From Nov. 3 to Nov. 8, the McGill branch of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG-McGill) is running an existence referendum to determine whether students will continue to fund QPIRG-McGill through an opt-outable student fee of $5.00 per semester.
QPIRG was established at McGill as a student club in 1980 and became an Independent Student Group (ISG) through a referendum in 1988. The organization is non-profit and student-run group with a focus on environmental and social justice issues that connect McGill to Montreal communities.
According to Julie Skarha, chair of the “Yes” committee and member of the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors, existence referendums began for all ISGs in 2007. McGill mandated that all independent fee-levy groups must run a poll every five years asking the student body if the organization should continue to exist. If the QPIRG-McGill referendum results in a majority “No” vote, the fee will be discontinued.
“We have to have a majority ‘Yes’ vote, which is 51 per cent of all undergraduate and graduate students and the quorum has to be 10 per cent,” Skarha said. “The fee is necessary for all the programs and staff we fund and for us to continue all that we do.”
Coco Zhou, U4 Arts, and member of the “Yes” committee, said that QPIRG-McGill has played an important role in her political development.
“I first interacted with QPIRG through their workshops, like Culture Shock,” Zhou said. “I found their workshops very useful and [they] spoke a lot to me as an immigrant. QPIRG has been key to a lot of student experiences at McGill, especially those who are marginalized. The group is the cornerstone for a lot of social justice work on campus.”
Some of the programming and projects QPIRG-McGill provides on campus include Rad Frosh–an alternative to faculty froshes that has a social justice and activism focus–and Social Justice Days, which is an annual week-long event of workshops and discussions about local and global issues held in the Winter semester.
According Igor Sadikov, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Arts Representative and member of the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors, the ISG connects McGill to the wider Montreal community.
“In addition to the events [QPIRG-McGill] hosts and provides, the group also [creates] bridges between students and the Montreal community,” Sadikov said. “SSMU services doesn’t really have the ability to do this because SSMU is focused on providing service directly to its members, whereas QPIRG allows students to branch out and be involved in the Montreal community all while remaining a student-led organization.”
QPIRG-McGill offers a variety of programming, including the University Exchange Program, where students conduct research with community groups. Another project that brings McGill and Montreal communities together includes Convergence, a research journal that combines undergraduate research with community-based research.
David Aird, SSMU Vice-President External Affairs, said that QPIRG-McGill is important beyond the programs and projects the group offers.
“QPIRG delivers a service that is not typically delivered by [SSMU] and they offer space to students that, unfortunately, we don’t,” Aird said. “Their existence is important to a lot of people. In my opinion, the safest place on campus to be yourself is the QPIRG office. I can’t emphasize enough how important QPIRG is in a university setting.”
SSMU officially endorsed a “Yes” vote for the QPIRG existence referendum at its council meeting on Nov 3. A “No” committee was not formed.