Today at Committee Stage I asked two questions seeking clarification from the Minister of Advanced Education as to the type of fees that are collected by Student Societies and whether or not these are what he had in mind with respect to the new legislation. More details are available in my second reading comments.
The Minister’s answer was quite clear that “From our perspective, what [student societies] do with the funds they collect under [the student society] fee heading is up to them. We have no intention of getting involved in what they do, particularly at the student society level.” This suggests that a way to get around some of the concerns still being raised would be to roll as much a possible into the student society fees.
Below is the exchange I had with the Minister.
A. Weaver: I’m just trying to seek clarification from the minister specifically with respect to the University of Victoria and, presumably, other universities as to the type of fees that are collected and whether or not these are what he had in mind.
If you’re a student going to the University of Victoria, you’re required to pay student fees for the UVic Students Society, fees set through earlier referenda; the UVSS renovation fee, set through referendum for the renovations of the student buildings; a UVic athletics fee only for on-campus people, again set through referendum at a time back in history; a UVSS bus pass, also set through referendum; UVSS dental plan and UVSS extended health plan, both of which you are able to opt out — as, I believe, is the case for every university I’ve talked to — if you have other dental plans existing.
Now, what I’m asking here is if these are the type of fees, in light of the information I gave, that the minister believes would be required to be paid anyway by a student who withdrew from the university student society? And I have a small follow-up on one of these after that answer.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: The member lists a number of fees, and it’s a bit of a sample of the range of fees found at our 25 institutions, the Justice Institute being the one organization that does not have a student society and therefore has no appropriate fees in this category.
The opt-out arrangements for at least two of the fees indicate that of the somewhere between 100 and 200 different fees we are addressing here, that will require consultation with the student societies and the universities and colleges involved to ascertain which ones should be put into which category.
A. Weaver: Just a quick follow-up here. The UVic Student Society fee is one that students are required to pay to keep the ongoing governance of the UVic Student Society.
That student society fee subset monies to organizations like the UVSS Food Bank and Free Store, the anti-violence project, the Society for Students with a Disability, the Native Students Union, UVSS Students of Colour Collective and the UVic Pride collective, amongst others.
My specific question here is: if the students are paying one fee, that is the UVic Students Society fee, and the students society makes decisions within that on how those funds are spent, is the minister talking about having them have each and every subset of their overall student fee being approved by the ministry? Or is it just the one fee?
One of the overarching concerns is that micromanagement, at the level of the government, will be to look at each and every decision being made by a student society in a student society fee. Could the minister please provide clarification on that?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: I hope that the remarks I’m about to make will be reassuring to the student societies and to the members opposite. The anticipation is that there’ll be no change in the structure, content, nature or collection of student society fees through this process. The student societies assess fees, which are widely variable around the province. From our perspective, what they do with the funds they collect under that fee heading is up to them. We have no intention of getting involved in what they do, particularly at the student society level.
I thought we had made this reasonably clear in the conference call on November 2, but if there is any remaining anxiety amongst the student societies and unions or amongst the members opposite, I hope this has succeeded in allaying those fears.
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