About That Referendum

So the fee referendum passed, and that’s the only thing that really matters. The bylaw changes were important, but not urgent in the same way. The AMS would have been really, really screwed if the fee question failed.

(I haven’t tired of watching the last 30 seconds of this video, by the way. Especially my epic “woooooooo.”)

Now, is it true that YES side could have been run better? Unquestionably. Is it true that most AMS councilors put a minimum amount of effort into preventing the bankruptcy and/or dismantlement of the society that they are on the board of directors of? Indubitably. And it’s a shame.

But I want to address the comments made in this part of the Ubyssey article:

Nick Frank, who headed the No campaign that opposed the fee restructure and the by-law changes, said that he was disappointed in the way that the AMS framed the discussion around the referendum.

“I honestly felt at the beginning of the election it was completely one sided. Our referendum was completely without discourse [which] requires more than one person. There was one side there was no back and forth discussion, no disagreement,” said Frank.

“I [just] wish I had 387 made more friends.”

Koehn said that she thought the No campaign’s contribution to the dialogue about the referendum was positive.

“I’m glad that someone felt that the AMS needed to not just talk the yes side and provide information and that encouraged us to put information out there,” she said. “In the end it was his right and he made us run a better campaign.”

Right, so a few points here.

1. Frank’s assertion that there was no disagreement on the AMS side of the referendum is batshit crazy, and yet more evidence that he has no clue what he’s talking about. The AMS in fact spent far, far too many hours debating every single aspect of the referendum, constantly moving 25 cents here and there from different fees to try and get the right balance. I remember the meeting where Ben Cappellacci, who was chairing the referendum committee, tried to pull his hair out because he was so frustrated over how often things were being changed. Every time we thought we were agreed on something, that agreement would fall apart at Council.

2. It’s equally crazy for Frank to make it seem as if he was waging an uphill battle. The AMS was asking students to give more money; Frank was telling students to keep their money. Pretty sure the uphill battle is on the AMS side here.

3. Alyssa is unfailingly nice, and I grudgingly admire such people (the EUS president, Amanda, is similar in this respect), but please: don’t say that Frank’s contribution to this referendum was positive. Have you seen his website? You know, the one where he tell us that the AMS, and Jeremy in particular, is backing this referendum because we’re so greedy and power-hungry? That this is about a bigger salary for Jeremy? That our health and dental plan has been endangered? The NO side didn’t just include falsehoods and character assassination; it was entirely founded on them.

It’s this last point that’s most important. And the lame response of so many people on the YES side to Frank’s lies and rhetoric really frustrates me.

A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoes, said Mark Twain. And he was right.  I’ve had to deal with this over and over again in my writing on Afghanistan. Someone will tell a bald-faced lie, but they’ll state it confidently enough that unless it’s corrected, it becomes the received wisdom.

Do not let the lie stand unchallenged. Bullshit must be called out as such.

For example, here is what Frank wrote on his website (and was running around campus telling anyone who would listen):

The most notable point is that all the fees are tied in together, so student can’t pick and choose different recipients that they care about. This forces all the groups benefiting from the funds to push for it within their network. In the end,the total fees added up to $19/student, which was considered to be too much to be appealing. So, the AMS decided to transfer $14 out of the Health and Dental plan to these new funds, in order to reduce the fee burden to $5, which it considered to be more appealing to students, although if you are one of the more than ten thousand students that opt out of the insurance plan, you have to pay the full $19.

Now, this shift of funding severely exposes our Health and Dental plan coverage tothe risk of being cut substantially in the future. The AMS says it has negotiated a deal with a new insurance provider to provide coverage at a lower cost. And we are grateful for that, but instead of shifting the savings to vague funds, we want the AMS to continue to put the rest of the fees into the designated reserve fund for Health and Dental Plan – just as it did in the past when it found savings. AMS negotiates the cost of insurance on a yearly basis based on the students’ usage every year. In years when students use a lot of their coverage, the insurance company asks for more payment the following year or asks that AMS to reduce students’ coverage amount. When AMS had a reserve, it protected students’ coverage by paying out of that reserve. But if the new structure passes, it will have to cut students’ coverage in some years.

So, ignoring the poor construction of nearly every sentence, how many fallacies and falsehoods can you spot in there?

In the first paragraph, the clear message is that in order to make the fee increase seem smaller, we slashed the health and dental fund. That is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. We received the same coverage for a lower rate because we switched to a local, non-profit provider. We would have made that switch regardless of whether there was a referendum.

In the second paragraph, notice the slimy way in which Frank phrases this: “The AMS says it has negotiated a deal with a new insurance provider to provide coverage at a lower cost.” Well, Frank: have we or haven’t we? Stop playing around with weasel language, and tell us whether we really do have the same coverage or not. Unless, of course, you’ve done fuck-all for research, and have no clue what changes have actually happened to the insurance.

It’s not just that the AMS “says” we’ve moved to a new provider who gives us the same coverage for a lower cost; we have done that. That’s all there is to it. And if you don’t have evidence to prove otherwise, stop making it seem like you do.

And then, most egregiously, Frank tells us that the AMS is no longer transferring money into the reserve fund “as it did in the past when it found savings.” This is just false. The reserve fund is still there, and in fact may have more money put into it this year than it did before.

I haven’t even gotten into the preposterous anti-Jeremy video he made, or his claim that 500 AMS hacks were going to collude and hijack the Annual General Meeting. Even if there were 500 hacks, the notion that they would all get together and agree on something is laughable. Get 5 hacks into a room, and you’ll have 5 different arguments within a few minutes (and those arguments will usually be phrased in the most pompous manner possible.)

In a referendum that absolutely had to be passed to ensure a viable student union for years to come, Nick Frank decided to go around campus lying to students in order to stop it. Why the hell would any AMS councilor, or anyone who cared about the AMS, treat him with kid gloves? I wrote a letter to the Ubyssey that called him out for the smear campaign he was running (you can see it on page 5 here), and in response one councilor told me to “be nice; he’s entitled to his opinion.”

Don’t be nice to people who are going to all kinds of slimy depths to sabotage you. Grow a backbone, and stand up for yourself. Sheesh.

Now, before you interject, let me make this clear. It’s not like I expect everyone to just go along with what the AMS wants. If you want to advise people not to pass the referendum, you can do it in ways that don’t require lies. Neal Yonson basically did that, with his post at UBC Insiders. It carried the guise of being “unbiased”, but was written in a way that clearly cast aspersions on everything the AMS was doing (see my comment underneath his post for an example of this.) But Yonson used clear numbers that readers could understand, and never tried to lie and smear other people to convince you to vote a certain way.

(Yonson’s post was also followed by an excellent post by Laura Rodgers which outlined all of the issues at stake and why it was important to vote yes. If you ever get frustrated by the fact that Yonson hardly ever takes a clear position on anything, you’re not the only one.)

So look, I don’t want to rehash any of the insane arguments that flew around during the referendum. The fee referendum passed, thank God, and now we can all move on.

But the next time the AMS is faced with someone as persistently villainous as Frank was in this campaign, I hope it handles that situation much better than it did this time around. The idea that we need to “respect” the NO campaign, when the NO campaign is full of lies, is ludicrous. It’s suicidal to let someone get away with that crap, and it was almost fatal to this referendum.



1 Comment

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One response to “About That Referendum

  1. Neal Yonson

    Not much point in rehashing all of it after the fact, but I dispute that my post was anti-referendum. I am, and always have been pro-information, which is something I have already written about in the referendum context when the CUS building fee vote was happening. (http://ubcinsiders.ca/2010/03/how-the-cus-has-failed-its-voters/)

    If people within the AMS take issue with the way the fee information was provided, they easily could have (and one of the main points of my article was that they SHOULD HAVE) provided that information to voters themselves.

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