Several Students’ Society councillors took the first step on Monday toward introducing a referendum question asking undergraduates to abolish the student fee that support McGill’s chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, a student-run environmental and social justice organization on campus.
The proposed motion, if approved first by SSMU Council and then by undergraduates in a referendum vote, would abolish the $3.75 per semester opt-outable fee students currently pay to support QPIRG’s operations—the organization’s primary source of funds.
The notice of motion, which will be considered at Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, comes after several weeks of escalating tensions between OPIRG and the QPIRG Opt-Out Campaign, a student group that encourages undergraduates to opt-out of paying QPIRG’s fee.
On September 23, several QPIRG members surrounded a table set up by the Opt-Out Campaign in the McConnell Engineering Building and allegedly began ripping up the group’s flyers. In response, the Engineering Undergraduate Society banned QPIRG from tabling in the building at the September 28 EUS Council meeting.
According to Spencer Burger, one of the councillors who submitted the motion, the proposed referendum question is a response to QPIRG’s actions of the past few weeks, which the motion refers to as “acts of political intimidation and violence.”
The text of the proposed motion also accuses QPIRG of supporting and funding “goals and groups that deeply disturb members of the SSMU,” including Tadamon! and Students Taking Action in Chiapas.
In an interview, Burger, who is also a member of the Opt-Out Campaign, said that QPIRG is not treated like other campus political groups.
“Political groups can apply for funding through SSMU,” he said. “That’s how Conservative McGill gets their money, that’s how Liberal McGill gets their money, that’s how NDP McGill gets their money.”
Burger emphasized, however, that the councillors who submitted the motion—Lauren Hudak, Eli Freedman, and Matt Reid, in addition to himself—are looking to allow students to weigh in on the debate.
“This is a resolution to bring it up—not to close debate but to open it,” he said.
But Rae Dooley, a member of the QPIRG Board of Directors, said that such debate is already open. QPIRG holds a referendum every five years to renew its student fee; the most recent one passed in March 2009. In addition, she said, the proposed motion is likely illegal, as SSMU lacks the power the introduce a motion annulling QPIRG’s fees.
In an email to the Tribune, Dooley said that the motion painted “an inaccurate picture of QPIRG, our mandate, and our activities” and would stifle, rather than promote, campus debate.
“This motion is a clear attempt by a small group of students who disagree with the political opinions of QPIRG to stamp out our voice, and thus stamp out discussion on campus,” she said.
Because the proposed referendum question is only a notice of motion, it is not currently scheduled to be discussed at Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, as per Council’s rules of debate.
According to a source within SSMU, however, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, SSMU Council will likely suspend the rules and open discussion on the motion. If it passes, undergraduates will vote on the question during the Fall referendum period in November. But if the motion is not debated on Thursday, the motion will fail to meet the deadline for this referendum period.
The councillors who proposed the motion, Burger said, do not necessarily support annulling QPIRG’s fees. Instead, they are seeking a wider debate on the issue.
“I hope it passes, and I’m reasonably confident it will,” he said. “This is a resolution not to take a side on this issue, but to put it out there.”