At the Student Representative Assembly meeting on Nov. 26, the SRA and Board of Directors voted to send the Ontario Public Interest Research Group fee to referendum in January 2018.

The McMaster OPIRG fee referendum will come in the wake of the vote at the University of Toronto, which occurred in November 2017 but failed to meet quorum. It will also follow the referenda held the University of Waterloo in 2016 and at Queen’s University in 2012, where students voted to eliminate their OPIRG fee.

OPIRG is a province-wide organization that advocates for environmental and social justice. The group consists of chapters at 11 universities in Ontario. By facilitating free training workshops for students and funding working groups, such as the McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance, OPIRG supports grassroots activism.

Currently, McMaster students pay a $8.07 OPIRG fee, which has been included in the ancillary fees since 1995. While students can opt out of paying the fee, they may only do so by visiting the OPIRG office.

While the McMaster Students Union has not re-evaluated the OPIRG fee in the past, the Assembly has scrutinized how it has been allocated.

In November 2017, the SRA finance committee called for the impending referendum in light of OPIRG McMaster’s failure to sufficiently advertise the opt-out option.

While the McMaster Students Union has not re-evaluated the OPIRG fee in the past, the Assembly has scrutinized how it has been allocated.

In particular, in December 2016, former MSU vice president (Finance) Ryan MacDonald reported to OPIRG that the Assembly was concerned about the fact that $145,000 of the $180,000 OPIRG funding was supporting administrative costs rather than working groups.

MacDonald also noted the Assembly’s interest in making the opt-out option available online.

At the Nov. 26 SRA meeting, Brett Cox, a representative from OPIRG, noted that in September 2018, the OPIRG opt-out will be moved online and that OPIRG will increase its working group funding by $50.

The SRA ultimately voted in favour of sending the fee to referendum. The ballot will contain three options: preserve the $8.07 fee, reduce it to $5.50 or eliminate the fee entirely.

MSU vice president (Finance) Daniel “Tuba” D’Souza, who proposed the $5.50 option, explains that this number is not arbitrary.

“This fee reduction would allow OPIRG to continue functioning in a similar capacity, providing funds for one to two permanent part-time staff members in addition to a significant portion of their current funding for programming and working groups,” said D’Souza during the Nov. 26 SRA meeting.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Patterson, another OPIRG representative, highlights that this option would be problematic, resulting in the reduction of one OPIRG staff member.

Sahra Soudi, OPIRG volunteer and former board member, also believes the organization should not be sent to referendum, particularly in light of the rise of conservatism at the university.

“The skills I gained as an OPIRG board member have actually helped me and how I organize on campus as an activist as the co-president of the McMaster Womanists,” said Soudi. “OPIRG supports these groups and social justice initiatives. Without OPIRG, I’m afraid our campus will not be the same.”

The SRA voted in favour of endorsing the $5.50 fee option.

“Overall it seems the SRA thought the $5.50 option would be a way to maintain OPIRG and their services while reducing the amount that students contribute,” said Helen Zeng, SRA Speaker.

The campaign period for the referendum will start on Jan. 14, and polling will be open online from Jan. 23 to 25.

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