The results of last week’s University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) byelection will be felt for years to come, with four newly elected directors and two brand new student fees set to be levied on top of existing tuition.
Although only two out of four positions were actually contested, the election saw Zach Fleisher elected as community liaison, Martha Terffa elected as international students director, former vice president internal Ava Jerao selected as business/economics director and Danielle Otto selected as the adaptive services director.
However, it was the introduction of two referendum questions proposing new student fees that raised the profile of the by-election, contributing to a 6.2 per cent voter turnout - more than double the turnout last year.
“There were more candidates and two referendum questions this year, which pretty much guaranteed that voter turn-out was going to go up,” said Andri Shchudlo, chief elections commissioner for the UWSA, adding that last year’s byelection turnout, which featured only one uncontested candidate, was roughly 2.7 per cent.
“It was a big deal, they were big referendum questions.”
The first question involved the introduction of a $30 per semester levy by the University of Winnipeg to help fund a new athletic field house on Spence Street, which will include a full-scale recreation complex and approximately 300 in-door parking stalls, all linked to the burgeoning faculty of Kinesiology and Wesmen athletics program.
The proposed levy passed with 335 votes and 57.5 per cent support.
Lloyd Axworthy, president and vice chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, described the referendum as crucially important for the future of the project.
“It was really the last piece in putting it together,” said Dr. Axworthy, adding that the fee already levied for the Duckworth fitness centre was the primary model for the new field house levy.
The $30, per term fee will go toward operating costs in the long-run while bolstering $15 million from the province as well as $2 million from the City of Winnipeg for construction.
With the student levy, the field house will be largely free to access, just like the Duckworth Centre gym, said Axworthy, adding that he hopes to table a long-term business plan for approval by the board of regents as early as November.
“The entire package, between the government grants, the revenue base that will come in through parking and concessions ... and the student fee, will also cover the operating costs,” he said, adding that construction will begin in the spring of next year and will be completed before the summer of 2013.
The second referendum question involved a 75 cent, per student annual fee to help fund the UWSA’s Positive Space Program, which is slated to work toward the “elimination of oppression” on campus.
The program, which was previously the responsibility of the UWSA LGBT Centre and Womyn’s Centre, was awarded the 75 cents with 460 votes and 77.8 per cent support.
“It arose from frustrations from both the Womyn’s Centre and the LGBT Centre about workloads,” said Lauren Bosc, UWSA president.
“The program isn’t necessarily just about sexuality, it’s about saying racism exists on our campus, ageism exists on our campus…and that all of those things can be addressed through this program.”
Although one of the primary goals of the program is to create gender neutral washrooms in order to address the marginalization of transgendered students, Bosc hopes to incorporate other forms of awareness into the program, adding that the majority of the levy will go toward a designated positive space coordinator.