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Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Do the new signs in MacHall break campaign rules?

The link between new PR campaign and upcoming referendum

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Students back from winter break will notice some new advertisements scattered throughout MacHall.

“60 years of student investment in your MacHall,” reads a banner hanging in the south courtyard. “As a student, YOUR investments support great services like the lost and found,” reads a sticker in front of the MacHall information centre.

Why would the Students’ Union go through the trouble of designing and putting up these ads you ask? It has to do with the referendum to increase student fees.

This March, students will vote on whether to increase SU fees by $35 a semester. This money would be used to pay for the redevelopment of MacHall, with construction starting next year.

The SU doesn’t have an official position on whether students should vote for or against the new fee. But they clearly have a preference. They want you to vote yes.

Why else would they lure you into the concert hall with chocolate covered Rice Krispy squares to watch videos about how important MacHall is to the SU? Why did these videos stress the sense of ownership students should feel for the building? Why do the new ads put “your” in all caps?

MacHall is important to the SU — especially when lease agreement negotiations with administration are underway — because it’s the source of most of their revenue. Because they want students to front the money for another redevelopment, they are encouraging you to take pride in the building. So they stress that it’s “your” MacHall.

It takes little stretch of the imagination to view these myMacHall signs as a campaign in favour of a “yes” vote. They are there to convince students to be proud that MacHall is in the SU’s hands. From this perspective, students should do what they can to keep it under the SU’s control.

MacHall is the best, so we should all vote yes.

Here’s the problem. If this is true, the SU violated their own rules.

Under SU campaign finance regulations, any group that advocates for or against a decision going to referendum can spend a maximum $150 on their campaign.

How much was spent on the myMacHall public relations campaign? SU vice-president operations and finance Eric Termuende said it was under budget. But that budget was pegged at $12,000 when Student Legislative Council met on Nov.19.

A number of groups approved this $12,000 figure, including Student Legislative Council.

Would you say these signs encourage you to vote “yes” on the referendum this March? Because if they do, the SU spent up to $12,000 of YOUR money — or 80 times the allowed amount — on a political campaign sold under the guise of “environmental branding.”

When confronted about this, Termuende insisted the campaign was created only to inform students about the money they’ve paid into MacHall over the years. To inspire a sense of pride.

Maybe I’m forgetful, but in the three years I’ve been at the University of Calgary, I’ve never seen anything comparable to this campaign.

But the idea, Termuende said, came before there was any talk of a referendum, so any connection between the two is indirect.

The referendum might have been announced in November, but consultations for the MacHall renovation began before Termuende took office. Given the history of undergrads funding redevelopments, it’s hard to believe that no one in the SU had a referendum in mind in 2012.

These myMacHall advertisments seem very much like a “yes” campaign for the upcoming referendum. The SU should make clear why they thought spending so much money on the campaign was appropriate.

Riley Hill’s local column runs once a month.

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