For the second time in two years, Students’ Society Council has taken steps to remove SSMU from student lobbying group la Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec. In a special Council meeting held Thursday, a motion was passed that will add the question of SSMU’s membership in la FEUQ to the fall referendum ballot. Students will now be able to vote on whether or not SSMU should terminate its relationship with the provincial student interest group in the October referendum. If students vote to remain in FEUQ, another referendum question must be presented in March; should students elect to disassociate, the question will not appear in the next referendum.
The meeting, called by SSMU President Aaron Donny-Clark to be held 10 minutes after the regularly scheduled council meeting, was in reaction to a gathering held between two FEUQ Vice-Presidents, former FEUQ Secretary General Eric van Eyken, SSMU Board of Governors Representative and Arts Senator Jacob Itzkowitz, and McGill student Esther Benoit.
The meeting was described by Van Eyken as an initial campaigning attempt to evaluate opinions and resources on campus with regard to the upcoming spring FEUQ referendum.
The main concerns expressed by SSMU executives were the undermining of the SSMU’s local sovereignty and the alleged unconstitutionality of the meeting organizers’ intended actions.
To SSMU VP External Max Silverman, the urgency of the matter warranted the addition of the question to the October 2006 referendum.
“Given that we have this referendum four months away, why should we allow the FEUQ executive to continue to work in this very backhanded, very undermining, very subversive way that’s going to undermine our democratic processes and really throw out the whole idea of fair campaigning on campus?”
FEUQ VP Federal and International Affairs Trevor Hanna said that the meeting should not be cause for concern among SSMU executives.
“I think [the meeting] has been made a big scandal out of something that really is very small. It’s a mountain that’s been made out of a molehill,” Hanna said. “I don’t think there is anything controversial about FEUQ wanting to keep McGill as a member and there certainly is nothing controversial about four McGill students and one non-McGill student getting together to discuss a campaign that is months away.”
Some councilors were concerned that the decision was a rushed knee-jerk reaction and may take away from a longer, more in-depth debate.
“We’re moving a little quickly,” said Medicine representative Donal Finegan. “It’s a little fast and all I’m suggesting is that we have a good debate about this issue.”
Van Eyken made it clear that he takes full responsibility for the gathering and that the council should not go so far as to disassociate SSMU from FEUQ for his actions.
“I regret that I personally caused a rift between la FEUQ and SSMU because of actions that I took by myself. This is not a debate between la FEUQ and SSMU. The issue here is that I acted badly. I fucked up. Don’t make this about punishing la FEUQ. Have a real debate on the issue.”
However, Silverman was not convinced that Van Eyken acted alone in organizing the meeting.
“This idea that he was acting alone, that it was purely innocent and that the two VPs were there by happenstance or were there out of some sort of friendship for him-you’ll forgive my language, but it’s a load of horseshit,” Silverman said. “The fact that these VPs would show up was problematic enough and the fact that they would be very active leaders of the discussion, as reported to us by the description of events, is unacceptable. And you [Van Eyken] can’t justify that even by your own stupidity.”
In an email sent on Oct. 4, former SSMU VP University Affairs Max Reed asked councilors to throw out the motion proposed by Silverman, addressing the hasty nature of the issue.
“Last year, SSMU left CASA, our formal federal lobby group. This decision took us four years of debate. Now, this year’s SSMU is preparing to leave FEUQ, which is 100,000 times more effective and efficient than CASA with four days’ notice,” he said.
According to Hanna, the benefits of membership outweigh the costs.
“It’s $2.50 a semester. If you’re a student who does four years, thats a total of $20 you’re going to be spending. That’s less than a case of beer,” he said. “Look at all the accomplishements we’ve made. We’ve kept tuition frozen since 1994, we won international students the right to work off campus and we have a lot more work to do.”
Reed asked councilors to consider the possible long term effects of leaving la FEUQ.
“A provincial election is weeks away. Why are we thinking of leaving the most effective lobby group in North America? What are our alternatives? How are we going to fight for the tuition freeze for all students: international, out of province, and Quebec? FEUQ represents the vast majority of Quebec University students: we should be fighting with them not against them in this time of crisis.”
He went on to claim that the executives’ call for expediting the question was the result of recurring friction between SSMU and FEUQ.
“This whole ‘scandal’ nonesense with Eric van Eyken is just a pretense to act on long-standing ideological desires.”
According to SSMU VP University Affairs Finn Upham, there have been recurring issues with the student lobby group that go beyond the recent subversive meeting.
“One of the problems over and over again was their unwillingness to take into consideration the priorities that we put forward, that we pressed and that we, in consultation and committee, had decided were very important.”
SSMU President Aaron Donny-Clark echoed Upham’s concerns.
“The issues we needed to address in FEUQ weren’t changing the constitution or changing the positions of la FEUQ,” he said. “It’s a cultural problem and the members of la FEUQ refused to address these sorts of problems.”
Itzkowitz said that considering all aspects of FEUQ, it would be beneficial for the SSMU to end its membership.
“FEUQ has done good things but FEUQ has problems. Unfortunately the problems seem to outweigh the benefits,” Itzkowitz said. “As we’ve shown in federal affairs, we can do things on our own that we maybe couldn’t do with FEUQ. Maybe we’ll lose some power, but I think that in the long run it’s better for us to leave.”