From Oct. 21 to 23, the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a new provincial student federation, held its first mobilization camp at Camp Val Notre Dame in Hérouxville, a town two hours northeast of Montreal. Students from various universities in Quebec, including representatives from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), attended the event.
According to Kristen Perry, AVEQ coordinator of mobilization and associative development and 2016 McGill Environmental Sciences graduate, the camp is open to all.
“Any Quebec student is essentially invited to come […],” Perry said. “One of the most important things is building networks, so it’s important for us that it is opened.”
The camp was mostly financed by the AVEQ budget in order to keep prices low and accessible.
“A lot of funding [from our mobilization and development commission budget] is going towards making [camp] very accessible and very inclusive,” Perry said. “So, the actual cost is kind of by donation, so from $20 to $40, but a lot of schools […] will be reimbursing those donations.”
According to the schedule published on the AVEQ Mobilization Camp website, the topics of the workshops conducted over the weekend included climate and environmental justice, facilitation and mobilization against austerity, as well as adequately addressing sexual assault on university campuses.
“[The] goal is to be training and providing the students with the knowledge and the skills that they need to organize around issues that have been identified as important on campuses and for the whole province,” Perry said.
Arts Representative to SSMU Igor Sadikov, U3 Arts, participated in the mobilization camp and was surprised by the similarities student activism shares across universities.
“What I found the most interesting is realizing that […] students mobilized sometimes in different ways, in the regions or in Montreal, or in the francophone milieu and in the anglophone sphere, but also at the same time there’s a lot of issues that we share,” Sadikov said.
A group of SSMU executives participated in the mobilization camp, among them Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat, and VP External Affairs David Aird. Aird facilitated an anti-austerity workshop.
Following the failure of a referendum question to join AVEQ last year, SSMU currently holds an observer position. As an observer, SSMU still benefits from equal representation at AVEQ, and is involved in the decision-making processes. According to Perry, AVEQ aims to include all student associations as much as possible in decision-making processes in order to enable their first year of activities to run more effectively
“So, essentially for our opening year, we’re being very open to all associations who want to be involved […],” said Perry. “Every association has a vote, so we have two official members that have already affiliated [….] For this year, there is actually very few differences in practice, but technically the affiliated associations have a final say at assemblies,” Perry said.
Affiliated members of AVEQ pay a fee, receive more significant support on campus mobilization, and have a final say in the members’ assembly decisions. SSMU is currently a non-affiliated member; therefore, AVEQ does not provide resources to work on issues that SSMU is trying to resolve, such as tuition deregulation.
“We don’t pay a fee and we also don’t get the special attention that members get, so we don’t […] per se have the federation looking at McGill in particular,” Aird said. “[For] instance, ancillary fees [.…] So, that is something we are looking into independently, but it does require a lot of capacity.”
On the future possibility of SSMU affiliating with AVEQ, Aird explained that the decision will be based on the level of student interest.
“It all depends on […] how well AVEQ is doing and how different it is from last year, because we did ask the question last year,” Aird said. “[The referendum question] did not pass, but there were a huge amount of abstentions, indicating that people probably didn’t just know what it was and so we are really hoping to get the word out.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SSMU President Ben Ger was in attendance at the AVEQ mobilization camp. In fact, he was unable to attend.