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Opinion: Carleton University and University of Ottawa students face harsh and unfair criticism in UPass debate

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Mayor Watson proclaimed last week to be Bullying Awareness Week, but I don't think Transit Commissioners received the message. The province of Ontario defines bullying as "a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour... in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance." On Wednesday, November 16 at the Transit Commission meeting, commissioners patronized, bullied, and insulted students who had the audacity to suggest the city and OC Transpo may be wrong in calculating the UPass as revenue-neutral at $180 per semester.

Councillor Desroches demanded to know why students thought they have the "privilege" to question the city on what the cost of the pass might be and viciously stated that he "asked the questions" and students "gave the answers." What the councillor may have forgotten is that our "privilege" comes from being tax-paying residents of this city who are entitled to speak as a public delegation. Is this the way Councillor Desroches speaks to all of his constituents?

Councillor Deans was quite excellent at bullying through playing the victim, expressing a feeling of betrayal by students who would seek to question the city and belittling our delegation as if we were children who needed a lesson in "leadership." On our way out of the meeting a reporter told us that in all their time covering public hearings they had never seen anyone treated in such a way.

Just as a bully would, the city and OCTranspo have tried to pit students against non-students by positioning the UPass as a subsidy. However, as the future of the program seeks to be revenue-neutral, there is no extra subsidy that non-students are being asked to provide. In another bullying attempt, the Commission voted to eliminate student semester and annual
passes, leaving either costly monthly passes or an inflated UPass as the only options for the 120,000 post-secondary students in Ottawa.

The City Treasurer noted that she conducted a "very simple" analysis of the costs of the program using the same methodology as OC Transpo. OC Transpo's survey, through which the rationale for the $180 price has stemmed, alleges that 98 per cent of students at Carleton had taken transit in the 6 months before the survey. If that number seems a little high, it's because it is one of several errors the students' unions have found in the survey methodology and data.

A UPass is not some dubious concept: over 30 universities and colleges across Canada have one. At $180, Ottawa's would be the most expensive program of its kind. Students have brought forward holistic and comprehensive research on the costs and benefits of the UPass and we ask that the city and OC Transpo take a similar approach.

Contrary to Councillor Deans' scolding, students do not need a lesson in leadership. We have done our research and found that at $180 the UPass will not be revenue-neutral but instead will have the city awash in cash. What kind of leaders would we be to accept a 24 per cent increase in cost when we know it is not justified? We won't be bullied into accepting a limited and flawed analysis. The students' unions at the University of Ottawa and Carleton have produced a report outlining our argument and I would encourage readers to visit www.gsacarleton.ca to learn more about our position.

Mayor Watson stated this week that, "Everyone has the right to be respected and we must also remember we have a responsibility to respect each other." Students have the same "privilege" as any other resident and deserve respect. Our experience at the Transit Commission was not a "lesson in democracy," it was a lesson in bullying.

Kelly Black is the VP Operations of the Carleton Graduate Students' Association and is a PhD student in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University.

This article was original submitted to the Ottawa Citizen as a letter to the editor in response to article Lesson in democrary: Transit commission OKs $180 UPass for students.

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