their views. The school also budgeted a separate $5000 for the production of informational materials to be used by both sides, such as blueprints and brochures that describe the SUB and descriptions of its attributes. The ‘No’ committee argued that the informational aspects were too similar to the ‘Yes’ campaign materials.

The ‘Yes’ committee and Kennelly both disagreed with this claim. Kennelly explains that the difference between the two is obvious to anyone who reads the pamphlets. “You’re always going to fund some kind of rumours when you have a large group of people with differing opinions,” he said.

The argument for the ‘Yes’ committee revolved heavily around the idea of ‘value’. “Money is a tool used to create value,” says Alhattab, “So what is the value that students are getting [with the Student Union Building]? The value is recuperated.” He goes on to describe that the SUB will provide cheaper food options, free spaces that do not require rent, and will offer alternative options for catering, thus returning the investment of money by the students.

The ‘No’ committee countered with the argument that many of the issues that the SUB attempts to resolve can be looked at and resolved in other ways. “I see it as a Band-Aid solution,” said Hayes. She claims that rather than fixing the system, it is camouflaging the issues that lie beneath the surface.

The debate also featured an open microphone to any spectators that wished to pose a question to the committees. This feature will also be available Dec. 1, 2016 when the referendum holds its second and final debate at 12 p.m. in the University Centre. Kennelly encourages anyone who wishes their voice to be heard to come out and pose questions.

The referendum’s Writ reads: Do you support the building a Student Union Building (SUB) as an extension to the University Centre on campus, at a fee of $40 (attached to CPI) per semester – prorated for part time students – charged only when the building is complete and ready for use?

Students will be asked to vote via their CuLearn, student emails on the sixth or seventh of December. They will be offered the options of yes, no, and abstain. The referendum is open only to undergraduate students and requires a minimum of 15 per cent student participation to be considered viable.

“Progress only happens when people of today make decisions for people of the future,” said Alhattab, “When leaders take action and see the future of what can be, and make that happen.”
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