At its Jan. 27 Council meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) clarified questions regarding their involvement in forming two new provincial student federations: The Union Étudiante du Québec (UÉQ) and the Association pour la Voix Étudiante au Québec (AVÉQ). Council additionally took an early step toward establishing a smoke-free campus, and renewed its commitment to maintaining a positive relationship with the Milton-Parc community.
Provincial student federations
Council heard presentations from representatives of the UÉQ and the AVÉQ. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck has been involved with their formation since this past summer. Council is scheduled to present one of the federations to the student body through a referendum this semester, although it has yet to choose which one. Concerns over SSMU’s involvement with the federations’ formations were raised at the meeting, especially in regards to using SSMU’s payroll system to hire a coordinator for AVÉQ.
“There were […] these false allegations [raised at the confidential Council session] that I was sneakily hiring a coordinator of the AVÉQ and unfairly treating them, and that I was presenting these associations [in a] really biased [way,]” Boytinck said. “This was grossly misleading. First of all, it was in all of my Council reports; second of all, we didn’t actually pay for this coordinator— we just put him on our [human resources] HR software and other associations paid his salaries.”
SSMU had put the coordinator for AVÉQ on its payroll software to help the organization in its early stages; however, according to Boytinck, no SSMU funds were used to pay this employee.
“AVÉQ now has it’s own bank account, but while it was getting off the ground we volunteered to do that,” Boytinck said. “Basically […] we signed a contract with Concordia and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières […] to basically pay the salary of this coordinator. SSMU didn’t pay any of it, we have a break-even AVÉQ department. We’re essentially like a bank account and we didn’t gain or lose any money because of this transaction.”
Council unanimously approved a plebiscite question for the Winter Referendum period to gauge student interest in establishing a smoke-free campus.
“Would you support McGill becoming a smoke-free campus if smoking cessation resources were provided and there were ongoing educational campaigns?” the plebiscite question reads.
The question comes in the wake of a student survey that showed student interest in progressing toward a smoke-free campus. The question, as SSMU Councillor David Benrimoh explained, is a means for the administration to gauge student interest in this initiative.
“This [question] is in response to the survey […] which got over 620 responses,” Benrimoh said. “We met with some members of the administration and basically they are saying ‘we’ve been waiting for students to come to us with this, we’re willing to move on it but we need to know that we have student support.’”
SSMU VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke explained that if students vote to approve it, the transition will happen gradually, with a harm reduction approach in mind.
“Harm reduction measures can be included simultaneously with a smoke-free campus,” said Rourke. “For example, Health Services can continue to provide nicotine patches, or other harm reduction drugs or e-cigarettes as a method of quitting […] that are in line with a harm reduction approach.”
Community Action and Relations Endeavour
Council approved updated messages for the Community Action and Relations Endeavour (CARE), which creates a framework for the relationship between students and residents of the nearby residential area, Milton-Parc, under Boytinck’s portfolio.
“The CARE agreement was written in 2010; it was meant to be sort of a series of messages and a framework to address ongoing problems between SSMU and the Milton-Parc community and McGill,” Boytinck said. “So we set up this sort of formalized relationship structure that means that we meet annually. I meet with Milton-Parc representatives on a very regular basis, and this has actually resulted in concrete improvements in the way our relationship [functions].”
The update aims to further SSMU’s commitment to developing a positive relationship with the community, explained Matthew Satterthwaite, Arts and Science councillor.
“I’ve been a Frosh coordinator the last two years and a Frosh leader the year before that, and I saw how poorly our relationship was at the start with the [Milton-Parc] community,” Satterthwaite said. “It’s a lot better than it was before but there’s a lot of room to keep going.”