The Saskatoon Public Interest Research Group sought to call a referendum for the implementation of a dedicated student fee, which would fund the creation of a social science-oriented campus research organization independent of the U of S Students’ Union. The group has been circulating a petition in support of the effort that has over 1,200 signatures since Nov. 6.
“The USSU came back and said that because we’re a third party, as SPIRG would be seen, the USSU cannot hold a referendum for us or collect fees for us,” said Amanda Guthrie, a SPIRG representative.
According to USSU bylaws, a referendum can be held if a petition containing the signatures of five per cent of the student population is presented to council. The SPIRG petition had approximately 15 per cent of the U of S student population when it was presented to USSU council on Feb. 6.
However, USSU President Max FineDay said according to the bylaws only the University Students’ Council can levy new student fees.
“Unfortunately, pursuant to USSU bylaws, there can be no public referendum when you’re bringing in a new fee,” FineDay said. “It doesn’t matter that they got 1,300 signatures. Only council can call a referendum to bring in a new dedicated student fee.”
Amanda Bestvater — another SPIRG representative — said they had read the bylaw, but were not aware it could be interpreted in a way that would lead to the USSU stopping their referendum. The SPIRG group believed they were doing everything right — and say they were being led to believe they were — until a recent meeting with the USSU lawyer who would oversee the referendum.
“We acted as best as we could based on the advice we were given by the USSU and administration numerous times. We explained our plan so many times and had people say ‘Good luck with that’ and then at the end say, ‘Oh, you did the wrong thing,’” Bestvater said.
Both FineDay and Bestvater said that communication between the USSU and SPIRG could have been better through the referendum planning process.
“I think there were some failures in communication on both sides about what the goal was and what the bylaw rules are,” FineDay said. “This is new to the USSU — not only to the executive, but to all of campus. I think very few folks know what a SPIRG is and I think we both could have done a better job of communicating what the idea was and what the goal was.”
FineDay added that the accessibility of the USSU’s bylaws might be something the executive needs to consider in the future. FineDay’s idea was mirrored by Guthrie.
“I think the bylaws could be a bit more thorough in what they’re stating or who they’re applicable to … When students have questions about bylaws, a good meeting should take place with representatives of the USSU to make sure students are completely aware of everything in the bylaws,” Guthrie said.
SPIRG is currently deciding what the group’s next move will be, and Guthrie said they will likely continue to pursue the referendum through different channels.
“It’s looking like we’ll first have to incorporate as a non-profit under the Non-Profit Act of Saskatchewan and then approach the university and have the university hold a referendum for us,” said Guthrie.
Guthrie added that even though the group is no longer working with the USSU for the creation of SPIRG, they still want to be part of the U of S and see the USSU as an important ally on campus.
“They represent undergrads on campus and we see them as a great ally to serve undergrads, but we view ourselves as two organizations that can work together into the future — even if they can’t hold a referendum for us.”