The Students’ Union is beginning a new initiative, stemming from the Student Events Initiative and the student spaces levy, that may become a plebiscite as part of the next general SU election.
During the October 8 Students’ Council meeting, the Students’ Union (SU) revealed what the next iteration of its plan to deal with the Students’ Union Building’s deferred maintenance would be. Called the Students’ Union Capital and Sustainability Fund, the SU is gathering preliminary feedback to shape the actual proposal.
The SU Capital and Sustainability Fund would be a student-supported fund supporting ongoing major capital renewal of SU spaces and sustainability initiatives. It will have three pillars of sustainability guiding all projects financed through the fund. These include environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
General Manager of the Students’ Union Marc Dumouchel said students would pay a fee contributing towards a permanent plan with periodic initiatives.
“This is not a fee for a project, but a permanent plan or fund,” he said. “If you are really going to plan and try to be sustainable, if you are really going to make a difference, you need to have a long time horizon. You cannot do that if you don’t know the money is going to be there.”
Examples of projects the fund would contribute towards are Horowitz Theatre renewal, Dinwoodie refresh, SUB main floor renewal, newer furniture for SUB, a solar power array for SUB, heat-loss abatement for SUB, and accessibility concerns within SUB. Further, he said this project would help the Students’ Union reach the goal of being carbon neutral within SUB by 2050.
He added that the intention is to have the proposal no longer be a capital plan.
“It is not a capital plan anymore,” he said. “It is a capital and sustainability fund where we dedicate… everything the fund does to one aspect of sustainability.”
The new proposal a continuation of past failed SU projects
Last year, the SU’s student spaces levy failed Council after a myriad of concerns based on transparency and due process. It also faced a judicial challenge from the Discipline, Interpretation, and Enforcement (DIE) Board. If it passed Council and a plebiscite, it would charge students a fee of $18 in the 2019-20 academic year, doubling annually until it reached $54 by 2021-22, aimed to renew spaces around campus that are not directly funded by government sources failed before it reached the plebiscite phase.
In 2018, the Students’ Union proposed the Student Events Initiative (SEI) as a way to tackle deferred maintenance and give grants to student groups to host events within SUB and at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. The SEI failed after students voted it down.
Bhatnagar said the failed SEI plebiscite counts as consultation. She said running a campaign during the election cycle and having students vote it down is the “biggest” consultation anyone could have given to the organization. Additionally, Bhatnagar said the fact Council voted the student spaces levy down offered more indicators of what students want in a proposal.
“This is our third iteration. We are using the same research, year after year,” she said. “But this is a new idea and plan.”
Dumouchel said the capital and sustainability fund — while utilizing plans, research, and ideas from past projects — is a different approach to solve capital issues.
“The SEI and Student Spaces Levy were different, with the SEI being a project-driven approach,” he said. “The levy was a problem-driven approach targeted at general needs or sets of problems… Now, we have a principle-driven approach based on values and long-time solutions.”
SU president hopes the capital and sustainability fund will be ready for this election cycle
Consultation sessions with students, faculty associations, a new SU committee with students and councillors, and more presentations to Students’ Council are already scheduled.
Bhatnagar said the SU must face the issue of deferred maintenance at some point and the problem cannot be pushed indefinitely. She added that the organization hopes for it to make it to plebiscite this year, but it will not be forced through if Council does not agree with it.
“I want to get this done in my term as president,” Bhatnagar said. “I will work hard enough to ensure this is ready to go for the election cycle but I also do not want to rush a process that is really important for students to give us their feedback on.”