From March 14-16, you can vote for your Students’ Union, Board of Governors and Senate representatives. More importantly than that, you can also vote on the PIRG plebiscite. In case you’re the kind of person that only reads the first paragraph of the editorial, we’ll state for the record that we think a PIRG on the University of Calgary campus is a very good idea.
"But… what’s a PIRG?" you may ask. Good question. Aren’t you inquisitive? PIRGs, or Public Interest Research Groups, are student-lead organizations that do student-oriented research. Think of them as a mini Parkland or Fraser Institute, only student-funded and student-run. While they are not designed to carry a certain political agenda much like the aforementioned Fraser Institute (AKA ultra-right wing, corporate-whores) and Parkland Institute (AKA bleeding-heart, pinko tree-huggers) PIRGs at other Canadian campuses do tend to push one very obvious agenda– student advocacy.
The U of C PIRG will be autonomous from the SU and collect its levy from the U of C. As such, they’ll be free to do research on behalf of students and offer critiques of current SU policies and services. They can also broaden their scope to off-campus, municipal or community-based activities that affect students; the SU is more limited to on-campus issues.
A PIRG at the U of C could take some of the pressure off the SU to be the saviour of student interests. While most of the people who hold office in the SU are well-intentioned, they often find themselves limited by time, conflicts of interest or resources. A PIRG works on behalf of students, freeing the SU from overextending themselves. For example, SU Vice-president Operations and Finance Matt Lauzon was criticized this year for overextending himself and attempting to do too much with the environmental aspect of his portfolio at the expense of say, MacEwan Hall expansion. Maybe a PIRG could have researched and lobbied for environmental initiatives rather than Lauzon adding this task to his already overflowing plate.
On the other hand, the SU shouldn’t foist off controversial ideas or social activism on a PIRG just because they haven’t the time or energy. Also, it is important that a PIRG and the SU stay fairly distant from each other so as to allow each to publicly assess the merits of the other.
When you vote during the SU election, you will be given a ballot that asks if you support (in theory) the implementation of a campus PIRG funded through your University fees. If you are in favour, the plebiscite will ask how much you think would be an appropriate amount to give them. Keep in mind, this is only a plebiscite and in order to become reality, a PIRG will have to be passed in an upcoming referendum–most likely in the fall.
This campus needs a PIRG. The most it will cost students is a measly few dollars a semester, and the return on those dollars could be enormous. At any rate, PIRG deserves a chance. Reports from other Canadian universities speak highly of the organizations. It’s time students at the U of C found out what all the fuss was about.