PIRG on the prowl

By Editorial

Around this time of year, the Students’ Union gears up for its general elections. Now, before we lose you at the word “election,” consider that this year’s ballot box will be bursting at the seams with referenda questions. Unsurprisingly, not all of groups vying for your money deserve it. Not yet, at least.

It seems the SU shares these concerns. One of these little questions garnered a marathon five-hour debate at the Students’ Legislative Council meeting on Jan. 22, lengthening the meeting until 2:30 a.m. At this week’s Jan. 29 meeting, several councilors defiantly left the table when Operations and Finance Commissioner Mark Counsell attempted to bring the issue back to the table. Oops! No quorum.

You want controversy? We got controversy.

Enter PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group of the University of Calgary. If approved in the upcoming referendum, PIRG will receive $2 per full-time student per semester. While the levy allows the uninterested to opt-out, the remaining might put somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100,000 per year into PIRG’s waiting hands. According to PIRG’s mission statement, the money will go to organizing the Calgary community around issues of public interest.

SLC approved the referendum question by only a slim majority during that bloated meeting last week. It is now up to the voting population to decide whether or not to shell out for what U of C PIRG wants.

Do they deserve it?

Last year, the Gauntlet supported the idea of a PIRG at the U of C. Some of us still do, and students voiced their approval during last year’s plebiscite. PIRG’s initiatives sound promising, warm and fluffy in their utopian state. Essentially, it’s a corps of volunteers working towards a better world. However, there remain several concerns PIRG must address in this world before it deserves student money.

First of all, the majority of voting students felt that $1 per semester would have been appropriate for the initiation of PIRG. The current question calls for $2 per semester. Little substantiation has yet to be offered for doubling the amount of money that PIRG requires other than that more money would be "nice."

Sorry, but thousands of dollars must be well accounted for before they are well deserved. It isn’t apparent how more money will translate into successful PIRG initiatives. They should start smaller, prove themselves, and work upwards.

Which brings us to our next concern: PIRG has yet to present any semblance of information to the Gauntlet, the SU or otherwise, regarding a budget. Right now, it appears that we could be handing thousands of dollars to a headless organization run by consensus-a supposedly democratic yet inanely slow-moving decision-making process. And what of the causes this money is used to support?

Although PIRG calls itself non-partisan, it is apparent to any observer that PIRG members will march alongside G-8 activists in Kananaskis this June. Not all students agree with activism and its derivatives, yet their money might be directed towards funding five days of pine-fresh tear gas this summer, or some other globalization showdown in the world. Is this the case? Will these students remember to opt out?

It seems students are ready for a PIRG, but is PIRG ready for itself? This is a question yet to be answered, and we invite them to clarify these concerns for students before their vote comes to bear. We promise not to use tear gas.

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