Day students Danielle Noble and Lindsey Ward would take advantage of the newly renovated canteen -- if it ever opens. Photo: Sarah Kraus

Commentary

KSU’s reputation tarnished by canteen blunder

Error in referendum question was a silly, but costly mistake to make.

comments(9)

The King's Student Union's oversight in the canteen referendum question not only makes them look unprofessional, it also calls the validity of the project into question.

I was initially impressed by the work that people within the KSU, such as Gabe Hoogers, Anna Dubinski, and John Adams, did to develop a business plan and get the ball rolling on the canteen.

But when 15 members of the KSU pass a vote on the referendum question and everybody forgets to remove the part about collecting a $14 levy this year, it undermines the effort.

Are King's students having the wool pulled over their eyes?

The cynical among us might wonder: what if KSU Chair Dave Etherington actually does know the results of the vote and that, upon discovering that the referendum failed, took the $14 levy mix-up as a golden opportunity to void the results and give the KSU another kick at the can?

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KSU Canteen Referendum

Etherington's council ruling

"Whereas it is impossible to collect a levy for the 2011/2012 academic year, and whereas the question presented to the genreal membership was out of order, I hereby declare the results of said referendum to be void."

While there is no evidence to believe this is the case, after Etherington opted not to release the results of the original referendum, and then voided it completely this past weekend, it opens the door for skeptics to theorize.

If the canteen referendum did in fact fail the first time, and pass the second time, it won't look good for the KSU.

In an email sent out via the King's listserv yesterday, Etherington says the embargo on the results of the initial referendum will expire on Feb. 5. So students should know the results within the next three weeks.

This means the chances of the conspiracy theory being true are minimal, at best. It would be too easy to get caught.

Was voiding the referendum really necessary?

I understand how releasing the results immediately could have biased council's ruling on the "procedural error." However, if the only problem is really that collecting the $14 levy is impossible this year, then I disagree with Etherington, who declared the initial referendum null and void, and the councilors that failed to overturn his ruling.

The formal explanation given to students is that the error misled voters, and broke the spirit of the referendum.

But as a King's student, I too have a vote. And knowing that I don't have to pay $14 this semester really is not going to change my vote whatsoever. (For full disclosure, I should add that I voted in favour of the KSU's proposal to run the canteen.)

Holding another referendum, especially so soon after the first (a week later), is redundant. It alienates the student body, which is once again facing a barrage of posters, emails and Facebook group invites about the merits of the student-run canteen as the KSU attempts to re-interest people on the issue.

I've been asking fellow students what they think of the whole mess, and fourth-year Lindsey Ward says the levy question "is just semantics" and she's tired of waiting for a canteen to open. I agree.

Don't let the politics get in the way of the issue at hand

I got my first peek into the renovated canteen today and I must say it is undoubtedly the most beautiful space in the Arts and Administration building. Shiny, new and spacious, it will certainly be a hit with students - no matter who is operating it.

I voted in favour of the KSU's canteen after I learned that the investment wasn't quite as risky as I initially thought. If the canteen struggles to sustain itself and ultimately fails, the university will return the $75,000 the KSU is paying them to use the space and cover the costs of renovations. That means we are only really gambling with about $20,000 of start-up money.

I also support environmental sustainability wholeheartedly, so if Sodexo wasn't willing to incorporate more local and organic options into the canteen, I applaud the KSU for stepping up to do so. It speaks volumes about what we value here at King's.

At the end of the day, I do believe a student-run canteen is a worthy venture to support. However, these mixups have left the KSU walking a fine line with people's trust. The union can't afford any more hiccups the second time around.

Comments on this story are now closed

I won't deny that the union made an error, and that trust is a delicate matter with any political organization, but as a councillor or vice-president for the King's Students' Union between 2007 and 2010--including serving on two executives with Dave Etherington--I can assure you that the fear of the cynics is way off-base. I say that not just because Dave's a very principled, very procedural-minded guy (and his work on the exec proves it) but also because the chair actually doesn't conut the vote. The only people that know the result are the five-to-eight people chosen by the KSU's spring general meeting to be the elections committee, as well as the chief returning officer who chairs that committee in counting the votes. Ultimately, this is a matter of careful transparency being confused for bureaucracy. I'm not saying that it doesn't truly suck it's taking so long, in layman's terms, but I think down the road, when students look back at the canteen's history and they know the people making that happen were meticulous, waiting is a decent price to pay. Besides, if anything, I think that journalists need to be just as accountable for not spotting the textual error, also, but that's some off-the-point editorializing and in case anyone thinks otherwise, is not intended to call anyone out.

Posted by Adrian Lee | Jan 18, 2022

I am responding to this article as the Chief Returning Officer for the King's Students' Union. I am extremely offended on behalf on the KSU for the simple suggestion that the KSU is trying to rig this referendum. I can assure you that I have remained unbiased throughout this process as is required of me. An example of this is when I was writing up information pamphlets to be posted at the voting booth. I used detailed notes that were taken at the discussion before the voting and compiled them into a "Why should you vote yes?" and "Why should you vote no?" section, along with additional information that was requested at the discussion. Last night at the second discussion for the referendum these pamphlets were appreciated by a King's student, Wes Petite, when he said: "I really appreciated the information presenting an objective basis on which to make the decision... The separate, unbiased platforms enabled the students to make informed decisions" Neither the KSU Chair nor the executive know the results of the last referendum. I haven't even told the Internal Coordinator the results, who would be able to tell the potential suppliers of the King's Galley a yay or nay. I have respected the decisions made by the chair and by the council of the KSU and kept the results completely secret. Only myself and the two members of elections committee who were present at the counting are aware of the results. The other four members of elections committee don't even know. The results of the previous referendum will be posted after the results of this referendum come in attempts to avoid the possibility of students voting based on the last referendum. The decision to hold this referendum so close to the first one was based off of the idea that we would be able to run off of the momentum of the previous one. Additionally, in holding the referendum this week the delays for opening a canteen, be it run by the KSU or Sodexo, will be limited. In closing, I take my position as CRO as an extremely important one. Especially when the future of large sums of money given to the KSU by the students is at hand. The last thing that I would want is to do is jeopardized the legitimacy of the voting procedure and the King's Students' Union

Posted by Stephanie Duchon | Jan 18, 2022

Maybe I'm wrong here but it doesn't seem like you consulted anyone who was in council for the decision to hold a repeat referendum -- you would have found that it was not an easy decision, nor was it unanimous. You would have also found (as pointed out above) that no one, I repeat NO ONE, voting on this decision knew the results of the original referendum and that the justification behind it was to ensure total transparency and respect for both the students and the procedure. Frankly, I'm disappointed. I understand it's a "commentary" piece, but it would have been easy, fair and beneficial to both the story and the community to get the facts first.

Posted by Emilie Novaczek | Jan 19, 2022

I have purposefully stayed away from this canteen issue and my comment pertains to the writing of the article itself. The writing is a bit opaque, with tenses mixed up in places (i.e. "If the canteen referendum did in fact fail the first time, and pass the second time, it won't look good for the KSU."). The argument gets a bit circular when the author begins to talk about what cynical people would say, and then goes on to describe some events and concludes that how things were handled would leave people skeptical. Ultimately, the lack of clear and concise writing here makes the issue less accessible for "outsiders," non-King's students or King's alumni.

Posted by Stephany | Jan 19, 2022

I agree with what Emillie said above. It doesn't seem like your article was informed by anyone on council, or elections committee. The fact is that the alternative to voiding the results of the first referendum would be turning a blind eye on the error. I appreciate the fact that there are different opinions on the issue, and your article definitely approaches it from a controversial angle. But the vote to accept the ruling of the chair was absolutely not unanimous, so there are different opinions even on council. But differing opinions aside, I believe that Dave's ruling allowed the council a moment to humble themselves and do something admirable. It is not easy to admit that a mistake has been made and then own up to it and try to make it right. But when that is achieved, it is the epitome of integrity.

Posted by Braeden Jones | Jan 19, 2022

I have to agree with Emilie and Stephany. It's sloppy writing and fact-checking (and photo-taking if I'm going to be really scathing. Hello using other journalism students.) Hiding behind "the cynical among us might think..." is passively constructed, sheepish writing. There was no way the chair or council could have known what the results were and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and shows the author was paying little attention.

Posted by another king's kid | Jan 26, 2022

"Ultimately, the lack of clear and concise writing here makes the issue less accessible for "outsiders," non-King's students or King's alumni" Give the author a break. We're not all intimately entwined with the oh-so-exclusive King's community. All she's doing is introducing doubt, which is something commonly done by journalists. And seriously, does the KSU not appreciate critical thinking, the cornerstone of a university education? P.s. Pathetic that it only took 25% for a vote to count, the King's Community is larger than the KSU and friends.

Posted by King's Kid | Jan 25, 2022

I'm all for critical thinking and just like any institution, the KSU needs and thrives under the healthy criticism that keeps us active, transparent and accountable. All I'm asking for is that our journalists recognize their responsibility to fact-check before publishing.

Posted by Emilie Novaczek | Jan 26, 2022

As a student who went through many of the journalism classes and a lot of time trying to understand the election process at King's, I have to ultimately agree with Emilie with just one things to add: To the point "that it only took 25% for a vote to count". We are incredibly fortunate to have a quorum as high as that, at most universities it only takes between 3% and 5% of the student population to pass a vote. I recommend that King's Kids understand a little more about student politics before they pass that kind of judgement.

Posted by Siobhan O'Beirne | Jan 30, 2022