Shortly after voting to continue the Green Investment Fund (GIF) on March 31 after an inconclusive referendum, the Mount Allison Students’ Union’s (MASU) Students Administrative Council (SAC) voted to approve $10,500 to subsidize the installation of an electric car charging facility (ECCF) in Sackville. This was one of three projects the MASU Sustainability Committee recommended the GIF be invested in out of the nine that applied. To almost all councillors, the projects came as a surprise: we had never been informed of the projects we were voting on, and were given very limited information during the session. The motion to approve was introduced, and after only a few minutes of debate (very little of which actually focused on the merits of the project), council put it to a vote and approved the funding 14-3.
The vote troubled me for a number of reasons. As the only councillor to speak against the project, I thought it was a poor decision.I thought it betrayed an incredible lack of oversight by council over how we spent the GIF; council did not even bother to seek justification for the recommendation. Finally, the cavalier attitude councillors must have had towards their constituents to approve this without seeking input or at least an explanation threatens to erode student support for the MASU in general and for the GIF in particular.
So is this even a good idea?
While I was at first resolutely against it, reviewing the documentation and discussing the issue with the Sustainability Coordinator softened my views. Here are the answers I found to some of the concerns people had:
But there are no electric cars in Sackville!
True, but even if only a few people switch most of their driving from gas-powered to electric (and certainly a few will), more than 10,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions will be eliminated.
Can you not charge an electric vehicle at your home?
Yes. There is little practical need for an ECCF in Sackville, since most long drives go to a place like Moncton where there is one already and most short drives don’t deplete the battery. But a very large aspect of this project—I’d say larger than actually making it easier to own an EV—is changing the perception of ease that people base their purchasing decisions on. We can talk about whether this is the most cost-effective electric vehicle marketing campaign, but its an important aspect to consider.
Will not only rich people buy electric vehicles?
While you can buy an older hybrid quite cheaply, electric vehicles do tend towards the upper end of the price scale, and it will most likely be the more prosperous Sackvillians who use this. In a perfect world, they would foot the bill themselves; until then, the carbon emission reductions might not happen without GIF funding.
How does this help students?
The GIF’s mandate is to reduce the carbon footprint of the Sackville area. To focus on achieving environmental goals, it doesn’t consider whether it helps students, or even how many people it helps in total, if the environmental effects are good. Whether or not we should change that mandate is a different discussion we can have, and a different article.
Why don’t we wait for something better?
The GIF can carry over funding if it receives no noteworthy applications. This project does have a noticeable effect on emissions, though, and there was no sense waiting around for the perfect project when this one works pretty well.
My own views are conflicted; I no longer think it is a terrible project, but it does not make as much sense to me as other initiatives we approved, like reopening Mt. A’s farm. I do not know what to think.,
I am still very concerned, however, that council as a whole did not demand to have these or indeed any concerns alleviated before voting on this project. Yes, we should have faith that the Sustainability Committee did its job, but council should not take as gospel the recommendation of a bureaucratic committee and vote entirely on faith. The elected body needs to have the final say on how the MASU spends its money; if council does not bother to ask questions and get answers, how can it possibly make an informed decision?
In my experience, students were virtually unanimously opposed to this decision, a fact that was particularly troubling in the wake of a successful referendum—would students have been so generous if this decision had been made a week before and not a week after? The outcry was predictable, and by voting so quickly without seeking either input from constituents or any justification from the Committee, council failed to act on behalf of students. When councillors act without performing their due diligence, students stop supporting MASU; if we want students to keep paying fees and passing referendums for MASU initiatives, council has to consider its spending carefully, without relying entirely on unelected bodies like the Sustainability Committee to do the considering for them.
After doing some research, reviewing the application, and discussing the issue in-depth, I think that what I thought was a terrible idea is, at the absolute worst, mildly ill-advised. But the real tragedy here is council’s failure to demand the information necessary to reach that conclusion itself and its callous disregard of student opinion. There are two sides to every story—next time, let’s try to hear both before we spend student money.