With the next HSR bus pass referendum expected in 2023, McMaster students have mixed feelings about the current contract
All full-time McMaster University students have access to an unlimited Hamilton Street Railway bus pass included in their yearly tuition. The HSR bus pass was implemented and maintained through a contract between McMaster University and the HSR.
The HSR contract is renegotiated and renewed every three years through a referendum, in which students vote on whether to continue to pay the mandatory HSR tuition fees. The next referendum is expected to occur in 2023. Current HSR bus pass costs are $232.94 for undergraduate students and $294.15 for graduate students.
The results of the graduate student 2017 HSR referendum were posted by the Graduate Students Association. 36.6 per cent of eligible voters voted in the referendum and 81.7 per cent of voters opted to renew the HSR bus pass contract.
The next referendum occurred in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to online schooling and postponed campus residence, the HSR bus pass deal was temporarily suspended. As remote schooling continued into the Fall 2020 semester, the bus pass fees for that term were reduced 75 per cent from the normal cost. Additionally, there was a temporary implementation of opt-in/opt-out options for the remainder of the term.
The bus pass fully resumed operations in the 2021 winter semester and has remained active since.
The HSR contract has been sustained throughout several referendums, reflecting how the majority of students continue to find the HSR contract beneficial.
Third year undergraduate student Kieran D’Sena spoke about his own frequent use of the bus pass and its importance to students who don’t live in the immediate vicinity of the McMaster campus.
“I frequently talk to [students] who live downtown and they rely on the bus to get to class. Having [the bus pass] included in the tuition makes the process so much simpler,” said D’Sena.
Third year undergraduate student Luca Scanga explained that although he does not require the HSR to get to campus, his bus pass is still an integral part of his routine and develop a greater relationship with Hamilton.
“Even though I live very close to campus, I need the HSR for grocery shopping, getting around to other people's houses in Westdale and Ainsley Wood, and getting downtown. If you don't have a car, which most students don't, it's great for getting around the city," said Scanga.
Other discussions brew among McMaster students, shedding light on alternative perspectives regarding the HSR bus pass. The r/McMaster subreddit hosts conversations from students expressing frustration with the mandatory bus pass tuition fees. Students do not currently have the option to selectively remove HSR fees from their tuition.
Regular adult HSR bus fare is $3.25. A student who requires the HSR to get on to campus may use their bus pass approximately 130 times during the fall and winter semesters, excluding holidays. With adult prices a student would be paying $409.50 in bus fares a year, which exceeds current HSR tuition fees.
This is an ongoing story.
Every three years, the McMaster Students Union, McMaster University and the Hamilton Street Railway negotiate a new bus pass agreement. The existing agreement, which was last voted on in 2017 and will conclude at the end of August, is coming to the end of its three year term. It now needs to be reevaluated through a referendum.
This year, McMaster’s HSR Referendum coincides with the 2020 MSU Presidential Elections, just as it did in 2014 and 2017. The 2020 HSR Referendum will determine the availability and cost of bus services offered to students for the next three years, until 2023.
Before 2014, McMaster students only had access to an eight-month bus pass, encompassing September to April of each academic year. The existing HSR agreement was first instituted in 2014 by then Vice President (Finance) Jeffrey Doucet. As a result, McMaster students are able to use their bus passes year-round. Students also pay for increased bus frequency between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and late night service coverage until 3 a.m. on Route 51-University, which runs through Westdale, the McMaster campus and student housing near Emerson Street and Whitney Avenue.
In the 2017 HSR referendum, McMaster students voted overwhelmingly in support of continuing their deal with the HSR regarding bus passes.
On Dec. 8, 2019, current vice president (Finance) Alexandrea Johnston circulated a memo provided to the Student Representative Assembly regarding the cost breakdown of the existing HSR agreement for the next three years.
“I strongly feel that these are fair and reasonable fees for the next three years. When comparing our fees with other Universities, this is [a] deal for students that I am confident putting forward,” wrote Johnston in the memo.
The 2020 HSR referendum will follow the ranked voting system used in the MSU Presidential Elections. McMaster students will have the opportunity to choose between the following options via a ranked ballot voting system:
Cost of 2020 HSR Referendum Options
According to the MSU Elections Department’s webpage, students had the opportunity to form a campaign team to advocate for another one of the options provided in this referendum but were required to complete registration by Jan. 17. A post regarding HSR Referendum nominations was made on the MSU Elections Facebook Page on Jan. 7. Unlike the MSU Presidential Candidate nominations and Student Representative Assembly By-Elections, the post was not shared and did not receive any likes.
Voting for the 2020 HSR Referendum closes on Jan. 30 at 5 p.m.
The Student Representative Assembly has voted to hold a special referendum in March on the creation of an Athletics and Recreation building.
The referendum differs from the one held in January as the University has offered to contribute $10 million to the budget, decreasing the fee students would have to pay from $3.95 per unit to $2.99 per unit.
The referendum will be held in late March, with polling ending no later than March 28.
By: William Alexander
The fate of the Exclusive Club Card, SoBi membership, the Marmor yearbook and vice-presidents at large will be decided during this year’s by-election, through a referendum.
To succeed, a referendum must receive at least 66.7 per cent of the popular vote.
The fate of vice presidents at large, SoBi Bikes, Exclusive Club Card and Marmor will be decided during this year’s by-election.
VP at large
The first issue at hand is whether the McMaster Student Union’s three vice-presidents should be elected by the entire student body rather than just the Student Representative Assembly. The SRA has taken a negative stance towards this reform during the Oct. 16 meeting.
Vice-president (Education) Blake Oliver has referenced three different Ad-Hoc committees at the SRA level since 2012 which had all found that the core system is sound, citing voter fatigue amongst other things for reasons against the reform.
Arguments for VP-at-large exist, a common one being the persistent allegations of nepotism within the upper MSU circles—accusations of the “MSU Bubble”, where those with connections to the SRA and to the MSU are more likely to win positions.
Another is that SRA elections only have about 30 per cent voter turnout, leading to a disproportionate representation in anyone the SRA elects as delegates.
The SoBi Bike referendum offers all McMaster students a SoBi bike membership for 90 minutes of daily access to their service at a flat rate of $16.95. The option to opt-out will be available in an online system similar to the one currently used for the health and dental plans.
Currently, an annual membership for a McMaster student would cost $70 plus tax annually for 60 minutes a day. That being said, it is clear that the service would not be useful to everyone, as many students commute in from outside SoBi bikes’ range.
Hamilton Community News also recently reported that SoBi Hamilton has not shared its financial audits with the Hamilton City Council, which would report the allocation of community funds during the building of the original SoBi infrastructure in Hamilton.
Exclusive Club Card
Brought to referendum by petition, the Exclusive Club Card is a discount card offered to students at a price of $5 by Olekt Inc. The discounts are for 31 locations in West Hamilton and Olekt Inc. has claimed they will expand that reach in the future.
The SRA has taken a negative stance towards the service. In a memo circulated on Oct. 10, vice-president (Finance) Ryan MacDonald alleged that the petition was “driven by non-students who have coerced 3 per cent of the student population through financial incentives or misleading to sign a petition.”
“Almost every single one of those discounts we currently offer in the almanac that we provide at the beginning of each year,” said MacDonald.
In response to this, the SRA has dedicated an ad hoc committee to investigating the current legal structures involving the raising of petitions.
The Marmor is the annual undergraduate yearbook. It features events of the year as well as that year’s graduating students. Currently, there is an annual $9.22 MSU fee, although students only receive a single Marmor after graduating.
The Marmor referendum proposes a number of options. One is to abolish the Marmor, the justification being that there is mostly negative feedback from alumni, delay in production and that the Marmor fee has been accumulating surplus money which cannot be redirected due to MSU policy. Another is to add $5 to the existing fee to add a digital component to the project. Students can also vote to keep the fee as is.
Campaigning will occur from Oct. 28-Nov.1, and voting can be done from Nov. 2-3 through your McMaster email.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that the digital component to Marmor would be sent to referendum at a later date. In fact, these options are on the same ballot. We regret the error.
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With the announcement of the new President-elect, the MSU also revealed the results of the VP electoral referendum. During this election period, students not only had the chance to vote for their choice candidate for president, but to also vote for or against (or abstain) initiating an election process for MSU Vice-Presidents.
The referendum resulted in 66.4 percent of the votes in favour of the process, with 4,590 students saying “yes” to VP at-large elections. While this number is impressive, it wasn’t enough for the referendum to pass. A constitutional referendum requires two-thirds of the votes to pass, or in other words, 66.67% “yes” votes. Had it received 20 more votes, or roughly 0.27% more support, McMaster would currently be moving towards an at-large VP electoral system.
“We were angry and disappointed in ourselves. We could have made just one more class talk, or ask more people to vote in order for it to pass,” said Esra Bengizi, one of the managers of the pro-VP reform campaign, in an interview with a Silhouette reporter.
The pro-referendum campaign group formed in early November after the Student Mobilization Syndicate presented a petition with over 800 signatures to the Student Representative Assembly requesting the right for students to vote for their VPs (Education, Administration and Finance) — a task that is currently done exclusively by the SRA. The SRA addressed the petition at their Nov. 1 meeting and decided that the vote would go to referendum as opposed to becoming a constitutional amendment.
Had the referendum passed, McMaster wouldn’t be the first school to switch to an at-large VP electoral system. Western University currently runs on a system that allows students to vote for two of their five VPs. The system has proven successful — as they have managed to continually elect a candidate for each position — but over the years voter turnout has decreased, and voter fatigue is assumed to play a role in this.
Although this recent loss is a blow to the efforts of pro-referendum campaign group, this may not be the end of the group’s campaigning. The VP Referendum is not the first to fail on a ballot, and this year doesn’t have to be the end of its campaigning. The Health Care Referenda, which constituted of three different questions related to the student health plan, failed the first run during the elections for the 2014-15 MSU President. The referenda were added to the ballot again the following year, and after increased promotions and education, all three referenda passed.
“With a team of only ten people we were able to get 4,590 voters to say yes,” Bengizi said. “Imagine if we had more. I was shocked to see such a success, and seeing this makes me even more ambitious to try again… we will not give up, we are going to continue to fight”.
*Files from Shalom Joseph
Photo Credit: Michael Gallagher/ Production Editor
By: Gabi Herman and Isaac Kinley
From Jan. 26-28, in addition to electing their next McMaster Students Union President, McMaster students will be able to vote in a referendum concerning the election of MSU Vice Presidents. The MSU has three Vice Presidents: Administration, Education and Finance. Currently, the Vice Presidents are elected by the Student Representative Assembly, a student council that includes faculty representatives and the current MSU President and Vice Presidents.
The current referendum will allow students to vote in favour of keeping the current system or switching to an at-large vice presidential election. Since this change would require altering the MSU constitution, the “yes” side will have to garner at least two thirds of the vote in order for it to pass.
The motion was put forward by Eric Gillis (SRA Social Sciences) at the 2015 MSU General Assembly in March. Earlier this school year, the Student Mobilization Syndicate uploaded a petition to Change.org asking that the question of direct election of Vice Presidents be put to McMaster students in a referendum. The petition gathered more than 800 written signatures and subsequently, the SRA voted to hold the referendum. However, going into the campaign period, they voted to maintain a neutral position on the referendum question. Looking forward, students will have to decide where they stand on the issue.
The referendum question, as it will appear on the ballot, is:
This referendum concerns the MSU Vice President elections. Currently, the three Vice President positions are elected through the Student Representative Assembly (SRA). A proposal has been put forth to move the Vice President elections away from the current system to an at large election. The format of this at large election is currently undefined and can take on many forms.
This is a constitutional referendum, which means it requires two thirds of the vote to pass. Abstentions will not be included in calculating the vote.
Are you in favour of changing the MSU Constitution to include an at large MSU Vice President Election?
For more information, visit https://www.msumcmaster.ca/services-directory/31-elections-department/referendum-2016. Information on the “Yes” side campaign is available at http://www.vpref.ca/
Below, two Silhouette contributors examine the advantages and drawbacks of both positions.
The “Yes” side:
There are a number of problems with the current system. For one, while a respectable 42 percent of eligible students turned out to vote in the 2015 presidential election, most faculties saw turnouts below 30 percent in the SRA elections. This means that the people tasked with choosing vice-presidents are themselves only elected by a small minority of MSU members.
Furthermore, there’s little anonymity in a group as small at the SRA. If its members know Vice Presidential candidates personally, this will likely bias their vote and impede their ability to make a disinterested choice on behalf of all McMaster students.
Allowing the entire MSU membership to elect its Vice Presidents would solve both these problems. If voter turnout for vice presidential elections is close to that of our presidential elections, this would make VPs not only directly elected by McMaster students, but elected by a larger proportion of them than are represented in the SRA.
Additionally, vice presidential candidates would have to make their cases to the student body directly rather than behind closed doors to the SRA, increasing the transparency of the election and giving students a better idea of the platforms of student government hopefuls.
It seems odd to have people as powerful as the Vice Presidents elected by an intermediary group that only represents a small minority of eligible voters. Voting “yes” in the upcoming referendum will allow McMaster students to have a greater say in the decisions affecting them.
The “No” side:
Selecting a vice presidential team is no easy job. The election process for each Vice President is a long process. Every candidate is required to meet individually with each member of the SRA. This allows every SRA member to gain a deep understanding of each candidate’s platform, one that would be near impossible to achieve for every student at large. In fact, the job has become so difficult that last year’s meeting lasted 22 hours. A motion for all MSU members to be eligible to vote for VPs will be voted on in a referendum this coming election, but many believe it would not be the right decision.
An at-large vote would require VP candidates to campaign, which many report make VP positions less accessible to prospective candidates. Robyn Fishbein, a fourth year Sociology student, was a voting member of the VP Election Reform Ad-Hoc Committee last summer. “It’s not the VP’s job to be the face of the organization, and I think that makes a really big difference,” says Fishbein. Vice Presidents work mostly behind the scenes, while the MSU President and SRA members have inherently public roles. The highly public nature of the campaign creates a barrier to students who are ultimately interested in holding leadership roles that are less public than the President and SRA members.
The challenges of allowing all MSU members to vote also include student disengagement. The Ad-Hoc Committee report points out that at-large voters may be vulnerable to “voter fatigue,” which might contribute to a lower voter turnout. The VP elections would also require many names and positions on one ballot; with more names on a ballot, voters are more likely to vote at random. And, says Fishbein, “let’s face it, so many elections can get annoying.”
Although counterintuitive, many believe that the MSU democracy functions best without more opportunities to vote. Regardless of the result of the referendum, major restructuring will have to take place to prevent more inefficient, daylong meetings.
By: Chukky Ibe
What happens when we treat student politics like warfare?
With ideas as our weapons, we convince ourselves we cannot concede one inch of ground lest we lose. Direct opposition becomes the only acceptable way to win. Debates and arguments replace collaboration and dialogue, and there is no honour in changing one’s mind once you have stated your position. This adversarial style of debate does not incentivize moral diversity. It does not explore various ideological certainties and the experiences that lead people to reach their diverse moral and ideological predispositions. This warlike culture is pervasive in all aspects of society. It limits the information we get rather than broadening it. It is the knee jerk reaction you experience – but may not entirely think through – when you hear something you disagree with. It is the Bill O’Riley of dialogue.
This paradigm is exactly what we have seen happen with debates surrounding vice presidential elections on campus. Last year, a proposition was put forward to the General Assembly that students, not the SRA, should elect their student body Vice Presidents (Education, Finance, and Administration). Debates on VP reform have been framed as the two sides – students and representatives – in opposition to each other; as direct democracy versus representative democracy. Some basic nuances have been lost.
The VPs have different portfolios and are responsible for different facets of the MSU. To compare them is to compare apples and oranges. Is it useful for the VP Administration to be elected by a referendum? Should the general manager and the comptroller, as people directly involved in the MSU’s accounting, get more say about the VP Finance? What do the VP Education, and VP Administration have in common? Should they be chosen the same way? Giving students the simple choice on their ballot of “yes/no/abstain” doesn’t allow Marauders to explore or understand the intricacies of each position.
This dichotomy that students have been forced to choose from has stemmed from the “argument culture” – or warlike debates – surrounding the issue. By presenting the options as oversimplified extremes, argument culture has limited our understanding rather than expanding it. Rather than seeking various forms of evidence, the debate has simplified complex phenomena with a “Yes” or “No” binary that does not account for all available possibilities. The truth has become the winner of the debate, and the perspectives of the losers are nullified and invalidated. Issues have been presented as having only two sides; winner takes all.
The MSU leadership has spent more time and talent defending outlandish claims than advancing their ideas. Suggestions for dialogue are laughable. Both sides are in the pursuit for victory and not truth. There is little consideration that current options may be inadequate, because opposition is viewed as our only method of inquiry. When opposition does not acknowledge complexity, then argument culture is doing more damage than good.
Issues have been presented as having only two sides; winner takes all.
Although the issue is going to referendum, the outcome is now of little significance. The union leadership continually showcases its inability to embrace its diversity of opinions. Warfare and argument culture remains its default position. In this, Marauders will always lose and common sense will never prevail. Democracy dies when debate trumps dialogue.
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor
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By: David Rios
On Jan. 27 to 29, I am voting in support of the MSU Health Plan Referendum and I think you should as well. The current MSU health plan falls short of providing the essential coverage students need. For an additional $18.50, students will receive 80 percent off the price of contraceptives. A further increase of $32 will extend health insurance even more, to include vaccines, enhanced vision care and access to specialists including chiropractors and psychologists.
Related: Proposed referendum changes
The increase in health coverage would allow more students greater access to specialists who can positively impact their physical and mental wellbeing. It would cover a portion of the cost of seeing a clinical psychologist, physiotherapist, or naturopath, as well as a variety of other healthcare professionals. These are services that are often inaccessible to students due to their costs. The more comprehensive option would also cover 80 percent of the cost of an ambulance ride and provide more vision coverage.
The inclusion of contraception coverage would allow students who so choose to have agency over their own bodies and more freedom and safety with regards to their sexual choices. Moreover, birth control helps treat health ailments such as endometriosis, hormone imbalances, erratic periods, severe menstrual cramps, and helps to prevent ovarian cysts.
Just like the current healthcare plan, you can opt out as long as you have some form of healthcare coverage. Even if you opt out from the MSU health and dental plan, other students will still be able to access this increased health care coverage.
In my first year, I severely injured my knee playing soccer. The medical costs surrounding rehabilitation were a significant economic strain and something I had to focus on, on top of getting better. I would have benefitted tremendously if I had access to the proposed health care coverage, and I know that my experience is not unique.
You never know when you will need these services and should not be blindsided by these situations. So when you vote, please consider the benefits, not only for you, but for the entire student body.
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Last week, the majority of students who casted ballots voted against adopting any of the potential MSU healthcare plan add-ons. The failure of all three referendum options is incredibly disappointing and disheartening. The add-ons were, in short, an incredible deal for students. For very low prices (a total of 77 dollars), they would cover most of the costs of vision care, prescription contraception and a variety of other medical services.
The last two add-ons could have been viewed by some students as “controversial,” however I find it hard to believe that the average student voter does not understand the impact of vision coverage on someone’s health, performance, and success.
This tells me that this was a decision made by an uninformed student vote. I think, in this case, the combination of lack of communication from the MSU, voter apathy, and some other factors are to blame. Of course, there is only so much the MSU can do to engage students if they are not willing to participate in the exchange of information. But there were several shortcomings of the MSU in this process that have to be discussed.
Although it is not the responsibility of the MSU to actively campaign for a side of a referendum, it is the job of the MSU to accurately communicate important information to students. David Campbell told the Silhouette last week that “doing more to communicate what we do” is one of the MSU President’s main priorities throughout the year. I will not deny that the MSU effectively reached out to students about the existence of referendum questions on the presidential ballot, however it did not communicate to students the substance of these questions. The weeks before the election period saw various instances of poorly and often inaccurately communicated information.
Additionally, the proposed HSR questions were often presented in a positive light, covered in at least two stories by the Silhouette, and shared with enthusiasm on an HSR referendum video posted on the MSU's website. The health care video that was posted, on the other hand, used neutral language and expressions.
The issue wasn’t solely the MSU’s lack of communication. Even an engaged student willing to learn more about the referendum questions would have hit a brick wall upon arriving on the MSU website’s referendum page. The information provided in the section is limited to the questions that were going to be included in the ballot. In the case of the HSR referendum, the proposed changes were self-explanatory, but the same was not the case for the health care questions. In addition to using the terms “oral” and “prescription” contraceptives interchangeably, information was lacking on the third option. The extent of the coverage offered was not adequately explained and some of the wording was ambiguous. Documents outlining the potential plans in detail and the implications of their implementation didn’t exist, and even the explanations for the plans in the existing questions appeared incomplete.
There is a difference between promoting one side of the referendum and providing the student body with substantial information on the issue. Much more could have been done to inform the students. Providing us with health plan comparisons, explanations, and engaging graphics are just a few possibilities.
Another source of confusion could have been the students’ ability to opt-out of the plan if these options were passed. As it currently states on the MSU website, students can only opt-out if they have “comparable” coverage. Once again, the wording is vague, leads to misinformation, and no explanation of how the implementation of the add-on would affect students’ ability to opt-out was provided.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think the MSU alone is to blame for the failure of the health care referendum. Despite having the highest voter turnout so far, we’re still at only 40.5% of the student membership population.
It is very likely that many students did not think beyond their own health care insurance when answering the question. A student covered under their family’s insurance, could have seen the add-ons as entirely useless to their own well-being.
Seeing as the majority of the students were motivated to cast of ballot so they could vote for a presidential candidate, it’s also important to examine how the candidates talked about the health care referendum.
Several candidates said that they supported most or all of the add-ons, while a few held that students could make their own decisions. None of the candidates promoted or discussed the health care referendum as much as they could have. I think the lack of promotion from the candidates is also partially responsible for the outcome of this year’s referendum. Yes, the students can make their own decision, but that’s assuming that the students are informed.
The MSU could have done much more to promote this referendum and educate students. The candidates, too, should have taken more proactive roles.
This plan could have been a great opportunity for low-income students and those without coverage.
Many students are disappointed with the outcome, and rather than denying them the option to make an educated decision, I think the MSU should consider bringing the questions to the SRA and the student body for a vote again.
Teddy Saull is the MSU president-elect.
After 8,364 votes were cast and counted, Saull narrowly beat out Jacob Brodka by 102 votes. In the third-round tally, Brodka and Saull were separated by just 11 votes.
“My housemates are now surrounding me but I was alone when David [Campbell] called me,” Saull told the Silhouette minutes after finding out he won the election.
“It’s interesting – he called me when I was writing a Facebook post about losing. That’s how I was going to break it to my team. So I did not expect to win."
Jyssika Russell came in third, followed by Israa Ali. Russell had just 48 votes more than Ali in the first round. Jason Wolwowicz was eliminated in the first round with 396 first-preference votes.
Voter turnout for this year's election was one of the highest in MSU history, with 40.5 percent turnout.
Saull ran a campaign on building community. He proposed a participatory budget program with a $100K fund and has plans to freeze the MSU fee. Saull said he would establish a bigger frost week, a peer tutoring network, a 'Clubza' website and exam period upgrades.
“I wasn’t sure where we stood and I was preparing for that reality [of losing], but here we are," Saull said.
Saull will start his term as MSU president on May 1.
In addition to voting for the next MSU president, students also voted on a MSU healthcare coverage referendum and HSR bus pass referendum.
All three healthcare options failed, so the current MSU health plan will stay the same and cost $57.50 per student. The 12-month bus pass and expanded service option passed, which means students will pay $12.50 more per year to add those features to the HSR bus pass, starting in the 2014-15 year.