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The Service Funding Referendum: Why it Matters and How to Vote

Service Funding Referendum

The BCIT Student Association (BCITSA) will be holding a Service Funding Referendum in the last week of March, asking the student community to vote on three key proposals aimed at enriching BCITSA services. These proposals are:

1. Increasing access and donations to the Food Pantry Program

2. Ensuring fair wages to reduce the high employee turnover

3. Annually sponsoring a new student through the current Student Refugee Program

Below are more details about each alongside insights from two BCITSA staff members: Geoff Gauthier (Director of Marketing & Communications) and Stewart McGillivray (Government Relations Strategist).

Proposal 1: Improving the Food Pantry Program

One of the main focuses of the referendum is to ensure students at Specialty campuses have access to food support programs. (Currently, only students at the Burnaby campus can access the BCITSA Food Support Hub and its related services such as the Food Pantry.)

Another goal is to maximize donations to the Food Pantry, the plan being to create a fundraising arm and hiring a staff member dedicated to overlooking all aspects of this program.

As Stewart explains, if this proposal were to pass, “part of what [that] would allow [is] to make sure that we’re able to better staff [the Food Pantry program], but also to have people going out and leveraging and supporting donations that are out there in the community.”

“The biggest part is an expansion to the Specialty campuses,” Geoff adds. “We have plans to expand to Specialty campuses, but we don’t [yet] have someone who could run the donations to the various campuses and ensure pieces are in place.”

With over 4000 visits to the Food Pantry since it opened and greater food insecurity, “[this is] a way to expand the program and make sure that students are fed properly,” says Geoff. When you’re fed properly and no longer worried about your food, you’ll have an easier time focusing on your education.

Proposal 2: Updating the staff retention strategy

The second initiative the referendum addresses is ensuring current staff are compensated fairly and up to market value. Fair wages will allow the SA to retain staff members dedicated to helping you and all other BCIT students succeed.

It’s noted that members of the senior management team will not qualify for an increase. As for which positions will qualify, specifics are yet to be confirmed: the referendum needs to be passed before the research and planning process to determine whether those can happen.

“The goal is to fund our workers who are not up to market value,” Geoff explains. “If [the referendum] doesn’t pass, one of the things that could happen is that we could see some staff turnover, [because if] they could find another role available within the job market that is paying more and is roughly the same kind of position, why would they not go do that?”

And while there’s always the option to hire new staff, “[it costs] approximately $10,000 to rehire, retrain, and bring people into new positions,” says Geoff, adding how, on top of that, there’s always a learning curve to grasp the structure of the organization or the challenge of getting familiarized with working in a higher education setting. There is also an ongoing labour shortage across Canada, with some job vacancies remaining unfilled over long periods, indicating difficulties in finding the right candidates.

“[It’s] a lot easier to work with the people that we already have on board, who understand how BCIT and the Student Association work,” he says. “So, if we can help them, we can keep the people that are working hard and trying to make a difference for students.”

Proposal 3: Sponsoring a New Student Refugee

Originally a project started by past Council Executives, this final goal of the referendum aims to provide better funding to sponsor an additional student every year with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. The WUSC is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities for youth around the world.

“The goal [is] to bring [a new student] in from another country who may have challenges or barriers to education [and to support them as they] continue and further their education here in Canada,” says Geoff. “We make sure a student gets here and has the opportunity to comfortably find their way through their education.”

BCIT will cover the tuition while the SA will cover living expenses such as housing and transportation, both Geoff and Stewart explain. Securing extra funding will allow the SA to hire devoted staff to work on this project full-time and support these students through their educational journey.

“We’re a Student Association,” Geoff says. “We’re representing students, and [this is] one of those good things we can do for our community.”

How to vote and what to expect

The Service Funding Referendum will occur from March 24 through 31.

You can expect to receive a link to the voting poll in your myBCIT email. When you do, click through to indicate whether you support each of the three proposals. You are encouraged to support all three.

If the referendum passes, there will be a slight increase (13.4%) to the Student Association Activity Fee, which will take effect starting June 1. The fee will only apply to you if your course starts on or after June 1. 

Your contribution will then go towards developing the three initiatives, further enhancing the services the SA offers to students:

  •  $2.50 for supporting the Student Refugee Program
  • $5.00 for expanding the Food Pantry
  • $10.00 for helping the SA retain staff

If the referendum does not pass, the BCITSA would continue to provide services and programs to support you through your time at BCIT. You will not see any immediate changes in fees to the SA. However, expansion of the Food Pantry and funding for the Student Refugee Program will be limited, and it may be challenging to organize new programming for students.

The final word

As Stewart says, “The ingredient in [these referendums] is that they’re responding to the needs we hear from students.”

To ensure your voice is heard, it’s important to vote. You are also encouraged to do a bit of research:

“The easiest thing that students can do is learn more,” says Geoff. “Go to the [BCITSA referendum] website [], get the information, educate yourself, [and] know what you’re voting for.

“What we’re doing is trying to make it comfortable for our employees to be able to give services to the Student Association and keep and maintain the services that we already give you. If you don’t know what those services are, visit our website [] to find out more or come and talk to us at any time. Come and see us.”

Key BCITSA staff members you can talk to include: 

Yael Zachs, Executive Director

Geoff Gauthier, Director of Marketing & Communications

Stewart McGillivray, Government Relations Strategist


Al Mallees, Nojoud. “The Labour Shortage Isn’t over — and Employers Are Having to Lower Their Hiring Expectations.” CBC, April 6, 2022.