With a population of over seven billion, examining our role in combatting poverty at both an individual and societal level is becoming increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, on Sept. 16, the McMaster chapter of Engineers Without Borders invited students, politicians and citizens to hold an open discussion on the complex issue.
From foreign aid to student debt, the discussion that took place accentuated the complex issue of poverty as a societal issue.
Nine politicians running in the federal election were present at the discussion, representing all four of Canada’s major parties. Green Party candidate Ute Schmid-Jones believes the cycle of poverty begins with university and college graduates.
“We need to stop creating poverty. Students graduating with these terrible debts are a part of this poverty cycle,” said Schmid-Jones.
“Engineers Without Borders attempts to address the root causes of poverty and tries to create systemic change to help alleviate [it],” said EWB chapter co-president and fourth year Engineering student Nick Sully. The Q&A session was a part of EWB’s campaign, #PoliticsAside. “We should all care about the world’s poorest people, regardless of political affiliations. That’s essentially what the hashtag is about: that we should put politics aside and care about poverty,” explained Stephanie Neufield, third year Life Sciences student and event coordinator.
The spirit of Politics Aside manifested itself through the panel discussion that took place, where non-Conservative candidates across the board agreed on various strategies in fighting systemic issues that perpetuate poverty in Canada.
David Christopherson from the NDP vehemently rejected our institutionalization of food banks. “[They] need to go now,” he said. “The day needs to come that people don’t need them anymore because they have adequate funds to buy sufficient and nutritious food for them and their families; that’s the way we need to see food banks.”
Liberal candidate Filomena Tassi said food security issues are “something that cannot be ignored, nor can they be fixed by food banks. We need to give individuals the structural support to be able to pull themselves out of poverty.”
“I think we need to figure out ways to most effectively deliver our services to those who need them the most,” said Liberal candidate Anne Tennier. “That’s something that every party here can aspire to.” Christopherson agreed. He said, “I would love to sit around the cabinet table with every one of these people regardless of their party label and say, ‘Okay now we’re going to talk about tackling poverty in Canada and internationally.’”
“Politicians are always going to have their own opinions, but I think in general we’re all working together towards a common goal. Just the fact that all nine candidates showed up today is amazing; it shows that they care and that they’re passionate about poverty issues,” concluded Neufeld. The McMaster chapter of EWB wplans to hold many more events throughout the school year to continue raising awareness on poverty issues, including their current online Fair Trade campus week campaign.
Watch the live-feed from the SRA meeting on Sept. 29. The bulk of bylaw 5 discussion begins at 40:35. For the full video feed, click here.
After a tumultuous week in the world of student politics, the question of ancillary student fees has been put on hold.
The proposed amendments to a McMaster Students Union bylaw which would see five student groups go to triennial review by referendum did not pass at the meeting of the Student Representative Assembly on Sept. 29.
The amendments, proposed by the Finance Committee under the leadership of Commissioner Daniel D’Angela and with the support of VP Finance Jeff Doucet, sought to bring greater financial transparency and accountability to the set of non-MSU, non-university administered groups.
Each of the affected groups was given an opportunity to voice their concerns at the meeting.
“We think there are better, more effective ways to bring conversations with students, and to create more meaningful conversations,” said Kathryn Chan, co-president of Engineers Without Borders, to those present. She explained that her organization was interested in transparency, though not through what they considered time-consuming referendums.
“We think that [the referendums] come at a cost of decreased quality in the work that we do,” Chan said.
Miranda Clayton, president of the McMaster Marching Band, echoed Chan’s sentiment.
“While the changes have good intentions, they ultimately harm the groups involved,” she said.
The McMaster Marching Band was granted a student levy to the amount of $0.90 per student for the 2013-2014 academic year after winning a referendum in January 2013.
Although each of the five groups opposed proposed bylaw framework, the discussion highlighted that issues with the amendments were rooted in the drafting process.
While the groups felt a referendum was taxing, Doucet and the Finance Committee believed such a model was best for maintaining group autonomy.
“All these groups are very different, so…it’s hard to come up with a solution,” he explained. “But one thing they all had in common was going to referendum to get student money.”
Lexi Sproule, co-president of EWB, felt that the perceived lack of consultation was a miscommunication between groups.
“It’s a pretty classic misunderstanding between people making strategy decisions and people on the ground.”
After nearly two hours of discussion, the decision was made to send the proposal back to the finance committee for a more thorough consultation process.
D’Angela explained that the Finance Committee has now asked for policy suggestions from each group on “how to improve students democratic input into the fee” and a period of consultation is expected to follow.
After paying tuition, many students may not know what happens to their money. But organizers within the McMaster Students Union are working to see that changed, and show students what happens to their fees.
The finance committee of the MSU has proposed changes to a bylaw that would see student groups have their levies put up to referendum on a regular basis. The bylaw in question deals specifically with the five non-MSU, non-university organizations that currently receive a portion of student funding.
“What this bylaw essentially does is give [students] more information on where their money is going,” said Daniel D’Angela, MSU Finance Commissioner and Social Science SRA representative.
The groups that fall under this category are Ontario Public Interest Research Group, McMaster, Engineers Without Borders, Incite Magazine, the McMaster Solar Car, and the McMaster Marching Band. The money these five groups collect from the student body amounts to $10.86 for each full-time student.
And despite the enthusiasm of key players within the MSU, the groups affected have come out in vocal opposition of the motion.
“It’s an inefficient way to consult students,” said Lexi Sproule, co-president of the McMaster chapter of Engineers Without Borders of the proposed system.
Under the changes, EWB and the other four organizations would have their levy put on the presidential ballot as a referendum for students to vote on every three years.
“It’s not very in-depth feedback,” said Sproule. “Even if you get approved, you don’t know if students have any issues with how you run things. It’s so much energy for feedback that’s kind of superficial.”
Proponents of the referendums disagree.
“I don’t think that once every three years having to spend two weeks going out and telling students about what you do, I don’t think it’s that taxing,” said Jeff Doucet,
EWB currently collects 37 cents from every full-time undergraduate student. While not making up their entire budget, the approximately $7700 it receives goes directly to funding students participating in the Junior Fellowship Program, a four-month volunteer placement overseas.
While the dollar amount per student is small, the effect the potential loss is on some of the organizations is significant.
“[Without the levy] I don’t think we’d be able to operate—that’s what keeps us going,” said Yuvreet Kaur, one of eight student board members of OPIRG McMaster.
OPIRG McMaster is one of a network of organizations across the province, which promotes social justice issues through grassroots organizing and through the funding of student and community-led working groups.
Of the five affected groups, OPIRG currently collects the largest fee, at $7.57 per student. However, the fee is refundable within three weeks of the drop and adds date in September.
“We give students the opportunity to take that money if they need it or if they don’t support the work we do,” explained Kojo Damptey, also on the OPIRG Board.
”We’re the only organization on campus that does that.”
The threat of OPIRG McMaster losing its funding is not unheard of; other OPIRG chapters across Ontario, including those at the University of Toronto and at Queen’s University, have come under scrutiny through NOPIRG campaigns, which aim to abolish the system of contributing student fees to the organization.
In the case of Queen’s, NOPIRG organizer Stuart Clark told the Queen’s Journal he was opposed to the levy because of “the use of publically available funds for certain activities that don’t reflect the values of the entire community.”
Mac’s chapter, however, feels that its values align very well with the university.
“Our current president [Patrick Deane] talked about forward with integrity—we’ve been doing that for two decades here,” said Damptey. He emphasized that the working groups funded by the group, which address a range of social justice issues, are the product of student ideas.
“There are certain working groups that a lot of the McMaster population is familiar with,” echoed Board Member Sabeen Kazmi. “Other groups…like the McMaster Farmstand and MACycle started under OPIRG.”
OPIRG and the other four organizations involved are seeking not only to make students and SRA members aware of their role on campus, but also to voice their opposition to the process of the bylaw changes being made.
Sam Godfrey, co-editor-in-chief of Incite Magazine, expressed her concern with the idea of a referendum to determine fees.
“It’s hard to measure worth…by whether the majority of students read [Incite]. If you only funded things that the majority wanted, you wouldn’t have the same kind of community at Mac.”
However, D’Angela said that his impression was that the groups were in support of amendments.
“I met with them midway through the summer, the fee holders, and overwhelmingly, I’d say they agreed with increasing with transparency,” he said.
Sproule explained that while EWB is completely supportive of financial transparency, no mention of the proposed changes was made.
“All we heard was ‘great job’…what are we supposed to do with that? If we’d heard they had concerns, we’d be happy to change things,” she explained.
The bylaw changes were made within the Finance Committee but did not involve any further consultation with the groups.The process of amendment also didn’t involve notifying the groups when the motion was set to go to the SRA for voting; a system that was met with concern by OPIRG, Incite, and EWB, but to others was not problematic.
“If the finance committee decides to make a change because they feel we need more democratic input, should they notify the groups in advance that they make their change, before it goes public? I’m not sure if that will change the conversation that much,” said Doucet.
The discussion on the proposed changes will continue at the upcoming SRA meeting, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 29.
Despite the opposition raised by the five groups, who are expected to present at the meeting, D’Angela and Doucet stand by the Finance Committee’s suggestion.
“If students want to have democratic input, referendum is the most efficient way to do so,” said Doucet.
“We think that the students are smart, they are intelligent people and they’re able to weigh the pros and cons of any single vote,” explained D’Angela upon being asked about the effectiveness of a referendum.
“We think that students are able to make decisions if you give them the right information and give them the important information.”
McMaster’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is continuing their efforts to bring about a fair trade campus status for McMaster.
Last March, a motion was brought forth at the MSU’s general assembly for the MSU to work with the university to attain the status, but the motion was dismissed because quorum wasn’t reached.
A fair trade campus is a status granted by the Canadian Fair Trade Network that would mean all coffee sold at the university would be fair trade certified. In addition, there would have to be at least three fair-trade tea options and one chocolate option wherever tea and chocolate are sold.
Franchises such as Tim Horton’s that operate on campus would not be required to serve fair trade coffee.
There would also need to be a committee consisting of one university VP, a retail manager at the university, a manager from the Union Market, one faculty member and one student representative.
Fair trade signage would have to be visible where the products are offered, and the university’s website would need to indicate McMaster’s fair trade campus status.
Dani Mejia, director of fair trade awareness for EWB McMaster, said the organization will continue to promote and discuss how the initiative may be implemented.
“It would be a gradual change. We’ve been told it can’t happen overnight or even within a year,” said Mejia. “Even if many students aren’t aware of the benefits of fair trade, that’s exactly what we are trying to address [in our campaign],” she said.
As of Jan. 1, 2012, the MSU’s Union Market adopted the practice of selling fair trade only coffee as well as a selection of fair trade teas and chocolate.
Leigh Laidlaw, Chef Manager at Bridges Café, says Bridges currently serves fair trade coffee only, and he would be interested in serving fair-trade teas. Bridges has undertaken several sustainability initiatives in the past year, including a kitchen composting system and the eco container pilot program.
Other Canadian university campuses that have recently become fair trade certified include the University of British Columbia, the first to do so in Canada, and Simon Fraser University.
Senior News Editor
On March 17, amidst the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, was the first ever Global Engineering Conference hosted by the McMaster Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
The event was held as part of National Engineering Month and was jointly sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Engineering and the PV Lab, which operates out of the McMaster Innovation Park.
The goal of the conference was to foster discussion pertaining to engineering education and how academics in the field can incorporate and promote awareness about some of the realities facing the discipline in the 21st century, such as sustainability and social responsibility.
Other topics of discussion pertained to the current requirements for the accreditation of an engineering curriculum according to the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB).
This discussion included David Wilkinson, dean of Engineering, and Jacinta O’Brien, a representative from Engineers Canada, which is the national engineering licensing body.
They discussed “what challenges lie ahead, and a dialogue was established for future enhancements,” said Dhaval Bhavsar, president of the EWB McMaster chapter.
The event featured representatives from Hatch, Engineers Canada and the CEAB.
Given the success of the Conference in its first year, it is quite likely that it may become a yearly event, noted Bhavsar, explaining that such an event could be very informative to students enrolled in disciplines outside of engineering.
“I think any student, whether they are in engineering or not, if they have ever asked the question, ‘Why am I learning this, I am never going to use this in the real world,’ need to be part of this conversation,” he said.
Assistant News Editor
Although Halloween may be a time where our younger selves yearn the bygone days of mountainous piles of sweets and goodies, a group of students from McMaster, dressed primarily in gorilla costumes, have found something else to go bananas about.
In an effort to promote Fair Trade consumption and awareness, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), World University Service of Canada (WUSC), and MacGreen participated in an annual reverse Trick or Treat campaign entitled “Scare them Fair” on Oct. 31st.
Members, many of whom dressed as bananas, the Fair Trade product logo, or gorillas, gave out Oxfam Belgian Mini’s, one of the many Fair Trade chocolates sold in Canada, to unsuspecting passer-bys while participating in an open dialogue regarding the merits of Fair Trade, a stance taken by ethical supply chains.
“That’s the beauty of it,” said Amy Tang, a member of the EWB McMaster chapter. “Not only we’re we out there giving sweets – Fair Trade ones at that – but we were also giving information.”
Much of this “information” was meant as an introduction to Fair Trade for those who had not heard of it before and an attempt to clear up any ambiguities to those who have.
“Contrary to what the name of the campaign suggests, we want to use the fun of Halloween to start conversations with students, faculty, staff, and the general Hamilton community,” said Brandon Desbarbieux, coordinator of Fair Trade Awareness for EWB.
The event stands as an ongoing drive for consumer responsibility in the marketplace that originated in Vancouver, Canada’s largest Fair Trade city and home to Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus, University of British Columbia.
Similarly, McMaster is seeking Fair Trade Campus status. Tang noted that it has been a topic constantly up for discussion, and “that much of the faculty support it: Patrick Deane, Ilene-Busch-Vishniac; those are just some of the many.”
Some, however, have been known reject Fair Trade because it is often more expensive than other producers.
“This is a common misconception,” said Tang. “It does not have to be more expensive. If you look at Union Market, if you look at OPRIG Office on the second floor of MUSC, if you go to any chain super market, it is not. It actually costs less.”
Financial costs are only one consideration though.
While it is true that money may be the mitigating factor for some, it is certain that the social benefits are unquestionable. Even if it is the case that finances are a concern, the social costs greatly outrun the worries of any paper trail.
Tang argued this point. Highlighting the “Scare them Fair” event, she added that this pursuit of equitable consumption is becoming more popular, even at McMaster.
“When we were giving the chocolate out, a girl said, ‘Look, Mommy! Fair Trade chocolate.’ She didn’t say chocolate. She specified the kind. That’s evidence enough of the movement spreading.”
This, coupled with the joint advocacy of ethical purchases by three groups at McMaster, may very well be compelling. If it is, then perhaps in the near future, Halloween will become a time of united chants, “Monkeys. Bananas. Fair Trade. Oh my.”
Assistant News Editor
Each year, McMaster’s Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) joins forces with local stores and vendors of fair trade products to put on the annual Fair Trade Fair in the McMaster University Student Centre (MUSC) atrium.
The fair, which has been taking place for over ten years, shrunk slightly in size this year, but is still going strong.
Products for sale included the usual Fair Trade Certified chocolates, coffee, and tea, jewellery from all over the world, Christmas ornaments, clay and wooden figurines, clothing, journals, soaps, moisturizers and several other odds and ends.
Also present at the Fair was McMaster’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB), promoting Fair Trade Certification awareness, focusing on educating students on the process for products to become certified, and why it is important to purchase Fair Trade products when possible.
According to one EWB volunteer, Meaghan Langille, fair trade “promotes social responsibility by ensuring that that the people who made the product that you’re purchasing were paid a fair wage and ethical working conditions.”
“It’s a great way to promote a global economy,” she said about the event. “It’s something that we can do to help people in developing countries through what we are purchasing and consuming,” said Langille.
It was widely expressed by several vendors that a second-term event, which used to occur but was stopped several years ago, would be greatly beneficial to the cause.
Another suggestion was to add another day to the first-term fair, as many students asked vendors if they would be returning the following day.