SSMU General Assembly takes stance against Quebec Charter

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On Oct. 9, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted its Fall 2013 General Assembly (GA). With approximately 50 students in attendance, the GA failed to meet its quorum of 100 SSMU members, and was therefore only able to pass the two motions that were under consideration as recommendations to SSMU Legislative Council. However, both motions—one regarding opposition to the Quebec Charter of Values and the other concerning amendments to the SSMU Constitution—were later passed by SSMU Council.

 

Low Turnout

Just over 50 voting members attended the event; five to 10 viewers watched the livestream, according to numbers presented at SSMU Council the following day. At Council, Arts Senator Claire Stewart-Kannigan questioned SSMU’s advertising strategies this year in comparison to last year, when the 2012 Fall GA met quorum for two of the six motions up for debate.

“Councillors would have been open to the suggestion of doing classroom announcements […]  but it was not even suggested,” she said. “Not everyone was on Council last year so not everyone has that precedent.”

SSMU President Katie Larson acknowledged that turnout was  low. Larson said the SSMU executive had considered many factors when determining the advertising campaign for this year’s GA.

“I didn’t think [classroom announcements] were an appropriate use of councillors’ time,” Larson said. “I didn’t think it would make a huge difference. [….] We did not do an aggressive postering campaign [because] honestly, it’s expensive, and it’s already expensive to run print ads.”

 

Opposition to the Quebec Charter of Values

The GA voted in favour of SSMU officially opposing the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, with specific reference to the section restricting public service workers from wearing conspicuous religious symbols. SSMU will send a letter expressing its opposition to Premier Pauline Marois, McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier, SSMU members, and news media outlets. SSMU will also create an ad-hoc Campaigns Committee in opposition to the charter.

David Benrimoh, representative for the Faculty of Medicine, said the proposed charter would directly affect members of the McGill community.

“There will be at least two people whom I’ve spoken to in my faculty who will be directly affected by this clause if it becomes a law,” Benrimoh said. “[This law] is intended to alienate people; it is intended to make people want to leave Quebec [….] If we do not take a stand […] we are allowing ourselves to move back in history instead of forwards.”

Usually, a motion concerning external matters can only be passed with a quorum of 500 SSMU members. This motion, however, was passed at Council the next day after speaker Rida Malik ruled that the motion was internal to the Society because of the charter’s potential impact on McGill students.

“The scope of the issue that the policy is referencing is external,” Malik said. “[But] it does have a very serious effect on people who go to this university and work at this university.”

 

Changes to the constitution

The forum also approved changes to the SSMU constitution, although the amendments still have to pass in the Fall referendum period. Larson said she brought the constitutional proposals to the GA to give students the opportunity to provide feedback and debate the changes.

According to Larson, one of the main changes is that the new document clarifies the roles of executives and directors.

“It’s super important to have a concise document that sticks to the law and [informs] members about what representatives are going to do, [and] what their rights as members are,” Larson said. “Anyone [should be able to] come to the document and understand how we govern ourselves.”

 

SSMU Board of Directors

One motion that the forum could not vote on due to the GA’s failure to meet quorum was the appointment of councillors to SSMU’s Board of Directors (BoD).

“Short of anything that the Board must absolutely do by law, we can still function because we can still make decisions, and we can still do day-to-day operations,” Larson said. “It’s just things like our investment[s] [.…] The money’s there, but it can’t be moved. If stocks start falling, we can’t pull the money out and store it somewhere else. We’re locked into what we hold right now.”

The BoD is SSMU’s highest governing body, as required by Quebec law, and consists of councillors. Every May, the BoD dissolves until new councillors can be appointed in the Fall. Last year, however, Larson said Council changed the process so that the appointment must go through an additional step of approval by the GA, in an effort to ensure that all members can vote on the appointments. According to Larson, this is common practice for companies.

Larson said that SSMU will probably call a Special General Assembly in the near future to vote on appointed members. Otherwise, the BoD cannot be formed until the Winter GA.