By Joel McNally
A controversial referendum question squeaked past the University of Calgary Students’ Legislative Council and students now have another levy to vote on in March.
The levy will support the proposed Calgary Public Interest Research Group and, if approved, will require full-time students to pay $2 per semester 2004, when a sunset clause requires the levy to go to referendum again.
Several PIRGs are established around the country and in the U.S., and their mandate, as the name implies, is to pursue research and action initiatives free from private influence.
"It’s all about taking research out of the journals and making it meaningful to people’s lives," said CPIRG member Jeff Emmett. "Our politics are social justice and the environment."
The CPIRG referendum question generated a storm of debate in SLC on Jan. 15 and 22. Council members spent hours grilling members of PIRG about their purpose, constitution, and proposed levy. Reaction from SLC members ranged from approval to outright skepticism.
"I acknowledge that they’ve worked very hard to put together their constitution," said Clubs Chair Kirstyn Nay. "But I think they would have benefited greatly by expanding their club and attempting to put some of their ideas into practice before going to referendum. This way they would have had a more complete idea as to what problems and possible conflicts to anticipate."
Nay’s suggestion was proposed at the Jan. 22 SLC meeting by External Commissioner Nick Vuckovic. Some CPIRG members expressed the opinion that SLC members were not merely attempting to ensure that students got a fair question and a good deal.
"We feel that [SLC members] were being very personal and making very personal judgments and attacks," said Emmett. "They were very disrespectful."
Council members were worried about the conflicts within the CPIRG constitution, between such clauses as one indicating the society will not discriminate against anybody on any grounds and another stating that CPIRG will oppose any institution guilty of ‘systemic oppression.’
"What about if a religious group declined to enter into a dialogue with the Gay and Lesbian Association of Students and Staff on religious principles?" asked Nay of the CPIRG constitution’s assertion against discrimination on the basis of religion. "Would they then be guilty of systematic oppression?"
CPIRG members addressed this concern.
"Arbitration procedures are set out in the constitution though we hope that it never gets that far," said Emmett. "These are big questions to which nobody has quick answers."
Another concern for SLC was that the SU or U of C might be considered systematically oppressive because of financial relations with the federal government, a body that the attending CPIRG members stated was an example of a systematic oppressor because of their treatment of indigenous peoples.
More technical questions involved CPIRG’s model of consensus decision-making. Of particular concern was the constitutional provision for expelling members that impede the consensus process.
"How is having a contrary opinion different from holding up the consensus?" asked Academic Com-missioner Duncan Wojtaszek.
"There’s a lot of confusion about what consensus decision-making is," explained CPIRG member Tracy Pickup. "A lot of people think that it means a unanimous vote, which isn’t the case."
CPIRG’s trials are not over yet, however. At the Jan. 29 SLC meeting, a motion was put forward to reconsider council’s previous approval of the CPIRG question by Operations and Finance Commissioner Mark Counsell. The motion was tabled until the Feb. 5 meeting when quorum was lost due to a walkout by Wojtaszek, President Barb Wright and two commissioners.
CPIRG plans to approach the Graduate Students’ Association with a similar question for their general election.