Big turnout for Feds AGM, bigger decisions made

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The 2016 Feds March Annual General Meeting (GM) took place in SLC&rsquo;s Great Hall March 23 with the biggest member turnout in the event&rsquo;s history, according to Feds President Chris Lolas.</p>

The election of at-large members for the 2016-17 Feds board of directors, the Feds fee increase, and the proposal for a referendum to change the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group’s (WPIRG) fee collection structure were the highlights of the meeting.

Members attending the general meeting were given the opportunity to run for one of the five at-large positions available on next year’s board of directors. After members pitched their campaigns, ballots were casted and counted. The victors, in no particular order, were: Caleb Voskamp, Sacha Forstner, Fatema Hakimuddin Boxwala, Alexander Wray, and Jana Elkhatib.

Another major item on the agenda was the $1.35 Feds fee increase in addition to the previously approved 1.1 per cent increase due to the Consumer Price Index. Feds VP Stephane Hamade explained the fee increase would be beneficial to students since a new lobbyist position called the stakeholder relations officer would be created at Feds. The person in this position would continue improving resources for student financial aid, creating a better email system, improving transit, and dealing with other important issues at the university and government levels. The motion passed with 139 votes in favour and 50 votes against.

The most controversial item on the agenda was the motion to hold a referendum regarding the current WPIRG fee collection structure. Leading up to the general meeting, there was a lot of discussion about the topic from UW students on social media. Some of the main ideas shared during those discussions were brought up during the meeting to remind members of the causes each side was fighting for. After many speaking turns from both sides of the issue, the question was called and the vote took place. The motion failed with 157 votes in favour and 246 votes against.

Imprint was able to follow up with Opt-In UWaterloo and WPIRG after the general meeting to hear about their reactions.

“I was pretty happy with the voter turnout, it was definitely more than what we expected because of the amount of responses we were getting. It was really surprising to see the amount of people that came out to support us,” said Marcus Abramovitch, president of Opt-In UWaterloo.

 “It was an unbelievable turnout … I think we owe it to Opt-In supporters for coming out. I was really proud of how polite all the Opt-In supporters were, and that they stayed for the entire event,” said Kush Patel, organizer of Opt-In UWaterloo.

“We’re likely going to get a petition going, and there are a lot of candidates running for Feds council who are going to bring this issue to the table and try to see if we can push forward that way. It’s clear this is something students are interested in, just based on the GM turnout you can tell that this is something students care about,” Abramovitch said when asked what are the next steps of his movement.

“I don’t really think the turnout at the GM was very representative because I talked to a lot of people afterwards and a lot of them were telling me ‘I agree with you guys. I just don’t want to spend three hours wasting my time there just to get one vote in,” Abramovitch said. “Whereas the supporters of WPIRG have a very vested interest in keeping their automatic fee every term so they have a lot of interest in shutting down the referendum compared to those who would come out to support one.”

On the other side of the issue, Filzah Nasir, a member of WPIRG’s board of directors, had different thoughts on the voter turnout.

“The voter turnout was not surprising … Students have repeatedly and consistently shown that they support WPIRG and do not want a referendum on this issue.

“We hope that [Opt-In UWaterloo] will respect the democratic process and recognize that the student body has overwhelmingly voted against a referendum on this issue,” Nasir said.

When asked to clarify what an “opt-in” option would look like for WPIRG, Nasir said such an option does not exist.

“As was stated at the GM, there is no existing opt-in option for WPIRG funding. If the fee was removed from Quest, there is no process for WPIRG to collect funding.” 

Abramovitch said he and other members of his movement will continue to be active on their Facebook page throughout the spring term, and “hopes to have a referendum when all students return to campus in September.”

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