In November, I pissed a few people off with a post on this blog. Lamenting the lack of meaningful debate taking place at University Students’ Council meetings, I wrote:
The longest debate I’ve ever seen take place in council chambers was over whether a separate debate was a taking too much time. When motions aren’t passed unanimously there are only ever a handful of dissenting votes, and I’ve rarely seen a motion defeated on the council floor.
In a healthy democracy, there are long debates about important topics, and motions are often passed or defeated with a visible divide among members. This is rarely an accurate description of the USC.
I still think those words were true when I wrote them. But today, I’m happy to say they are not.
Last night, for the second time this year, a USC meeting went past 4 a.m. Among other topics, the councillors debated the budget (it passed), a proposed three-year freeze on the USC’s base student fee (narrowly defeated) and a motion calling for mandatory service reviews (it passed).
This year’s council has displayed a quality of debate that I have never before seen in the USC. Last night, they spent two hours deliberating the principle of approving a $2 increase to the student fee. To some, that may seem pedantic, but in years past, such a motion would have elicited only a few token questions before passing overwhelmingly.
This year, however, we have seen many councillors take strong principled stances on important issues like student fees and governance structure. Last night, for example, FIMSSC president Jordan Coop was the first to speak on the topic of the budget. His opposition, he said, was ideological rather than pragmatic or specific. He announced that he could not support a budget that increased fees tabled by a council that talks so much about the affordability of education. Incredibly, other councillors shared this position, which is what led to such a long debate. I don’t mean to publicly agree or disagree with their position, but simply to say I think it’s fantastic that the position was taken at all.
Unfortunately, this apparent attitude shift hasn’t reached everyone—the councillor who spent an hour watching Survivor on his laptop during the budget debate last night, while sitting in front of four reporters (come on), comes to mind—but on the whole, this year I have seen informed and passionate debate from many councillors on both sides of every issue. It’s encouraging.
Did I want to sit in council chambers for nine hours last night, after a long day at school? Absolutely not—but neither did any of the councillors who stuck it out until 4 a.m. for the second time this year. That takes dedication. The slow pace of democracy within the USC can be infuriating at times, but at least it means that important decisions are being made with careful consideration.
So, I wish to congratulate this year’s councillors. They made some good decisions and they made some bad ones, as politicians do, but they made those decisions after some serious debates—and that’s a huge step in the right direction.