The failure of the University Centre Building Fee question in the Winter referendum could lead to drastic cuts to the services provided by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).
The proposed fee would have cost $6.08 for full-time students and $3.04 for part-time students per semester and was intended to cover the cost of rent and utilities for the SSMU Building under the new lease agreement between SSMU and McGill.
Results released by Elections SSMU on March 21 show that 53.6 per cent of students voted against the first part of this two-part question and 60.8 per cent against the second part, which would have indexed the fee for inflation.
“This is catastrophic for SSMU,” Vice-President Finance and Operations Tyler Hofmeister said. “This is going to mean a huge reduction in the services the SSMU is able to provide and jeopardize our sustainability in the long term.”
According to Vice-President University Affairs Joey Shea, the budget cuts needed to meet this lack of funding could run up to $200,000.
“We ran a $90,000 deficit this year because we couldn’t afford to pay what was thought [would be] the fees if we were to have signed the lease,” Shea said. “Next year, it’s another $200,000 more […] so it’s $300,000 worth of services that will be cut from students.”
Services that may face cuts include Gerts, the Student-Run Café, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and the McGill Student Emergency Response Team (M-SERT), according to Shea.
One option for SSMU is to hold a special referendum period before the end of classes, putting the same question to the vote again. However, unless the bylaws are amended at Council on Thursday, there will not be enough time in the remainder of the school year to do so.
“Currently there isn’t enough time based on the guidelines set out by the bylaws,” said Chief Electoral Officer Ben Fung. “That being said, the bylaws can still change.”
Hofmeister said SSMU had already begun to take precautions in case funding for the lease could not be secured before the end of the academic year.
“I’ve been in talks with many of the services, creating their budgets for the new fiscal year, with many services relying on the SSMU lease fee,” he said. “I’ll likely have to make two budgets; one in the case that we can pass a special referendum and one if we can’t.”
SSMU President Katie Larson said students did not do their part to understand the stakes of the referendum question.
“People clearly didn’t read the context of the question,” she said. “They don’t understand that we had to pass it because we now have to pay that much more money, and we don’t have that money coming in.”
However, students have criticized the SSMU executive for not explaining the reasoning and importance of such a fee. Kylar Daigle, U0 Arts, said he was confused about the question because it was not clearly explained on the ballot.
“I think the referendum poorly expressed what the consequences of this vote could be,” Daigle said. “I am certain that specification or more emphasis on the “cut services” would have changed the outcome. Surely the student population is willing to pay a mere $12—relatively nothing next to their tuition costs—to avoid losing Gerts and various student clubs and programs.”
The phrasing of the question does not specify what services would be affected or the consequences of a “No” vote.
“Without this fee, the SSMU would have to cut services to students in order to afford rent and utilities payments to McGill,” the preamble reads.
In addition, there was no “Yes” committee formed to campaign and raise awareness of the question. Shea acknowledged that SSMU had not done enough throughout the referendum period to inform students.
“I think we didn’t make it clear enough to students how necessary this fee was, which was obviously the fault of myself and Katie [Larson],” she said.
Larson said she hopes students will reconsider their vote in a special referendum for the question.
In order to hold a special referendum, a motion must be submitted to the council steering committee, and then pass by majority in Council.
Ben Reedijk, a member of the steering committee, confirmed that a motion to hold a special referendum had been submitted Monday.
Larson stressed the necessity of passing the motion.
“We literally can’t wait,” Larson said. “We have to pay it this year—it’s not an option.”