Promoting change

A plebiscite question on the upcoming Students’ Union election ballot asks whether students support the implementation of a student-run Public Interest Group through an optional levy. PIRGs, already established in 18 universities across Canada, are non-profit organizations promoting student activism, research and social change.

The goals of the U of C PIRG include a resource library containing materials not usually carried by campus libraries, and a student-friendly space where individuals from various disciplines can meet.

SU Vice-president Operations and Finance Matt Lauzon is concerned that the PIRG mandate might overlap with the SU.

"One minor reservation I have is that the SU should be working on these issues as well, and shouldn’t download these responsibilities to one group. Hopefully the SU and PIRG can work together."

PIRG supporters Christy Hansen and Jeff Emmett believe there won’t be much overlap with the SU because PIRGs are not elected and want to work with agencies like the SU.

"PIRG is about [inclusion], not competition, and more than just dealing with issues in a classical administrative sense," said Hansen.

Students who think a PIRG is a bad idea would have the option to opt out if the PIRG goes to referendum next year.

"We would be operating on an optional levy, in the spirit of consensus," said U of C PIRG member Christy Bryceland. "Students have a choice if they do not want to support PIRG."

According to members, PIRG differs from a club because of the spectrum and scope of research they perform.

"The research mandate of PIRG is well beyond the mandate of a club," said Emmett. "Students would be allowed to research on a variety of social issues such as challenging racism, sexism and environmental issues, which is a huge thing."

Laura Atkinson, Volunteer and Media Coordinator for the Simon Fraser University PIRG, which recently received $65,000 to start a recycling program, said that PIRGs are more than left-wing think-tanks.

"The response to PIRG at SFU has been really great," she said. "We are not just a ‘radical’ organization. PIRG tries to have a mixture of people coming from different parts of the university community. We are finding that professors and students are coming to us."

Depending on the plebiscite results, U of C students could see a functioning PIRG within the next two years.

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