The campaign period for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) referendum begins November 13. The referendum will decide whether the $0.50 levy for the group will be eliminated.
OPIRG is a province-wide network of campus groups that share a mandate “for action, education, and research on issues of social and environmental justice.” OPIRG-Toronto is one of 11 chapters on university campuses across Ontario.
The referendum will take place from November 20–22 on utsu.simplyvoting.com. Should the referendum pass, the collection of the levy would cease as of the Summer 2018 session.
An unidentified group of students began collecting signatures for their petition to defund OPIRG during orientation week. In an interview with The Varsity on September 13, Souzan Mirza, a board member of OPIRG-Toronto, stated that she was unaware of any anti-OPIRG movements.
On October 6, a formal petition that called for the referendum was submitted to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). However, due to an administrative error on the part of the UTSU, the voting period for the referendum had to be pushed to a later date. Under normal circumstances, any referendum that involves a recognized campus group is put to a vote concurrently with the fall and spring elections, as stated in the Charter for Referenda.
“The notice requirements for referenda are outdated and overly burdensome, and [the UTSU was] unable meet them by the deadline,” wrote UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh in an email to The Varsity. “It would have been unfair to penalize the petitioners for the UTSU’s failure, so we decided to hold the referendum at a later date under Schedule A [of the Charter for Referenda]. The petitioners did everything that was required of them, so the referendum should proceed. The timing of the referendum doesn’t confer an advantage or disadvantage on anyone.”
The quorum for the referendum vote is 7.5 per cent of students who currently pay the OPIRG-Toronto fee. If quorum is not met, the referendum will not affect OPIRG’s current funding.
Based on its 2016 financial statements, OPIRG-Toronto had a total revenue of $147,338, of which 93.3 per cent, or $137,467, came from the student levy. In that year, the group’s total expenses were $149,419 which meant the group had a net loss of $2,081.
“Defunding OPIRG will impact the countless students who enjoy our programming, volunteer opportunities, and rely on our services throughout the year. OPIRG supports equity and anti-oppression initiatives on campus, and defunding our organization will impact already marginalized students and organizations on campus,” said Mirza in an earlier interview with The Varsity.
OPIRG-Toronto declined a request for an interview, stating that its current position on this issue has not changed since the last article regarding this referendum.