Last Wednesday, the Postgraduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) held an emergency Council meeting regarding an upcoming referendum question on whether PGSS should remain a member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student union.The referendum, which takes place on Jan. 15 and 16, comes after a longstanding disagreement between PGSS and CFS over a similar referendum held in 2010, the results of which were declared invalid by the CFS due to a disagreement over the voting procedure.
At the emergency meeting PGSS Council publicly endorsed the “No” committee, which advocates that PGSS should not continue to be a member of CFS. The endorsement publicly declared PGSS’s support for leaving the CFS and gave members of the council the opportunity to register with the “No” committee and campaign.
“As a council we have been talking about this for a very long time,” Nikki Meadows, Financial Affairs Officer of PGSS, said during the emergency meeting. “As a group that feels very strongly about the CFS, we should take a stand and take a position and use this to help our membership understand what is going on.”
Council members were informed of campaign regulations leading up to the vote. For example, anyone disseminating campaign materials must be registered with the CFS, and all campaign materials must be pre-approved. The distribution of campaign materials that are considered misleading could invalidate the results of the referendum.
“According to CFS bylaws, the chief returning officer is the sole arbiter of whether materials are misleading,” stated Jonathon Mooney, first-year Law student and the head of the No committee. “But you can appeal the decision to a committee of people appointed by the CFS.”
The emergency meeting included an open-floor discussion during which the reasons behind voting “No” were discussed, and a brief presentation by the “No” campaign.
“CFS says that [its] purpose is to advocate on behalf of students, but they haven’t met with the Quebec Education minister in the past three years, and they haven’t appeared in front of the Quebec National Assembly in the last three years,” Mooney said, citing just a few of the “No” campaign’s reasons for supporting exit from the group.
Jessica McCormick, national chairperson for the CFS, viewed the decision to endorse the “No” campaign unfavourably.
“Taking this position is doing a disservice to the individual members of the PGSS who may have divergent views on membership,” McCormick wrote in an email. “It is particularly disingenuous to take this position given that the McGill PGSS has a responsibility to provide information including campaigns, research and services of the Federation to their members and has refused to do so for more than five years. Students should know that other members of the Federation value their membership and invite their participation.”
If the referendum ends in the decision to remain a member of the CFS, PGSS will owe over $400,000 in membership fees for the past four years—nearly $13 a year for each member. Furthermore, PGSS will not be able to hold another referendum on the subject for the next five years, according to CFS bylaws.
The motion for PGSS to publicly endorse the “No” campaign passed with a vote of 44 in favor, 0 against, and 1 abstaining.