News Opinions

Canteen considerations

The canteen referendum this week will be a big deal for the King’s community. I’ve weighed the benefits and the costs, and I’m proud to say I’ll be voting in favour of this referendum.

The referendum this week will be a big deal for the King’s community. I’m a member of the food advocacy committee and have been involved in this process since September, and I’m really excited by the plan we’ve put together. It will re-establish the Wardroom lounge as a centre of student life during the day, provide student jobs and give all of us access to better, cheaper, closer and more ethical food and coffee than we can get at the LSC or the SUB. However, the cost to the union is high. I’ve weighed the benefits and the costs, and I’m proud to say I’ll be voting in favour of this referendum. The money we’re playing with belongs to all of us, though, and it’s important that people consider both the good and the bad and make their decision carefully.
A few things to bear in mind:
1. A student-run canteen would be really great.
You’re going to be hearing this from a lot of people this week, and it’s all true. The food and coffee we’ve got lined up will be excellent and affordable, and the management structure will ensure that the student community can decide how it should be run. Immediately, it’ll be a centre of student life, and eventually it might be a revenue stream for the students’ union. The space is gorgeous and we can’t wait to start selling food from it.
2. This is all of our money.
It’s actually all of the KSU’s money and then some, because in addition to dissolving our investments we’re raising more funds through a levy. This leaves almost nothing beyond our annual operating budget in case the canteen or the union should face unexpected expenses such as equipment failure or toner piracy.
3. Most of this money is going to the administration, not the canteen.
About a third of the money in question in this referendum will actually be used to open the canteen. The other two-thirds is a payment demanded by the administration as a condition of being permitted to use the space. When the boycott was resolved, we thought we’d won the canteen space to open a food service venue. What we actually got was an opportunity to buy access to a space at a price we can only just afford. That stings a little.
4. The administration has the upper hand.
The administration realized, astutely, that students want this canteen badly. They could pretty much name a number, and they did. This isn’t the first time the administration has attempted to squeeze the union for cash. In 2007, under a different president but the same bursar, the administration decided to levy a surcharge of 50% on Wardroom payroll. The union had the option of looking elsewhere then—the union outsourced Wardroom paycheques—but this time we don’t. If we want to open a canteen, we need this space, and the administration can set the conditions.
The argument that anyone opening a canteen would pay a similar fee is misleading. Dr. Leavitt has as much as said that Sodexo wouldn’t pay this fee because of their existing relationship. I, for one, wish the administration valued its existing relationship with students enough to give them at least the same treatment as their caterer. There is a difference in kind between a for-profit, external business buying access to the King’s market and the students themselves opening a service. We shouldn’t have to buy access to King’s students; we are King’s students.
Nonetheless, I think that this referendum is a great opportunity for the King’s community. We’ve missed having a canteen this year, and now we have a chance to open a better one than ever. I regret that Dr. Leavitt chose to begin her relationship with King’s on this note, but this time I feel it’s worth swallowing our pride and paying the price for a student-run food service. It’s a big decision, though, and it shouldn’t receive automatic, reflexive student assent like the budget at a General Meeting. So argue with your friends about it, and come out to vote in droves. And when the president and the bursar come down to buy their first coffee, at $75,000 a cup, we’ll know it’s been worth it. The price for everyone else will be $2, of course, but there’s an existing relationship to consider.
*If you have missed any of our stories about the canteen in the past you can check them out here, here, here, and here.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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