By Sean Wetselaar
Plans by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) to formally oppose partnerships with the private sector sparked fierce debate at the most recent Board of Directors meeting.
Held Thursday, the meeting saw an attempt to pass a motion proclaiming the RSU’s opposition to public-private partnerships (P3s), which RSU executives say are a financial risk and less cost-efficient.
“One of the major problems when you have outsourced an entire department or entire organization like food services is that you lose the ability for students to have representation,” said Andrew McAllister, vice-president operations, at the meeting.
McAllister headed a task force on campus food established last fall, which looked into student satisfaction with Aramark, Ryerson’s food services provider since 1993. However, while Aramark is a relationship with the private sector, it is a contract, not a partnership.
“I don’t think you can find a group of students who are saying they are satisfied with the work that Aramark does,” said Rodney Diverlus, president of the RSU. “I don’t think you can find a group of staff that has been satisfied with the work Aramark does.”
Gerald Mak, a director for the faculty of business and a fourthyear business technology management student agreed that Aramark is not perfect, but he stressed that a replacement of the food provider is not a quick process.
“It takes time,” Mak said. “You can’t simply just take out all the jobs of all the union workers that are currently employed by Aramark because they’re going to be jobless.”
But the RSU said it is acting in the best interests of Ryerson students by exploring different models and providing alternatives to companies like Aramark.
“I ultimately think one of the founding principles of the student union is to seek for high quality, affordable and completely publiclyfunded post-secondary,” Diverlus said.
“As tuition fees aren’t enough to make up for the lack of public funding, institutions like ourselves are now relying [on] and constantly spending a majority of our time seeking private sponsorships or private partnerships for funding.” Mak believes P3s present advantages to the school, and spoke out against the motion.
“Public-private partnerships are what has helped the university grow and develop to what it is today, in the last five or six years, and will continue [to do so],” Mak said. “I mean if it weren’t for these partnerships that we have, the university wouldn’t be as known as [it is].”
The motion was originally proposed on Nov. 15, but was delayed until the most recent board meeting.
It includes a plan to “create information materials… that can be used to educate our members,” and “file Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) requests regarding details of Ryerson University’s public-private partnerships.”
Though the intention to oppose P3s was hotly debated, the motion also sparked debate over the vagueness of its propositions, which Mak said “allows them to spend as much as they want.”
“I’ve always seen public/private partnerships as a good thing if they’re truly a win-win,” said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy. “Just because you go into a partnership with the private sector, it doesn’t mean it’s good, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. [But] do you get a good deal out of it?”
The RSU feels differently. The motion cites a case at the Université de Québec (University of Quebec), in Montreal where, it says, a P3 cost the public $200 million in unnecessary costs.
This issue is not a new one for the RSU. It has long campaigned for free, publicly-funded education, and Diverlus said an opposition of privatization of the school went hand-inhand with this stance.
“The argument we’re trying to make is that the government can provide it,” Diverlus said. “It’s just all about priorities.”
Mak disagreed, pointing out that the government has priorities besides student tuition, such as health care and research and development.
“It’s a strong economy and we have to be fiscally responsible to make sure the economy is in good hands,” he said. “If we focus on providing free everything to everyone in this province, we would take a huge hit on our economy.”
The motion was postponed to a future meeting after Mak left, causing the board to lose quorum.