Democracy: no such thing as a mulligan

By Liam Dynes
Originally published in The Brock Press, Sept. 16, 2003

In golf, friendly matches can involve a move called a mulligan. A mulligan is, essentially, a do-over. A player skulls a shot, or puts one way out of bounds, they call their mulligan and retake the shot, no penalty drawn, and (should) end up with a better result.

Democracy, however, is not a spectator sport (to invoke a massive cliché). You cannot sit back in a democratic system, input nothing to the whole process, and then cry about the result when things don’t go your way. I am speaking, of course, of the new movement to hold a second referendum to repeal the newly instituted U-pass.

First things (nearly) first: this is not a statement in any way on my feelings about the U-pass. If it were though, as a former rez student, former bus rider and current driver, I like to think I’d have a pretty balanced opinion on the subject. This, in actual fact, is a diatribe on the misuse of our political system to settle a personal gripe.

This new group has a beef with the bus pass, and that’s fine. It’s certainly not a perfect system. What isn’t fine is the reasoning and methodology behind their arguments.

The by now infamous leaflet distributed under windshields towards the end of the summer is, to put it mildly, misleading and manipulative.

BUSU did not, as it was purported, spearhead the bus pass initiative for any of its own purposes. The notion was brought forward by concerned students, and BUSU simply formulated the plan as requested, and put the referendum through its paces. BUSU has no vested interest in whether the bus pass lives or dies, in fact, the continued operation of the U-pass means a great deal more work for various BUSU exec and staff. Even saying this, the U-pass does require tweaking, namely geographical opt-outs, and alternate parking arrangements for off-campus stops, which would fall into the category of “extra BUSU work.” Maybe the anti-bus-pass-ers should concentrate more on lobbying for changes on the execution rather than the reactionary move of scrapping it altogether.

Next, BUSU and the local transit commissions are not out to make a profit from this system. The group’s leaflet, in a rather incendiary way, points the finger at both parties for putting this plan together in order to make an “astronomical … revenue” of more than 1.5 million dollars. One and a half million dollars is hardly astronomical in terms of a city’s public transit budget. No city the size of St. Catharines runs public transit for profit – transit officials state, whenever asked about the financial impact they seek to gain, that our transit system runs a deficit, and will continue to do so even with the U-pass. Total revenue before the U-pass and afterwards are approximately equal, it’s just coming from more people, and that fact could be made into a compelling argument, were this group not so busy tripping over its own “speculative figures,” such as the fact that of Brock’s population “over half drive to school,” or claiming that the fee was “inconspicuously slipped into tuition fees.”

Now this brings me to the real crux of my beef with their beef. One of the major points in the move to bring another referendum, both from the leaflet and from the activists themselves is that they were not adequately informed of the referendum. I would like to really know what their definition of “adequately informed” is. They say that drivers did not know that there was a referendum, and that the vote would not have turned out the way it did were more drivers aware of the terms. They also claim that some students did not have the opportunity to vote. Again, how could these facts possibly have been reached?

BUSU posted banners and posters all over the school, both “Yes” and “No” groups plastered remaining space with competing flyers, there were multiple page spreads here in the Brock Press, Web site postings, canvassers visiting classrooms, and of course simple word of mouth discussion all over the school for weeks prior to the vote. If you were an attentive and semi-conscious student, there was absolutely no excuse for not knowing about and voting in the referendum other than self-imposed ignorance and/or laziness. The vote ended up as a yes, and the bus pass was instituted, and if you don’t like it, it should be too late to worry about it. To quote a wise man I once knew (or possibly still live with, can’t tell which): “you don’t get a second kick at the can in democracy. ”

The bus pass train has sailed my friends, and it should be in us to accept that and move on, but of course as with too many things, it may be the loudest, most obnoxious minority that get to call the mulligan, at the expense of the actual, official, voting majority.

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