what are they afraid of?

Please remember to vote for the Radical Beer Tribune in Continuous VFM.
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Recently the Ubyssey published an editorial denouncing the Engagement Levy, which, while I once considered it “the sad little idea that nobody liked” has gathered enough Council steam and popular support to get over six hundred signatures on its petition and a Council resolution placing it on the ballot, after being passed through a quorate meeting of the late, lamented ahRERC (ad hoc Representation and Engagement Reform Committee). They claim that the fee is undemocratic. This is silly – we’re putting it to a vote, under the structures that were themselves democratically ordained by students, under regulations that are set by a democratically elected provincial government, which itself is governed by legislation passed by a democratically elected Legislative Assembly. I think the first undemocratic link in the chain is our dear old Lieutenant Governor, but I hardly think that the Engagement Levy is a good reason to throw out Responsible Government in the Canadas.

My personal feeling is that they don’t like us. They don’t like the VFMs, because it forces everyone to be better. If the Ubyssey wasn’t being nipped at the heels by UBC Insiders in analysis, or by AMS Confidential or the Devil’s Advocate in lulz, they could just kick back and be the Ubyssey that they were when I arrived at UBC – one that I couldn’t be bothered to slog through twice a month, let alone twice a week. Now, hardly an issue is put out that I don’t read cover to cover. I even read the sports reporting – it’s just that good. But they were made good by competition. And that competition was created by VFM. Whether students care about what the AMS is doing or not, they still reap the consequences of the actions of the organization. It is in both the AMS’s and students’ interest to incentivize voting, and the Engagement Levy does just that.

I like the fee because it is self regulating – in times when the AMS is particularly engaging, voter turnout will go up, and revenue will decrease. This will reduce the strain of engagement related projects on the sorely strained general revenue, and inherently recognizes the value in a student who takes an active role in the AMS. It provides sustainable funding for a program which has made the AMS more open and transparent, and has allowed a multitude of viewpoints to develop – viewpoints from left to right that would not exist without the support of the VFM program.

The Ubyssey clearly didn’t read the provisions of the referendum, which clearly establish regulations and provisos for the use of the fund, including making sure that an ongoing source of funding for VFM exists to create free market competition in media at UBC. Either that or they’re scared.

I think it might be the latter. Pierce Nettling, Ubyssey writer, complained to the Elections Administrator and VFM Administrator asking them to not allow Foxtrox into the competition. He went as far to call the Foxtrot writers monsters akin to the Myspace killer. The ridiculousness of this comment aside, it belies a desire for ideological purity in media by elements within the Ubyssey that is nothing less than an abhorrent assault on freedom of speech and conscience.

Foxtrot should have the right to say whatever it wants, just as UBC Student Media should be able to say whatever it wants. It saddens me that they aren’t competing in One Time VFM, as it means that, in their own passive way our media driven media censors won out. But keep on blogging, Foxtrot. Stay golden.


10 Responses to “what are they afraid of?”

  1. 1 Aaron Palm
    January 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Appologies in advance, I’m writing this while testing cocktails for Naylor’s cocktail competition. I do hope it makes sense:

    I am disappointed that rather than engaging in a debate over Nettling’s legitimate criticisms of your Poll Tax you instead chose to attack him via silly ad hominems while ignoring entirely the real reasons the engagement levy is an affront to democracy.

    I will reiterate:

    Most students don’t care about the AMS and this is okay. The AMS does what it does best when it quietly gets us U-Passes and gym access. Forcing students to engage in a system they do not care about will either result in spoiled ballots or, more likely, students who forget and “donate” their $5 dollars to the coffers of some nebulous levy. Perhaps if you handed out crisp $5 dollar bills to everyone who voted that might help from an optics perspective, but with the trend towards online voting that will just be an extra $5 credited on my SSC. This is significant because electronic money seems less real – people are more willing to spend with debit & credit than they are with cash. Because there will be no immediate reward for voting, I find it hard to believe that this will increase turnout in a manner significant enough to offset the harms. Which are:

    1) Choosing not to vote is valid form of protest. Taxing people who choose to do this is not cool.

    2) It is not clear how the money will be used. Since it is in the AMS’s best interest to keep as much of the money as possible, an evil (or capitalist) AMS would be incentivized to actively discourage voting under this model. Assuming lack of Evil/Free Market (never a good idea) at best this fund would be used for some silly awareness campaign. And those never work.

    3) I’ve never studied Econ but I have dated econ students and I know there is a theory bounding around there somewhere that says that the emotional reward people feel from provided free services (like dog walking or babysitting) actually decreases once they are paid. I think it is fair to extend this to voting. I feel safe to say that Naylor’s Poll Tax will cheapen Democracy.

    4) Those were a rehashing of Pierce’s points (except that last one which I sort of made up). Now for the one which wins the debate: Knowing how to vote at UBC requires a significant amount of time investment (much more than the 20 min or so I would value for $5 dollars worth of my time) As we saw today, even candidates for Senate didn’t know when the Senate met. How can you expect Joe the Student to know how to vote intelligently? Hell, I ran a VFM and I still usually have no idea who most candidates are or what differentiates one platform from the next so I just vote for the cute ones. The only way to solve this problem is to bring back slates so I can have a simple choice of Blue or Orange. Do we really want that?

    Because the $5 levy will not produce more educated voters, because it is really just another disguised tax, because it cheapens democracy and because it will result in the return of slates it should not pass.

    Aaron Palm
    Candidate for VP Ex
    (come to the debate tomorrow!)

  2. 2 Matthew Naylor
    January 19, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Alright, well, here’s my rebuttal. First of all, I was arguing against the Ubyssey editorial, and questioning their motives behind their taking this stance. I do not think it was about democracy, I think it is about limiting competition and ensuring that there is a more narrow ideological scope in terms of the media on campus. Pierce was not attacking the Levy (which, by the way, is the exact opposite of the poll tax), he was attacking a specific media source because of their perspective. This is not ad hominim – I suggest you read the source material referred to in the post.

    1. No, it is not. Voting is a valuable contribution to any democratic society. Voting is, for governments, a civic duty, and I do not think it is unreasonable that a resolution of the society (rather than a government) could be applied in the same manner. It is, if anything, more democratic. We are doing nothing more here than Australia, Brazil, Chile, Turkey or the Swiss Canton of Schaffhausen already do.

    2. A large portion of the money will be used to fund the VFM project, which is in and of itself democratically beneficial. The rest of the money is no different from many of the other fees that the AMS collects, except there is a mandate and criteria for allocation that must be met before the motion may even see the Council floor.

    3. This isn’t paying people to vote. You don’t get more money if you don’t vote than you would have if you didn’t. You get the money back that you paid earlier. In a way, it’s like a democracy deposit. This argument falls outside the scope of the debate.

    4. Well, aside from the fact that my answer to the question “Do we really want [slates]?” is unequivocally “YES! YES! YES!”, I feel that this argument is actually an argument for the Levy. There will be an incentive and resources for the AMS and for students to actively engage in the democratic process. Cuteness can very well be a voting issue, and I commend you for being so clear in declaring what your ballot issues are. Politicians dream of you. I think that people should be free to make that evaluation, but societies should be able to set regulations for themselves that incentivise or disincentivise certain behaviors. Because there is an option to say “Just give me my $5” (though not in so many words), I do not view this as a problem.

  3. January 20, 2010 at 12:00 am

    For what it’s worth, I’m a Ubyssey volunteer and I have to say I just can’t see the Ubyssey, or the people who run it, doing or thinking anything like that. This is actually really similar to the AMS UN situation–it wasn’t tuition that was the issue, but the means they tried going about it. Same thing here: of course we want to increase student engagement, but an undemocratic (and it is undemocratic) method of enforcing democracy isn’t the way to go about it. Aaron explained well why above. Automatically saying the Ubyssey is afraid of VFM, when that’s not even related AT ALL to the issue of an engagement levy, seems a pretty rash and dire ad hominem. And as Aaron said, that is not an incentive to engage, that is an incentive to spoil ballots or make uninformed choices about an election they do not care about for the sake of $5. Paying people to vote [as long as not influencing their choice of candidate with the money] would actually be preferable to fiscally punishing those who are exercising their–again, democratic–right NOT to vote.

  4. 4 Ron W.
    January 20, 2010 at 1:30 am

    The Ubyssey should not be afraid of competition. If they are then it is their own fault. The Ubyssey has basically become like all of the hack-centered VFM’s. In is 99% filled with UBC or AMS related stuff which is crap. I don’t think I’m the only one who would like to see the Ubyssey discuss larger issues outside of the endowment lands.

    For the record, I don’t think you can call something that is voted on by a referendum ‘undemocratic’. I also think that an average of under 10% voter turnout makes the AMS look really bad and they should be actively trying to get more people engaged. There’s been a lot of talk and no action on this so at least this is a step forward.

  5. 5 Sasa
    January 20, 2010 at 1:35 am

    I disagree that its ones democratic right not to vote. I think voting is a responsibility, and failure to vote is what is truly undemocratic. I wasn’t born in Canada, and I came here to escape a war that resulted in part from a system which didn’t allow this level of freedom that citizens sometimes deny themselves in affluent countries, and when I see how much is taken for granted particularly due to laziness or disengagement it really upsets me. Rights come with responsibilities. In order to live in a country as great as Canada or enjoy the services provided by the AMS, one pays taxes (or fees in the case of the AMS), and one votes for the representatives. These responsibilities are fairly small when one things of how much we get in return.

  6. 6 Whateva
    January 20, 2010 at 1:41 am

    My two cents as a former, no longer involved Ubyssey editor: We liked the VFM sites. If there’s only group publishing on campus it 1) puts pressure on us to be all things to all people, which just causes headaches and limits our ability to say anything crazy and 2) isn’t good for campus life generally. Vancouver’s a (mostly) media monopoly. There aren’t many people in journalism who think that’s a good thing (except the ones cashing the cheques, I’d imagine).

    Finally, Pierce hardly represents the political views of the paper. If there’s any sort of consensus from editors recently (this is past years) it’s been libertarian (socially liberal, perhaps). But it’s not a great place to go for political reinforcement. It’s actually a pretty frustrating place to be if you have a very entrenched stance on anything. Expect arguments. I thought it was a good thing we could have people like Pierce around without screaming him out of the room though.

    That’s completely dodging the issues at hand. I saw the exert on Foxtrot and thought it was a over generalizing. Thought maybe I could add some insight as someone who no longer has anything to gain from crushing campus free thought.

  7. 7 Goldman
    January 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    What beautiful, lively, educated debate. VFM is the shit.

  8. 8 Palm
    January 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    @Ron W: California voted in Prop 8 by referendum… people vote for stupid, undemocratic things all the time. That’s exactly why we don’t want uneducated voters voting.


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