TCSA Board Votes to Suspend Membership Rights to Referenda Petitions in Spring 2019 Election

I am a member of the Trent Central Student Association.

On November 18, 2018, the TCSA Board of Directors unanimously voted not to accept referenda petitions from their membership concerning new levy fees for the spring 2019 election. And this is a big deal. Bear with me here while I provide some context.

Levy fees are part of a system, created by Trent students, to support organizations and projects that are unassociated with the TCSA. These organizations include Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, the Trent Vegetable Gardens, and the Seasoned Spoon, to name a few. TCSA members can petition for referenda to increase, decrease, create, or defund a levy fee. It’s a two-part system: the petition process and the vote itself. A petition is a written request to our board to take an action. And some petitions are binding: the board has to follow through on them.

A successful, binding petition is no small feat to pull off. According to our Bylaws (section XIV.9), we as members need to get 10% of the whole membership (the undergraduate student body) to sign a petition. That’s over 800 signatures, with pen and paper, addresses and student numbers. The people signing believe in the cause enough to bind the TCSA Board of Directors to put the question to the rest of the membership for a vote.

It’s one of the most democratic processes we have. And the results are often wild.

Sometimes successful petitions to create new fees fail miserably when it comes to voting. Sometimes levy fees are defunded. Some referenda questions are decided in landslide votes of the membership, and some by single percentage points in tiny quorums.

It’s exciting. But more than that, it is our right as members to participate in these democratic processes.

We have the right to submit binding petitions for referenda to our Board of Directors. We also have the right to submit binding petitions to change a bylaw, to overturn a board decision, and to determine our Association’s stance on an important issue, like a boycott.

If the TCSA Board can suspend our democratic right to submit a binding petition for a referendum on one clause, then what stops them from suspending it on another?

This decision to ignore the bylaw means that the TCSA Board would willingly ignore the signed request of hundreds of members. Past petitions have had over a thousand signatures. Does our voice not matter?

The November 18 resolution is also a clear contravention of our bylaws, and the decision rendered our Board of Directors vulnerable to costly legal action. They failed to consult a lawyer prior to the decision.

They have consulted one now and I’m glad.

As I type, a new motion has been placed for the Board to backtrack from their initial decision. Perhaps a public memo will hit social media soon, clarifying that the Board of Directors merely discourages members from exercising their rights in the association. It’s a cold comfort.

I never wanted to initiate a new levy fee this spring. I want my rights as a member to be respected by my elected representatives without having to shame them first.

Whether the decision is overturned or not, a Board that is willing to suspend our rights, however briefly, needs to be watched and held accountable.

Elections are fast approaching. We are watching now.