Secret contract petitions headed to DSU

Group aims to have 1, 500 signatures

November 21, 2009- The Dalhousie Gazette

Samantha Durnford
Staff Contributor
The “No Secret Contracts” petition from Students Mobilize for Action on Campus (SMAC) will be brought to the attention of the Dalhousie Student Union at their meeting on Nov. 18, says a member.

SMAC’s petition takes aim at the secret contracts the student union signs. Now the group has decided to do something about it. The petition calls on the DSU to make contracts open to students before signing them.

Dave Bush of SMAC says he feels the DSU did not allow any discussion from students when it came to the contract decisions.

“The DSU does not seek to involve students in discussion,” he says. “They have effectively shut down all debate.”

The petition asks the DSU not to sign any more secret contracts, says Bush, and asks for “accountability and transparency” within the DSU.

The petition will be put to council this week and then, in two weeks, says Bush, it will be open for a vote.

In regards to the vote, Bush simply asks the DSU, “Are you going to be on the side of democratic openness or not?”

Shannon Zimmerman, DSU president, says this is the first she heard of the petition aside from hearsay, and that she had no idea it was coming to the attention of council this week.

“I have never been approached by SMAC,” says Zimmerman.  “I have at least sent them two or three e-mails asking to sit down with them and have a conversation about this.”

But according to SMAC, Zimmerman first contacted them last Friday, after her interview with The Gazette.

Zimmerman says that in her five years of being on council, no petition has ever made it to the attention of council.

“I know that there was a petition floating around last year but it was never given to anyone,” she says.

Whether the petition can make an impact or not, Zimmerman says she doesn’t know. A petition needs signatures from 10 per cent of the student body – that’s at least 1, 500 people – to be binding.

“The reasoning … from Pepsi’s standpoint is that they wanted something for a competition basis,” says Zimmerman. “Without having read the petition it’s hard to say what impact the petition could have.”

She says if any students, including SMAC, had come forward saying they were upset about the contract, she would have been happy to discuss it.

“Its definitely a conversation we are more than willing to have,” says Zimmerman. “I can’t speak for anything that happened last year, but in my term it has not been something that has formally been brought to me yet.”

Matthew Downer, third-year Dal student, says he signed the petition but isn’t sure what’s going on either.

“The petition went around in class,” says Downer. “I wasn’t really aware of the issue but everyone else was signing it so I did too.”

He says he doesn’t care that the DSU signed a contract for Pepsi Co.

“I guess it’s important for the DSU to include students in decision making,” says Downer. “But I’m not too upset about the whole Pepsi thing.”

The Pepsi Co. contract is for seven years, so even if council debated no longer signing secret contracts, it may be a while before the petition would actually make an impact.

SMAC on the other hand, wants to make a point.

“The contract turns students into a product being bought and sold!” says Bush.

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