Elections bring promises. Some are kept, some broken.
With three weeks until a new St. Thomas University students’ union executive is elected, it is time to examine the performance of the current executive on their promises before new promises are made.
The 2011 spring election had three main issues, all closely tied to money.
Both president Mark Livingstone and vice-president administration Mary-Dan Johnston campaigned on deficit reduction.
An economics major, Livingstone positioned himself as the one to bring the union out of yearly projected deficits.
He also promised to cut his pay by 20 per cent. He didn’t.
While planning for the 2011-12 budget, Livingstone said it was calculated a reduction in his $9,000 salary would put it below minimum wage and that other ways to cut the projected deficit were found.
But this year, new expenses arose, including $5,058 more this year to pay the 12 staff who unionized in the spring. Salaries make up 41.5 per cent of the STUSU budgeted spending.
The STUSU also ended up bearing the $10,000 cost of the yearbook, a sum Johnston and Livingstone wanted to transfer to alumni affairs.
Johnston explains this doesn’t mean the union will end the year with an actual deficit.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings about the budget,” she said.
“Some parts of our budget are contingency funds. Not a lot of people understand that and get up in a hubbub about, ‘Oh, there’s a deficit.’ Well, we make the money back,” she said.
Welcome week made money for the union and signing a contract with University of New Brunswick’s student union to use SafeRide saved STUSU about $3,000.
And not all budgeted money will be spent by the end of the year, meaning a projected deficit doesn’t necessary mean a real deficit.
The projected deficit as of Jan. 26 was just over $7,879.
“We won’t turn a deficit this year the way things are going and the budget we’re going to put forward for next year, I have full intentions of it being balanced,” said Livingstone.
A decrease in emergency bursary spending has also saved the union money. The last budget update had over $15,000 remaining for the year.
Johnston said the union shouldn’t just be looking to make cuts to save money. She said when she was first elected in 2009, there were outlines previously drafted to increase the student fee to raise more money.
The union raised just under $260,000 this year, funded from a $108 fee for full-time students and a $42 fee for part-time students.
“I don’t think it is sustainable to stay in a situation where student fees have been the same for six, seven, eight years while inflation has continued to go up.
“That’s something that needs to be considered, certainly,” Johnston added.
Vice-president education Craig Mazerolle made a review of STUSU membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a federal post-secondary education lobbying group, part of his platform. He’s kept true to his promise.
In the next few weeks, he will release a document outlining why he believes STUSU should start the process to leave CASA.
He said a vote to move to associate membership in the organization, the first step to leaving, could take place as early as Feb. 23.
Moving to associate membership means a reduction in the $5,000 membership fee STUSU pays CASA, and a loss of voting rights in the organization.
Livingstone said he wants the STUSU to remain a member of CASA and included it in his platform.
As for his post-secondary education lobbying promises, he points to his involvement with the province as the provincial budget is hashed out as keeping his pledge.
Another plank of Mazerolle’s platform was to establish a STUSU bookstore, an idea headed by former STUSU president and current off-campus representative Ella Henry.
Since the election, there has been no mention of the bookstore idea at council meetings and Mazerolle said the idea died as it wasn’t a priority for other elected members.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “I thought it could have worked.”
Both Livingstone and Alex Vietinghoff, vice-president student life, campaigned on improving campus life and holding more social activities. Both say the winter formal, held at the Crowne Plaza this year, was a huge success and other events such as pub crawls mean they have lived up to their promises.
One shared campaign promise was lobbying for improved city bus service.
Both Vietinghoff and Mazerolle say if UNB students vote in a referendum this year to approve a bus pass, it could lead to improvements in service, suggesting the addition of Sunday bus service.
UNB has held referendums since 1983 attempting to adopt a universal bus pass. In 2009, its 986 graduate students approved a pass.
If UNB does approve the bus pass, “students and campus would have such a higher stake; we could see either [a higher] frequency of buses coming through or more bus stops,” said Vietinghoff.
Mazerolle said there could be changes to STU’s bus pass next year. He suggested students who don’t use the service may be able to opt out.
There are a lot of promises the STUSU executive will have to fulfill in the remaining 83 days in office.
Livingstone promised improved transparency by putting financial records and meeting minutes online.
He also promised to have committee meetings published online within 24 hours of being approved. That hasn’t happened all year.
“It hasn’t been done. It should be done,” he said.
He promised to list online specific funding amounts given to clubs, societies, and other groups as well as post the monthly budget updates. That too, hasn’t happened.
Livingstone says this will all happen in the coming months now that a new STUSU website has been launched.
“It is important students know where their money is going,” he said.
Both Mazerolle and Vietinghoff want to work on lobbying the university as it starts looking at options for the cafeteria service contract. Mazerolle expects to start working on that later this semester.
What does Johnston want to do with the remaining term?
“Finish gracefully,” she said.
She is working on a transition package to help whoever takes office after her.
“No one has had a chance to get to know the position. It’s sort of selfish on my part for hanging on so long,” she said with a laugh.
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