At the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 8, councillors discussed funding issues and a potential conflict of interest between SSMU executive members and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). In addition, Council passed motions to renew the ECOLE project fee, de-gender SSMU’s language, and pressure the city of Montreal to hold consultations on systemic racism.
Accusations of improperly spent funds for AVEQ
During the announcements period, Vice-President (VP) Finance Esteban Herpin accused VP External Connor Spencer and VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke of mismanaging SSMU funding for AVEQ. In addition to imposing additional costs on SSMU members, Herpin believes these expenses could influence how students vote on motions involving AVEQ or the Union étudiante du Québec (EUQ) at the next SSMU referendum.
“In January, SSMU hosted a conference for AVEQ with the purpose of promoting AVEQ to other observing members,” Herpin said. “SSMU VP External and the VP University Affairs paid for it using their SSMU credit cards for over $4,000 of expenses, which consisted mostly of hotel rooms and food [.…] Nowhere in the SSMU operating budget were these funds approved or budgeted for. I believe that this is a severe transgression of the financial responsibility of these execs to owe the society and further this presents a serious financial conflict of interest between the society and AVEQ.”
In response to Herpin’s concerns, Oke admitted that the topic should have been brought up earlier. However, she also assured Council that she plans to include the transaction in her report on AVEQ and that the union informally agreed to reimburse SSMU.
“In terms of labelling it as a [conflict of interest], I’m not sure what personal gain I could get from it,” Oke said. “I think it was more an issue of checks and balances [….] In terms of potentially not getting paid back, that’s obviously going to be a potential issue whether we have a contract with AVEQ or not […] but AVEQ only hosts conferences at different school locations, so if they weren’t to pay us back it wouldn’t look good for their work moving forward.”
Nonetheless, Herpin noted that, in the meantime, AVEQ being informally indebted to SSMU gives it bargaining power.
“I think that this represents a conflict of interest as we are going to charge AVEQ for this and AVEQ now owes us $4,000,” Herpin said. “This sort of monetary liability to the society could be a point of pressure that AVEQ could push.”
Motion on Consultation on Systemic Racism in Montreal passes
Motions to renew the ECOLE project fee and pressure the city to conduct consultations on systemic racism passed unanimously, with the exception of one abstention from Councillor Danny Dinh on the degendering motion and after one amendment to the consultations on racism. Originally, the motion on Consultations on Systemic Racism in Montreal called for SSMU to put $1,000 toward publicizing a petition on the issue. Arts Senator Isabella Anderson’s proposed amendment changed the language of the funding clause from “of $1,000” to “up to $1,000.” Although Oke admitted she was not certain as of yet where the funding for this motion would come from, Herpin stated that he would look into the issue.
In response to Engineering Councillor Vivian Campbell’s questions, VP Student Life Jemark Earle discussed the relocation of McGill clubs and services currently situated in SSMU. He intends to seek additional funds for the move in a motion at the next Legislative Council on Feb. 22.
“We are looking at bringing a motion next council in regards to amending the use of the club fund and the campus life fund,” Earle said. “Hopefully we can find space for clubs and services should they need to meet from the date the building closes until they’re able to enter the building and use the spaces again, because they are able to book it for free right now, and we don’t want to take that away from them.”