Stop the Undemocratic ASU By-Law Changes

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Problem
In early 2018, the Acadia Students’ Union commenced a By-Law Review, led by ASU lawyer Tom MacEwen. The draft by-Law changes have now been released and it is clear that the recommended changes are highly undemocratic.

The changes include:

- Reducing the number of non-Executive Members by three (3), thereby increasing the influence and vote share of the Executive during important decisions. 

- Students can no longer initiate referenda by petition under the new bylaws. This leaves students without the opportunity to directly propose referendum questions for a campus-wide vote. 

- An international student representative is still missing and there has been NO meaningful movement on increasing diversity and inclusiveness on Council. Simply renaming an existing position and making it a hired position is not enough to increase the representation of minority groups on Council (including International students, Indigenous students, African Nova Scotian students, LGBTQ+ students, etc). 

- The SUB Renewal Committee is gone, reducing the influence of regular students in the future of the Students’ Union Building. Without a dedicated Committee, it is likely that any updates to the building will be conducted behind closed doors without the extensive public consultation that should be expected for such projects. 

- The powers of the Chief Returning Officer to conduct independent elections are reduced in favour of an Elections Committee which decides disciplinary action and handles appeals of these same decisions. For clarity, the same group makes decisions and handles appeals of their own decisions. 

- Union Media has no power to endorse candidates or positions while SRC members and staff are given the ability to support individual candidates or sides. 

- Unopposed candidates would be acclamed, meaning that they would automatically get their seat if they are the only candidate. This eliminates the ability for students to haves say in their representatives and combined with the removal of student impeach options, creates a highly undemocratic scenario where students cannot directly have a voice on these representatives. 

- Constituents cannot impeach their representatives. This was a feature of the current bylaws where students could impeach their representatives if first 35% of their constituents were sign a petition. It could then go to another meeting where the students present, assuming they get the requisite signatures necessary and a two-thirds majority, could impeach their representative. This exercise of direct democracy has precedent where Vice Presidents of the ASU were impeached in the early 2000s by their constituents. 

If the ASU claims to uphold the values of integrity, excellence, respect, community spirit, and the tradition upon which it was founded, it must address these problems as soon as possible. We have faith in our representatives to make positive change on behalf of the students they represent. Let us hope they act on it!

Solution
The Acadia Students’ Union (ASU) needs to take more time to study potential changes more in-depth to address systematic failures and opportunities to create a better Students’ Union. By taking more time to review the proposed changes and conduct grassroots consultations in the Winter Semester, we can ensure that any by-law changes reflect student values and perspectives and actually address the shortcomings of the existing governance structures of the Union.

Personal Story
My name is Oliver Jacob and I served as the Chairperson of the Acadia Students’ Union between May 2017 and April 2018 and Deputy Chairperson during the 2016/2017 academic year. During these terms, it was clear to me that there were elements of the Union that needed to be addressed. We enacted some strong reforms in 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 with an eye to making our organization more accessible for all students. However, it is evident that the ASU must do more to address chronic governance issues between the Executive and non-Executive members of SRC and the overall lack of diversity on Council. We can and must do better moving forward because that is what our students expect and deserve! 



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