UMSU members voted “yes” on all four questions posed in the referendum which ran from April 7 to 9.
The questions of adopting Studentcare’s legal protection program, joining the Manitoba Alliance of Post-Secondary Students (MAPSS) and joining the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) were all binding, with the question of continuing the U-Pass program being non-binding.
Voter turnout was 2,558 voters out of a possible 24,735 — 10.3 per cent. Turnout for the recent UMSU general election was almost double that at 20.4 per cent, or 5,045 out of 24,735 possible voters.
“I am very pleased and more than excited to see that students voted ‘yes’ to all four referendum questions,” said UMSU president-elect Brendan Scott.
Legal aid for students
Students overwhelmingly voted yes — 79.3 per cent — on the question of adopting Studentcare’s legal protection program at the price of $28 per student which can be opted-out of.
The program offers lawyers for housing, employment and academic disputes as well as up to $1,000 in experts’ fees per year. Also offered is access to a legal helpline which would provide “expert advice” on all legal situations.
On the question of whether to join the newly created MAPSS at no additional cost to students, 87.7 per cent of UMSU members voted “yes.” Scott said that since there is no additional cost, formally joining MAPSS is “pretty much already taken care of.”
UMSU has already participated in campaigns and advocacy work through MAPSS including recent advocacy around Bill 33 — the controversial Advanced Education Administration Amendment Act.
In late 2020, MAPSS also participated in a lobbying week in which the group met with ministers and other stakeholders culminating in a request from provincial Minister of Finance Scott Fielding to produce a budget proposal.
The next question was regarding UMSU officially joining CASA at no additional cost to students. UMSU members overwhelmingly voted “yes” with 86.6 per cent.
In 2018, then-UMSU president Jakob Sanderson endorsed joining CASA as an alternative to the Canadian Federation of Students.
Earlier this year, the UMSU board of directors voted to discontinue membership in the federation — for the second time in two years.
UMSU still needs to get a petition signed by 15 per cent of UMSU’s membership, then hold a referendum on the question of leaving the federation before finally ratifying the results with the national body of the federation.
Concerns regarding the possibility of a lawsuit arising from attempts to leave the federation — earlier in the 2010s, UMSU was embroiled in a lawsuit with the federation over ownership of a website and withheld feeds, in 2016 UMSU was ordered to pay close to $1 million — have been assuaged by the president of the federation’s Manitoba branch Brenden Gali, stating earlier this year that the federation is not interested in legal action against student organizations.
“Ultimately, […] when student organizations and national organizations feud, nobody wins,” he told the Manitoban in January.
“Being able to officially join MAPSS and CASA will better aid UMSU in our advocacy efforts,” said Scott.
UMSU members narrowly voted in favour of the non-binding question on whether to continue the U-Pass program at the cost of $208 per semester per student. The result was 67 per cent voting “yes” against 33 per cent voting “no.”
The plebiscite was put to a vote “to gauge [students’] desire for this new U-Pass rate,” according to the UMSU website. Last year a referendum to continue the U-Pass at the cost of $160.75 per semester was approved before the City of Winnipeg sought to cut the program altogether.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U-Pass was not active this last year. Scott said that work will begin on implementing the decision next winter semester, although gaining approval from the UMSU board of directors will be done before that.
“It’s great to know that the [U-Pass] program is still wanted by students even at its increased price,” said Scott. “We look forward to signing a new […] contract now knowing that it is desired.”
“I am also pleased by the amount of students that voted in the referendum, as we near the end of the semester it is nice to see the engagement on these important matters.”