As you may have heard, the UVSS is determining what to do with the PIRG fee since the Vancouver Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG) left UVic in 2019. In November 2020, the UVSS held a referendum to stop the collection of the fee but it failed to meet quorum. We, Sarina and Dalal of this year’s UVSS Board of Directors, wanted to give you an update on the history of this fee and what we are doing now. 

In 1983, students at UVic voted to establish a fee to support the creation of a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). For the next 25 years, VIPIRG was allocated $3 per semester for full time students and $1.50 for part time students to fund public interest research. Unfortunately, VIPIRG chose to leave the UVSS in the summer of 2019 and have since rebranded. Since their departure, students continue to pay for a group that no longer exists.

In January of 2020, the UVSS Board of Directors released a call for proposals to establish a new PIRG. However, the UVSS only received one application which was determined to not be a suitable replacement to fulfill the mandate. 

Right now, many students are financially struggling due to COVID-19 and the UVSS continues to collect this fee without a service provider — and attempts at finding a new service provider have failed. The only way that this fee can be changed or discontinued is through a referendum, as it was created through a referendum. As a result, the current Board of Directors chose to run a referendum question to end the collection of the PIRG fee in the fall of 2020 and reallocate the funds that have been accumulating. 

As of September 28th, 2020, $130,979.78 of student fees are being held by the UVSS but cannot be spent for any other purpose than public interest research. Unfortunately, not enough people voted in the referendum question held in the fall of 2020 for it to make quorum, though those who did vote were in favor of ending the fee. 

The UVSS is currently gaining legal counsel to ensure that students can benefit from these funds as soon as possible. 

A timeline of the UVSS’ relationship to PIRGs:

1983: A fee is established to fund BCPIRG (later renamed VIPIRG).

1993: The UVSS membership votes to enhance their PIRG with a fee increase.

2016-2017: VIPIRG fails to uphold financial accountability standards during an audit, which was seen as a lack of transparency by the UVSS Board of Directors.

2019: The Board passes a motion to hold a referendum on whether or not to continue funding VIPIRG through the fee levy established in 1983/1993. The referendum fails due to improper campaigning, leading to the Chief Electoral Office to advise the referendum be run again. Shortly after this, VIPIRG severed their relationship with the UVSS, moved off-campus and rebranded. 

2019-2020: The UVSS receives no suitable nominations for a replacement to VIPIRG, and decides to hold another referendum to end the PIRG fee levy.

2020: The Board passes a motion to hold a referendum to stop the collection of the PIRG fee and to reallocate the funds held in trust. The referendum fails to meet quorum, and the UVSS consults legal to work towards an appropriate solution.

Questions? Please contact the chair of the PIRG working group at outreach@uvss.ca