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SSMU to bring question of seventh executive, membership fee increases to special referendum

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SSMU Council votes to hold special referendum. (Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill (SSMU) Council voted to hold a special referendum at the end of the month in which students will be able to vote on a proposed base fee increase as well a the creation of a seventh SSMU executive position, the vice-president (VP) Operations. As discussed in the Jan. 14 Council meeting, the membership fee would see a $5.50 increase. The two questions will be asked independently in the referendum.

Motion to hold special referendum for a $5.50 membership fee increase

A SSMU referendum is scheduled at the end of this month regarding a $5.50 membership fee increase. The fee is collected once every term and is non-opt-outable.

If the special referendum passes, the membership fee will increase from $44.75 to $50.25 per term for full-time students in Arts, Architecture, Education, Engineering, Music, Management, Nursing, Physical & Occupational Therapy, Science, and Arts & Science, and $22.44 to $27.94 per term for part-time students in the same category. As for faculties of Law, Religious Studies, Dentistry, and Medicine, the proposed increase will bring the fees from $33.56 to $39.06 per term for full-time students, and from $16.83 to $22.33 per term for part-time students.

According to VP Finance and Operations Zachariah Houston, a portion of the extra revenue will be spent on improving student clubs and services.

“Basically, [a] $5.50 [increase] will haul in $242,000 roughly in revenue per year,” he explained. “We want to increase the club fund allocation by $25,000 [.…] We want to cut [independent] student group leases in this building a little bit, so that we’re not using that as a primary source of profit.”

The extra revenue will also be invested into other priority areas such as mental health programs and student space maintenance.

“We want more funding to go into mental health programming such as the Happy Lights program, Mental Health Space, etc.,” Houston explained. “We want to increase the amount of money that goes into the space fee, which […] goes out to student areas outside of [SSMU] Building on campus […] and student space in this building.”

According to the Base Fee Estimations document released on SSMU website on Jan. 15, it is estimated that $5,000 will go into mental health services. The increased space fees will cost $10,000, and the costs for SSMU building maintenance and related services will cost another $10,000. Additionally, independent student group leases will be cut by 15 per cent, costing yet another $10,000.

The campaigning period for the referendum question will begin on Jan. 18 and end on Jan. 29, with polling will take place between Jan. 27 and 29.

Motion to hold referendum on restructuring of executive portfolios

Council passed a motion to pose a second referendum question regarding the restructuring of executive portfolios, which if passed, will create a new executive position, known as VP Operations. The position of VP Clubs & Services will then be renamed VP Student Life.

According to the proposal, some responsibilities currently undertaken by the VP Finance & Operations will be transferred to the new VP Operations, such as the management of the SSMU building, Gerts, and MiniCourses. Meanwhile, VP Finance will take up new responsibilities including human resources, which is currently within the the president’s portfolio, as well as overseeing SSMU Daycare, while continuing to be in charge of SSMU funding, student fees, and the budget.

“[Human resources] will fit better into the portfolio [of VP Finance],” Houston said. “There is currently a lot of overlap between [SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim] and myself due to salaries, budgets, and the way that the VP Finance gets involved in the administration.”

It is estimated that an additional executive will cost approximately $35,000 a year, including stipends, benefits, and taxes.

“What an executive makes after tax is roughly $25,000 [per year],” Houston explained. “But before taxes, […] it’s roughly $30,000. On top of that, SSMU has approximately 16 per cent of different benefits it has to pay, for example, Quebec pension plans, [Quebec Parental Insurance Plan], et cetera.”

Houston clarified that the membership fee increase is not a precondition to the expansion of the executive team.

“We don’t require an additional $35,000 to pay a new executive,” he said. “The SSMU [annual] revenue is around $4 million. We can find that money if we need to. We can adjust other staff salaries, reduce some of our student staff research positions, […] or start cutting executive portfolios [and] service areas to the society—but I would love to not do that.”

Houston expects that the initial costs of restructuring will be covered by the long-term advantages it brings.

“I believe that in the long run, through a very intentional restructuring of the staff positions, you could afford a seventh executive without a significant increase in salaries,” he said.

VP External Affairs Emily Boytinck suggested that given the flexibility of SSMU’s current financial situation, students should not feel obligated to cast their votes for the two referendums in bundle.

“[Students] have free vote over either [issue],” she said. “They don’t have to vote [the same] to each [of the question]. They can vote yes for one and no for another.”

In order to avoid conflict of interests, SSMU executives will not campaign for this referendum during their working hours, or use any SSMU resources for this campaign.

“This is not a council-initiated ‘Yes’ [campaign] committee,” said President Kareem Ibrahim. “No SSMU e-mails or resources for this campaign whatsoever.”

The campaigning period will run between Jan. 18 and Jan. 29, and polling will be open Jan. 27 through 29.

SSMU appoints a new general manager

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On Jan. 10 the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced that Ryan Hughes had been appointed the new general manager (GM). The announcement was released in a written statement from Vice-President (VP) Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik. The GM position had been vacant since August, when the previous manager resigned citing personal reasons after only six months. Hughes’ predecessor had been hired in a rushed process, without the standard consultation of an outside hiring firm. According to Bialik, the GM is an important part of SSMU and is a source of institutional memory. 

“The General Manager role is integral to the smooth operations of the SSMU, working closely with both the permanent staff and the Executive team,” wrote Bialik in the press release. “The General Manager is responsible for ensuring the financial stability of the SSMU in collaboration with the Vice-President (Finance and Operations), managing the Society’s human resources in collaboration with the President, and managing the University Centre in collaboration with the Vice-President (Clubs and Services), while acting as the hub for institutional memory within the Society and facilitating the governance of the Society.” 

Hughes previously served as SSMU’s building director until going on parental leave in October. 

“Prior to his hiring for the General Manager position, Ryan Hughes held a variety of positions at the SSMU, including the Archivist and Communications and IT Director roles,” wrote Bialik. “As the building director of the SSMU, [Hughes handled] building administration and the implementation of projects.”

Hughes was selected through an extensive process that involved the hiring of an outside firm to aid in the selection of a capable candidate. 

“We placed extra emphasis this year on ensuring that the process was thorough and involved as many stakeholders as possible because the last process was not successful,” said Kareem Ibrahim, SSMU president. “We therefore hired an external recruitment firm [….] It cost $18,000 overall which is very expensive for us obviously […] but we really [thought] that this was not something that we were willing to risk whatsoever [….] The failed recruitments can have very drastic impacts on the society financially […that] severely outweigh the money we [paid] them so we were definitely not hesitant to […] invest a lot of money into ensuring this process was thorough.”

The GM’s contract began on Dec. 21, although the appointment was not announced until Jan. 9. Hughes plans stay in the position for a significant time in order to ensure the quality of SSMU’s services. 

“I’ve enjoyed my time at the SSMU thus far and I am rather excited for the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Hughes wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I have no desire to leave anytime soon [….] My first priority is to engage with the executives and staff members, to listen and to take their information, ideas and insight and create a stronger organization.” 

Bialik had assumed the responsibilities of the building manager while Hughes was on paternity leave. SSMU will now move forward with seeking new candidates after revising the job description for the position.

Semester in Review

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McGill Redpath Museum
(Natalie Vineberg / The McGill Tribune)

SSMU

VP Internal resignation

In October 2015, the acting vice-president (VP) Internal of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Lola Baraldi resigned, citing personal reasons. Following two elections for Baraldi’s replacement, Omar El-Sharaway took office as the new VP Internal on Jan. 1. In the wake of these events, SSMU executives held a forum to discuss the potential restructuring of executive positions and the electoral process. The possibility of adding a seventh executive position, called VP Operations, was the main focus of the forum.  In order for the new position to be created, the idea must be presented to the student body in a referendum at the beginning of this semester. 

“Over the next two months or so, we would do more [consultation…] and then run a referendum to amend the constitution in January if that’s what students […] wanted,” Kimber Bialik, VP Clubs and Services said. 

General Assembly

Last semester also saw a General Assembly (GA) that failed to meet quorum, meaning no motions were brought to a vote. The historically low attendance at GAs prompted a discussion regarding abolishing the GA altogether.  

“People think that this forum is defunct; they don’t really think it serves its purpose and that the only time people actually show up is for specific issues,” said Kareem Ibrahim, SSMU president. “In terms of my thoughts, I think it’s on the table to have one annual GA per year.”

Climate change policy

On Oct. 15, SSMU Council passed the climate change policy, which contains guidelines for relationships between SSMU and companies that contribute to man-made climate change.

“SSMU will avoid purchasing products from companies that violate environmental laws or actively fund the spread of false science,” reads the new policy. “SSMU will continue to avoid all investments in the fossil fuel industry and other sustainability screens outlined in the five-year ethical investment plan.” 

The new policy was subject to heated debate during the Council meeting, with representatives from the Faculty of Engineering raising concerns over the lack of support for the policy within their constituents, many of whom are likely to pursue careers within industries that the new policy pledges not to support. Despite this, the new policy was passed with amendments.

Support of Fall reading week

On Nov. 5, SSMU Council approved a motion in support of a Fall reading week. The motion allowed SSMU to use its resources to help ensure that a Fall reading week is voted on by the Senate in a timely fashion, which will help facilitate the proposed implementation of the plan by the 2017-2018 school year. 

“Be it resolved, that the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) endorses the proposal for a Fall Reading Break,” the motion reads. “Be it further resolved, that the SSMU mandate the VP University Affairs and Senate Caucus to pursue the approval of this proposal by Senate before the end of the academic year.”

 

PGSS

At its General Meeting on Oct. 24, the Post-Graduate Student’s Society (PGSS) passed a motion of divestment that calls upon the university to remove its investments from fossil fuel industries. The vote was preceded by a presentation by Divest McGill and Victor Frankel, PGSS environmental commissioner. 

“[The motion starts] from the things that are the least contentious,” Frankel said.  “Like [recognizing] that climate change is real, to things that are fairly reasonable like freezing or having a moratorium on any new investments in fossil fuels […] to the more contentious issues […] which says that PGSS strongly endorses divestment from fossil fuel companies and also supports efforts of its senators and members at the board of governors to strongly support divestment.” 

Traditional territory acknowledgement 

 On Sept. 16, PGSS Council approved a motion to include a Traditional Territory Acknowledgement Statement at the beginning of PGSS events and on the society’s website to recognize indigenous land claims to the McGill campus. 

“McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations,” the statement reads. “McGill University honours and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we gather today.”

Motion in support of students working for private corporations

In November, a private corporation sued a masters student for the destruction of his published work, including his master’s thesis, due to his use of confidential data. The student had completed research with the corporation, which was affiliated with the professor overseeing his research. The case caused the PGSS to pass a motion during its council meeting on Nov. 26 to protect students working with private corporations.

“Be it resolved that Council approves the drafting of a proposed policy regarding the involvement of private corporations in which a supervisor has a financial interest, with the goal of having the policy become an official McGill policy approved by the McGill Senate,” reads the motion. “The policy would be based on the following: the obligation of professors to disclose affiliation with private companies to the university and their students, the requirement of a departmental pre-approval process before students become involved with a company, with clear criteria to protect student intellectual property and rights, [and] the implementation of a university process to protect student rights, notably involving periodic audits of partnerships between professors, companies, and students.”

Internal Affairs Officer resignation

On Nov. 11, Sahil Kumar, the sitting Internal Affairs Officer (AIO) of PGSS announced his resignation. He cited academic obligations as the reason behind his resignation. 

“My trajectory through graduate studies has taken a new turn, and now requires a greater time commitment,” Kumar said. “I did not want to see the portfolio suffer and have decided that this would be the best option to move forward. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with [all] of the PGSS executives and commissioners over these last seven months.”

Mina Anadolu was elected as Kumar’s replacement, and took office shortly after his term officially ended on Dec. 3. 

 

MUS presidential byelection

The Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) announced the resignation of its president, Élie Lubendo, this past October. A letter released by MUS cited personal reasons from Lubendo’s resignation. 

“Due to personal reasons, Élie, elected as the President and Chairman for a one-year term in February of 2015, tendered his resignation from this role on October 20th, 2015.”

The letter described the contributions Lubendo had made to the MUS throughout his time as president.

“During Élie’s tenure, he laid the groundwork for substantial positive change and significantly contributed to the Society as a whole,” the MUS letter read. “Élie will be greatly missed as a member of the team and the MUS greatly thanks him for his service to the Society.”

A nomination period for new presidential candidates opened on Oct. 28, with all the responsibilities of the former president being taken on in the interim by VP Academic Affairs, Aarushi Kumar. 

“Fortunately, the Academic portfolio has a considerable amount of overlap with the presidential role already,” said  Aarushi. “Our constitution states that the VP Academic will take over should the president ever resign, and thus the role was designed to be able to make the transition with very minimal difficulty.”

At the end of the nomination period, three candidates were named: Michael Fishman, Aarushi Kumar and Alan Liu. Following a six-day voting period, Fishman, a U2 Honours Investment Management student, won the election. Fishman has held the position since Nov. 16 and will end his term on April 30, 2016. 

 

SUS Burnside renovation

Over the past semester, the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) has continued to develop its plans for the renovation of the Burnside Basement. SUS hopes to transform the current study space into a more student-friendly area. The renovations were originally set to take place during the summer months, however they have yet to be completed due to the prioritization of other consruction projects.  

In March, 2015 the SUS launched a crowdfunding campaign on McGill’s Seeds of Change fundraising platform, with the goal of raising $6,000. The campaign closed on June 18, after having raised $2,282. 

According to the project’s Seeds of Change page, the renovation is intended to transform the dimly-lit basement into a welcoming, all-access space for students. 

“Investing in efficient lighting, group study areas, and the installation of whiteboards to promote collaboration and progress group work will offer small but impactful changes to this student space,” the website reads.

The plan additionally cites the mental health benefits that the new space will offer. 

“For students, having a comfortable place to go and unwind, study, or simply interact with peers can have a huge impact on the quality of daily life and mental health,” the page reads. “The study space in Burnside Basement is currently limited to a handful of built-in desks and dated sofas purchased back in 2001.”

During the Oct. 28 General Council meeting, VP Finance Sibat Anam spoke to President Jeremy Goh’s efforts to move the project forward.

“[Goh is] currently working on the Burnside [Hall] Renovation Committee, [but] they’re just working through a lot of hoops and it’s backed up [behind other construction projects on campus],” Anam said. “He met with McGill Spaces and Campus Planning to […] draft a proposal as soon as possible.”

At the Nov. 25 SUS Council meeting, Anam announced that the final designs for the renovation were nearing completion. 

“[The president] is scheduling a meeting with the dean  of Science to talk about the final designs,” Anam said. “Of the three initial designs, two of them are ready to go and they’ll probably make the deadline for the final design plans.”

 

AUS makes progress on SNAX and election reform

 

Election Reform

On Nov. 27, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) referendum question regarding constitutional amendments to modify the AUS vice-president (VP) Finance screening process passed with 91.3 per cent of the vote. The changes to the process, which were first discussed at the AUS General Assembly (GA) in February 2013, now require a selection committee to screen and approve candidates before they can run for the position of VP Finance. 

“Eligibility to stand for election to the position of AUS Vice-President Finance shall be on the basis of candidates being sufficiently qualified for the duties and responsibilities required of the AUS Vice-President Finance, as determined by a two-thirds majority vote of a committee struck for these purposes,” the question read.

According to AUS President Jacob Greenspon, the changes came in response to issues AUS had in the past from delayed tax filing and audits.

“AUS did not file taxes from 2008 to 2012, resulting in the government freezing $120,000 from the AUS bank account,” said Greenspon. “AUS also [failed] to send McGill its audited financial statements in that time period [….] As a result, McGill withheld our student fees.”

SNAX MoA

In January 2015, SNAX was mandated to discontinue the sale of sandwiches due to issues of food safety, as outlined in their Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill. This decision received noticeable backlash from students, resulting in a sit-in at SNAX in March to raise awareness of the issue. 

SNAX’s MoA with McGill, which forbids the sale of sandwiches, came to an end in 2015, opening up the floor to negotiate changes for a new MoA. According to Greenspon, McGill agreed in November to allow SNAX to resume sandwich sales in the new MoA.

“McGill has recognized the arguments behind most of our positions, and fortunately, has moved to cooperate on many issues, notably SNAX selling sandwiches,” Greenspon said. “We are not yet at an agreement, but I believe we are closer than we have been in the past to signing the MoA and again selling sandwiches at SNAX.”

SSMU 2015-2016 budget review

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SSMU Building at McGill
The Jan. 28 SSMU Council will see presentations from two student federations. (L-A Benoit / McGill Tribune)

The November 2015 revision to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Global budget, approved on Nov. 30, 2015, reflected changes from SSMU’s earlier financial plan approved this past June.  The largest changes were seen in the Student Fees and University Centre Operations sections of the revision.  

A difference of over $55,000 between the June and November budgets can be seen in the Student Fees department, with SSMU noting that revenue from fees was initially estimated conservatively and ended up generating more funds than predicted. The updated budget projects approximately $1.77 million in revenue from total student fees in the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Administrative fees also saw a significant drop from the June budget, from $1.36 million to $1.35 million.  This is due to a decrease in salary expenses following the resignation of the building director, the general manager (GM), and the SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal.  This change  is only around $7,000 because of an increase in  paid student staff to offset the effects of the permanent staff resignations.SSMU also spent $17,000 in GM recruitment and $5,000 in legal fees. 

University Centre Operations is budgeted at $371,644, more than 60,000 more than SSMU projected in June. This is due in part to increased expenditures of materials and supplies, as well as maintenance costs, such as the repairs on the ramp to the main entrance of the SSMU Building.  Under this portfolio, increases in both Gerts’ profits and security costs are stated to be the result of the accounting change. Due to the fact that security costs are no longer charged to Gerts, the bar saw an increase in profits while security showed an increase in expenses.

Additionally, the president’s portfolio is budgeted at $3,576 more than in the previous budget, following the establishment of the Family Care department at McGill. This sum of money will be used in the planning of orientation events for student parents, and undergraduate membership in the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Study Sundays program, a monthly event for student parents to study and receive free childcare. 

SSMU reported a negative $22,000 change in the Food and Beverage Operations Department, mostly due to budgeting of the Student-Run Cafe (SRC). Prior to the revision, the Cafe was budgeted as if it had reached full sales potential right after its opening. The SRC reported a decrease in food sales revenue by approximately $90,000 net of food cost and salaries. 

The VP Internal’s portion of the budget review states that the 2015-2016 Old McGill Yearbook is not predicted to run a deficit.  This is attributed to a plan for the Yearbook to be covered by a separate fund or be published online.

The SSMU that students don’t know

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A lot of the day-to-day work of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives goes largely unnoticed.  After many rounds of recent elections, a lot of students are left wondering what that work actually entails. The Tribune reached out to the execs, and they explained, in their own words, the more  ‘under the radar’ aspects of their portfolios.

VP External

Emily Boytinck

A lot of my work is pretty public [but] I think that a lot of what I do, it’s not clear that SSMU has a hand in it maybe because I do a lot of coordination work, so I do a lot of liasoning with for example the Divest McGill campaign or the Anti-austerity campaign [….] I do a lot of those sort of work for other people’s events, and it’s very much more of a support role [….] I do a lot of work with student associations across the province [….]

I would like students to know that the VP External position, contrary to popular belief, is not a position that aims to shove my own personal political views on the student body. Every political campaign that’s been taken on has been voted on by the society often by overwhelming majorities [….] As the VP External, these are mandates that I’ve been given, many of them have been voted through referendum or General Assembly [GA] ratification.

Some of the work I do, especially on community relations, is a lot of […] listening and being there for the community–and that’s not something that’s reflected in an actual initiative, but it’s important that the community feels like their issues are being heard and are being addressed, and that’s something that’s definitely less public [that I do].

I spend four hours a week in executive committee, and like a couple of extra hours doing [things] like, reading […] bylaws or doing General Manager (GM) recruitments or doing ssmu restructuring or all those sort of administrative tasks that we do as a team [and] are not really reflected in what we do individually.

When I came into the position, one aspect of the portfolio which I significantly underestimated was the external affairs [section]. I was looking at how many times I’ve gone away for the weekend, and it’s over a dozen weekends since my term started [that there] have been times where I’ve gone away […]  or been in Montreal and had a congress all weekend [….] Those external affairs weekends were quite a bit more [work] than I was anticipating, and largely because even when I was running for this position that was not something that I knew a whole lot about. I come from a background of doing political campaigns and community outreach through [the Science Undergraduate Society] so I don’t have a strong background in external affairs, and I don’t think anyone who comes into this role has that background, because this is the only position in the school that does that kind of work [….] That sort of surprised me–how much time that takes and also how much I’ve started to care about it– because I’ve realized how important it is, but it is largely invisible because [that’s] only one person doing it .

People don’t realize that, for example, I supervise 11 staff [….] I sit on a bunch of committees, I spend hours of my week in executives meetings, I spend hours of my week at legislative council [….] There’s just so many different things.

VP Finance and Operations

Zacheriah Houston

The [SSMU] constitution is quite vague regarding the responsibilities of the VP Finance and Operations. Included in my constitutional responsibilities are […] overseeing the Society’s business operations, ensuring the financial stability of the Society, and reporting regularly on the financial status of the Society. 

In addition to the [aforementioned] responsibilities, this year I have several […] that typically would not fall under the VP Finance and Operations, due to the absence of the [GM] and several other positions [….] The amount of hours required just to keep the portfolio running leaves very little time for the [VP Finance] to do any long-term visioning or to take on any additional projects.

There are certainly tasks that take up significantly more time than I had expected. One example of a task that I had never anticipated would take up so much is the approval of expenses. Because […] SSMU issues more than 100 cheques per week, I spend around an hour each day–at times, more–reviewing various types of payment requests. 

I am now responsible for supervising the accounting department [….] Another responsibility that was delegated to me as a result of the numerous vacancies is the negotiations for the renewal of the Society’s Memorandum of Agreement with McGill [the MoA]. The MoA has traditionally been negotiated by the President and the [VP] University Affairs. However, due to the large number of tasks that the President has taken on this year, the VP University Affairs and I are now representing the Society in the MoA negotiations. 

I would be in favour of changing the job description of the Vice-President (Finance and Operations) to explicitly include dealing with legal matters and contract negotiations. Both of these responsibilities are already included in the portfolio to a certain degree, as the VP Finance and Operations must sign off on all expenses and contracts; however, these responsibilities are currently not well articulated in our governance documents, and I think that the VP Finance and Operations must be involved in the negotiation of contracts and in dealing with legal issues, due to the significant financial implications of both and due to the overlap of the skillset of a typical VP Finance [as well as] the skillset required for legal matters and the maintenance and negotiation of contracts.

The removal of certain responsibilities, such as the management of the Society’s business operations, would allow for more responsibilities to be added to the portfolio. This is something we have discussed at length during various consultative efforts regarding proposal for the addition of a seventh executive position. 

Probably one of the most unexpected aspects of my portfolio is simply the amount of my time that is spent solving crises as they occur. Around half of my work day [is] spent solving problems as they are brought to my desk (or inbox) by student groups, staff, and other executives. 

In terms of hours, the Finance and Operations portfolio involves around 80 hours of behind the scenes work each week. However, this measurement does not even include the student staff within my portfolio, some of whom work up to 20 hours per week to ensure that their respective areas of the Finance and Operations portfolio are functioning smoothly, nor does it include the many overtime hours put in by the SSMU full-time staff who work to manage the Society’s finances and business operations. 

One thing that I feel students do not really know is the number of issues that the SSMU executives have to deal with. While we always try to complete tasks as quickly as possible, the sheer volume of work, much of which pops up at the last minute, that SSMU executives have to complete in a given week often renders it impossible to do everything within our ideal timeframes. As such, I try my best to prioritize tasks accordingly, but things often take more time than I would like, and more time than one might expect, simply due to the sheer volume of responsibilities [….]

VP Clubs and Services

Kimber Bialik

The job description and constitutional duties of the Vice-President [VP] Clubs and Services are very vague [….] While the duties that fall under this portfolio are managing relations between the Society and its clubs and managing the building, [the job description] fails to specify what that actually means.  Because both those aspects of the portfolio are so large and all-encompassing, nearly nothing that I actually do day-to-day is named in my job description but all falls within the broad goals that are outlined in the constitution for the portfolio.

I think the most important thing I would like students to keep in mind about the Clubs and Services portfolio in particular is the sheer volume of things that fall under the portfolio’s jurisdiction.  The work that goes on in the portfolio on a daily basis involves supporting roughly 270 groups–240 Clubs, 20 Services, and 10 Independent Student Groups–to say nothing of the building.  

While that would be true of a typical year, there definitely are tasks I am now responsible for that [which] falls outside of what is traditionally within the portfolio.  These are all a function of the delegation plans established due to the vacancies of SSMU staff, namely the [GM], building director, VP  (Internal), and events manager.  All of the tasks that I outlined above are primarily maintenance of the portfolio.  The investment of hours for simply keeping the portfolio running to its full capacity–which is a task split between myself and nine student staff who work directly within my portfolio–excludes the completion of any projects that I want to take on in this role.  The administration and maintenance is so time consuming that it isn’t realistic for the VP Clubs and Services to develop and follow through on new projects or to participate in general visioning on how to improve the portfolio or the SSMU as a whole without other areas of the portfolio suffering as a result.

That being said, there definitely are tasks I am now responsible for that I didn’t anticipate having to take on as a result of the vacancies of a number of staff positions [….] This includes things like liaising with SSMU’s insurance provider and managing our insurance renewal process, the supervision of [nine] new staff members, the (arms-length) supervision of Elections SSMU and Judicial Board, coordination of the Student Engagement Committee, compiling the SSMU’s weekly listserv, and most recently, the approval of room bookings in the building.  While I was well aware of the day-to-day responsibilities of my role as per the constitution and my job description, these tasks are all taken on in addition to that.

The current issue with the Clubs and Services portfolio is that it’s far too big for one person to operate.  Maintenance for student groups is an incredibly significant time commitment, as is the management of the building, and one of the reasons why the VP Clubs and Services has such a high count of in-office hours year after year is a function of the fact that the portfolio itself has grown significantly over the years and has never been adjusted to accommodate for this fact.  At this point, I would not be in favour of adding any additional responsibilities to the position, as any additions would need to be made with the knowledge that other areas of the portfolio which are already significantly under resourced would suffer.

Nearly the entirety of the Clubs and Services portfolio, as is the case with the other more administrative executive portfolios, goes on behind-the-scenes.  Aside from the roughly four hours a week I spend in open office hours, the vast majority of what I do is work from behind a desk to assist in the facilitation of operations for student groups and the building. I can comfortably say that within the Clubs and Services portfolio in particular, at least 90 hours a week go into this behind the scenes work that students [as] a whole rarely see.  Students certainly feel the effect of this work each time they attend an event run by one of our student groups or every time they spend time in the SSMU Building, but much of this work is relatively invisible to the student body.  In these cases, the spotlight is on the individual student groups who are supported by the work we do–as it should be!

Because each of these groups is so different and requires individualized support, there are not nearly enough hours in the day to provide each group with the support that [it] deserves, and as a result , we often hear from student groups that they don’t feel like SSMU is able to provide them with enough support.  This is a recurring problem that the portfolio will encounter until the responsibilities of the position are reassessed.

President

Kareem Ibrahim

With the many […] resignations [this year], many of the tasks I am now responsible for are not in the presidential portfolio. With regards to the absence of the GM, I supervise two additional student staff and four additional permanent staff, and am responsible for the supervision of all processes related to human resources.

Traditionally, my involvement in human resources is limited to staying in the loop regarding the work of the GM, but this year it includes much of their work, [which entails] conflict resolution, staff supervision, the Social Committee, […] and demonstrating leadership in ensuring that all of the staff, part-time and full-time, are well-supported in their work

In addition, one of the permanent staff members supervised by the GM is the daycare director, who has also been absent as of May 2015 [….] As a result, I have taken on many of their responsibilities, namely getting the finances in order, liaising with the Daycare Parent Committee, conflict resolution for daycare staff, upcoming lease negotiations with McGill and correspondence with the government regarding our subsidy.

Lastly, the absence of the VP Internal resulted in me taking on the entirety of organizing events for the Centraide Campaign and the General Assembly, traditionally the president oversees the political aspects of said events, while the VP Internal takes on the logistics for the events.

On average, these tasks take up 60 per cent of my time, which is roughly 51 hours [out of] 85 hour work weeks. This means that […] I have less attention to dedicate to my regular duties, but I [also] do not have as much room to dedicate to improving the processes we currently have in place. The ideal situation would entail prompt email replies, no missed deadlines and full attention given to important things like the work of my staff, our governance document review, legal and financial issues and more, but with the workload this year, much of this cannot be done to the fullest extent.

I would not be in favour of changing my portfolio to include [more] things due to how unmanageable this workload has proven to be. The ideal situation involves all of our staff positions being filled [….] We want to provide great service to students, not ‘good’ service, or even service of questionable value.

The most unexpected thing I’ve done in office would have to be buying earplugs for the babies in the Nursery when there was construction being done outside – definitely didn’t see that one coming for all sorts of reasons.

I would say the vast majority of our work goes on behind the scenes, [particularly] my own [….] A lot of the work of the executives is very administrative and repetitive […] and therefore is easy and quick to report, but requires a lot of work behind the scenes. The sheer volume of emails we receive takes up a substantial amount of our time, although this, too, doesn’t add up to much in terms of reporting content.

SSMU hosts forum on possible executive restructuring

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SSMU Executives discuss the possibility of a new position. (Laura Hanrahan / McGill Tribune)

 

Students may soon have a seventh Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive according to a forum held this past Thursday. VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston, VP Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik, and VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke addressed concerns and answered questions about a potential new structure, as well as the responsibilities of SSMU executives.

 

Proposed ideas

 

Houston presented the proposed ideas for a seventh executive portfolio. The plan involved creating a new VP Operations position and renaming VP Clubs and Services to VP Student Life.

“The VP Student Life would […] basically be the VP Clubs and Services, minus the building aspect of that portfolio,” Houston said. “[The] VP Student Life [could then] take on some of the workload from the VP University Affairs. The VP Finance and Operations portfolio would be split into a VP Finance, doing all the finance-related aspects of my current portfolio, and VP Operations doing the student run operations […] as well as our building operations […] and environmental sustainability.”

Bialik stated that for a seventh executive to be added for the following academic year, a referendum would need to be held early next semester.

“Over the next two months or so, we would do more [consultation…] and then run a referendum to amend the constitution in January if that’s what students […] wanted,” said Bialik.

Houston addressed questions regarding the allocation of funding for the salary of the seventh executive. He stated that a specific source is yet to be determined, given current budget constraints from last year’s addition of a permanent staff position, and the loss of commercial tenants in the SSMU building.

“Right now [there] is not a lot of room in the general administration budget,” he said. “You would have to restructure permanent staff positions and different student staff positions to shift the salaries around, or there is no money [….] I actually don’t think that adding an [executive] would necessarily make [the total amount of the collective salaries] increase above what they are now […] but in the short run I don’t really see an easy way to pay for it.”

Houston additionally addressed the possibility of raising the SSMU base fee to garner extra funding.

“You can always increase the base fee, but that’s not something I would do for an exec,” he said. “But that’s something that needs to happen at some point any way. [The base fee] hasn’t been increased [for] quite a long time.”

 

The need for restructuring

 

According to Rourke, one of the driving factors behind the addition of a seventh executive, as opposed to student or permanent staff, is the lowered salary that executives receive.

“The reason we’re in favour of a seventh exec is that we’re the cheapest way to get an increased amount of work done,” she said. “Every other student staff gets paid minimum wage, permanent staff get benefits, and we work way more than full-time hours. So from that perspective of money for labour, we are the cheapest option.”

Houston explained that the discussion of whether or not to add a seventh executive has been ongoing since the summer.

“We started talking about how working upwards of 70 hours a week is possibly not the most sustainable thing – once school hits, that number goes up to 80 on a good year,” he said. “This year, we have many executives working 90 to 100, or 100 or more hours a week.”

Rourke echoed Houston’s sentiments, citing sustainability and mental health issues as a major problem with the executives’ current workload.

“Eighty hours a week is not accessible, it’s not equitable, and it’s not sustainable,” Rourke said. “It’s not fair to expect that out of someone and not everyone is capable of working 80 hours a week. I know I’m not [….] I get burnt out, my mental health takes a huge toll and I’m less of use to the people around me […]  and the ones that really suffer at the end of the day are students.”

Houston also noted the absence of a general manager (GM) and VP Internal as factors that made this year’s hours worked per week by the executives particularly high. When the floor opened to questions, Alexei Simakov, U4 International Development Studies, asked whether this year’s excessive work hours should be considered an isolated incident due to these absences.

“Concerns from previous years of execs being overworked have never been as prevalent as this, so would it not resolve itself if there were a full-time [General Manager (GM) and] a VP Internal?” Simakov asked.

In response, Rourke stated that past years have also seen serious cases of executives being overworked.

“I’ve raised [concerns] in the past that this is unsustainable, and this is not cool from a mental health perspective,” Rourke said. “This isn’t the only year that executives have been overworked […] and that’s evident from every single exit report that you read. VP Clubs and Services, more than any other position, has reported [things] like alcohol problems as ways to deal with the work load, extreme burnout, [as well as] rage and anger towards club executives because they can’t handle any more people coming to their door.”

Houston noted that while the addition of another executive member will not necessarily fix the problem, it will alleviate some of the work that current executives do.

“We definitely realize that adding a seventh executive isn’t the answer to everything,” Houston said. “However, we are here because we believe that the portfolios are too loaded and one of the things that can happen in order to, in the long run, create a sustainable structure is to add an executive. The last time this was done was about 10 years ago, when they added the VP Clubs and Services and SSMU has grown immensely since then.”

Omar El-Sharawy elected SSMU VP Internal

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Omar El-Sharawy was elected Vice-President (VP) Internal of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) with 4807 points earlier today The runner-up, Kahli Douglas, got 4445 points. The turnout for the election was 8.7 per cent.

SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim explained that since the 2014-2015 school year, SSMU has been using a preferential ballot system for all elections.

“The reason [we implemented the preferential ballot system] was so that there would be a way for votes essentially not to be lost if certain candidates were not elected in a race that had more than two candidates,” Ibrahim explained. “It originally came out of the 2013-2014 presidential election, and that was because they didn’t want someone to feel that their vote is wasted.”

The preferential ballot system accounts for the order in which students rank their preferences for candidates. If a candidate wins the majority of votes—that is, they are ranked as the first choice by the majority of students—then they are elected. If no candidate has enough first place ranks to warrant a majority, then the candidate with the least amount of first place votes is eliminated. The rankings are then re-counted.

Ibrahim stated that he was looking forward to working with El-Sharawy.

“[I’m] definitely looking forward to working with Omar,” Ibrahim said. “I was on Council with him two years ago and I know he has a lot of ideas. What I especially appreciate about Omar is that he is willing to identify issues at SSMU that can be improved upon, and I hope that is something we’ll actualize with his time here. I’m looking forward to having him as part of the team.”

El-Sharawy explained that he was excited to join the SSMU executive team.

"I am ecstatic to become the next VP Internal,” he said. “Although I will only have four months, I will ensure to continue the great work of the executive team and [the Students’ Society Network Program] (SSPN) who have managed to uphold the VP Internal responsibilities, create new platforms to engage the student body and promote student engagement and consultation. I am excited to become part of such a hard working executive team and work together to tackle our weaknesses and improve our strengths."

The other candidates were Lou Bernardi, who got 4388 points, Jason Rutman, who got 3639 points, and Tim Mapley, who got 3241 points.

This most recent by-election was called as the previous election for VP Internal failed to elect a student to the position, and 51.7 per cent of students voted “No” to Alexei Simakov, the only candidate running. The position was left vacant after Lola Baraldi resigned earlier this year.

El-Sharawy’s term is scheduled to begin in January.

With additional reporting by Laura Hanrahan.

SSMU VP Internal byelection profiles

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These transcripts were lightly edited for grammar, punctuation and clarity. All candidates were asked the same questions. The Tribune has also made an endorsement for the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) Internal byelection.


Omar El-Sharawy

How do you plan on overseeing the different aspects of your portfolio?

Frosh

As the only candidate who has been a Frosh coordinator, I believe I have the most experience to ensure a fun, safe inclusive Frosh. Although I will not directly oversee the planning of the 2016 Frosh, I will ensure to not only fully train and prepare the incoming VP Internal but support and share my experience.

Things I believe SSMU can improve on compared to last year is more transparent inter-faculty communication and collaboration. This was an issue visible to the Frosh coordinator community especially during beach day, where confusion lead to a small fraction of the students only attending beach day for less than an hour due to poor planning and lack of communication. In addition, I would ensure that venue booking is confirmed much earlier than SSMU had done last summer. I believe SSMU at times can be stubborn and refuse the help of other faculties, when a faculty like the [Management Undergraduate Society] (MUS)’ experience and support with multiple concerts under their portfolio could be very beneficial. I would also maintain the great communication between SSMU and the campus life and engagement team which was demonstrated by former VP Internals [Lola] Baraldi and [J. Daniel] Chaim.

Francophone affairs

As a student organization in one of the most bilingual cities, the French element of Quebec and our local students will not be neglected. Although I am not fluent in French, I plan to further support the Francophone commissioners to certify and maintain the French emergence into our community and culture. Supporting the francophone community could range from further promotion of the Franc-Jeu club, McGill’s only French-speaking theatre club, promotion of French-speaking mini courses and maintaining a French translation of the listservs.

Old McGill Yearbook:

SSMU Council has already taken the right steps to slowly tackling the issue surrounding the constant deficits and sustainability of the yearbook. In the most recent voting session, the two-part plebiscite question regarding the Old McGill Yearbook passed, but only with a slight majority for question 1 (56.9 per cent), while question 2 was more favourable with 76.6 per cent approval. Although this is a step in the right direction to tackle the yearbook dilemma, which causes a [large annual deficit], I believe there could be other options to present to the student body.

Considering that voter turnout was 16.7 per cent [for the referendum] and that the first part of the question did not receive overwhelming support, different sustainable methods should be presented to the student body. SSMU could make the yearbook accessible online and can distribute it through listservs, social media, and the SSMU website (and it could be further promoted through faculty associations). This would eliminate printing costs, and would thus be more sustainable and more accessible to students. This is just one solution, however if after further consultation, the student body wants to maintain the yearbook’s hard-copy production, I will be more than happy to act upon students’ wishes.

Communications:

The VP Internal is responsible for publicizing, maintaining, and editing the listserv to insure it remains engaging and appealing to the students. In the recent past, listservs have often been the topic of controversy—not only because of their content, but also because of their diminishing outreach. Sadly, listservs are no longer appealing to students, as they are long, tedious, and verbose. That is something I plan to change. Along with [distributing the listserv through] the traditional platform of email [and] through a short YouTube video created on a biweekly basis and/or through easily accessible Snapchat stories. I plan to offer students more platforms [to easily access] the information [in a] concise way.

Equity:

During my three years [at] McGill, I have sat as VP External of [the Inter-residence Council] (IRC), [the Science Undergraduate Society] (SUS) representative to SSMU, and was hired as a Frosh coordinator. In each position, I was expected to do at least 6 hours of equity training. Along with my own participation in workshops facilitated by Healthy McGill, such as the alcohol consumption and sexual assault workshop. Over the years I have attended over 40 hours of equity training and [I will be sure] to implement my training while planning and executing events. Therefore, I believe I can ensure [I] create events, enhance communications and fulfill my mandate while remaining respectful to the diverse McGill community.

How do you plan on coming in halfway through the term and adjusting, knowing that you have four months left?

I believe for any candidate running, there will be a large learning curve as they adapt to the responsibilities as VP Internal. However, I believe sitting on SSMU [Council] for two years will make my  learning curve less steep. I was lucky to observe and learn firsthand from former VP Internals Chaim and [Brian] Farnan and therefore improve from their mistakes while continuing their great work. Since 4Floors and Frosh [are] over, this will allow me to focus on improving other aspects of my portfolio while becoming more of a facilitator and a support tool for Students’ Society Programming Network (SSPN) to continue their great work to plan future events. Although I will have a short time in my position, I will try and build a strong foundation of improvements which the student body feels are necessary so the new incoming VP Internal of 2016 can build upon my work

Is there anything you’d like us to know about you as a candidate and your platform?

I believe that any executive team of a student council [at] McGill has an extremely difficult job trying to please such a diverse student body. I have reached out to multiple people in student leadership positions […] for their views on what we need to improve not only relevant to my portfolio but to SSMU as a whole. I believe my platform speaks to the majority of the students and what they view should change and improve about SSMU

Why did you not run in the last election?

After sitting on SSMU Council for two years, multiple councils and committees, and being a Frosh coordinator all summer long, I wanted to take a step back and focus on my academics and adapting to my new field of study (especially after transferring faculties) and pursue my other passions such as music (where I joined Tonal Ecstasy).  However, after being away from student politics and strongly adapting to my new academic workload, I felt I was prepared to return to my true passion, which is attempting to make a positive impact on the McGill community.

Kahli Douglas

How do you plan on overseeing the different aspects of your portfolio?

Frosh

I plan on working closely with faculty associations to ensure the framework is in place for next year's Frosh. I would like to have meetings with the Milton-Parc community and the [police] to get feedback and hear their thoughts. As a Frosh leader the past two years, I've witnessed the improvements, but I also see where changes can still to be made. We're on the right track and learning from the strengths of each association's own frosh can greatly benefit the Frosh experience at McGill for both froshies and the community.

Francophone Affairs

I would like to work closely with the Francophone Commissioner and involve non-francophone groups in the discussions on how we can promote French on campus and [promote] better integration within the Montreal community. I would like to look into planning events in French, such as film screenings and guest speakers, as well as [increase the] promotion of French mini-courses [….] As a francophile that has spent years trying to master the language, I believe immersion is important and despite living in Montreal, McGill could offer more in terms of French programming.

The Old McGill Yearbook

The yearbook is up for review and reform right now, and while an online version of it would certainly be cheaper and sustainable, there is something to say for having a hard copy of a yearbook that is print [….] This is a time when getting student feedback is absolutely necessary on how to proceed as there are currently, […] two main schools of thought: one preferring to go digital and another wanting to see a fee included in tuition to pay for the yearbook in its current form. I would like to gather student feedback and work with students on creating a sustainable option that appeals to the most people possible.

Communications

Communications are key to getting students involved and properly informed. While the listserv does have its downfalls, it is a great way of transmitting updates on current SSMU happenings. I would like to implement more interactive ways of spreading information to and learning about the student body. Roundtable meetings with [student] faculty associations and student groups are a good way of exchanging relevant information between the association and SSMU […] to learn more about what each association and group is currently facing[….] I would like to table regularly on campus and have chats with students to form an open dialogue and potentially some of my office hours could be accessible to different students that wouldn't otherwise come into the office.

Equity

Equity is something we should all be striving for and we should be involving students in these discussions, as we all have different experiences and the intersectionality of those experiences with our self-identity makes different services, even SSMU in general, more accessible to some over others. I want to work with [the Social Equity and Diversity Education office] (SEDE) and the [Office of Students with Disabilities] (OSD) to ensure SSMU is doing all they can in making equitable decisions and programming.

How do you plan on coming in halfway through the term and adjusting, knowing that you have four months left?

am ready to cannonball into the deep end. I plan on immersing myself and dedicating my time to this position.[Although it is] a short term to hold a position, I am giving these four months to SSMU and to the students. I plan on acquainting myself with the people I'll be working with, getting lots of input, and being open to adapting. By working hard, thinking critically, and staying organized, I know I can do a lot in the time that's left.

Is there anything you’d like us to know about you as a candidate and your platform?

Since coming to McGill, I've been very focused on contributing to the community. Working with Walksafe for the past two and a half years has taught me the value of hard work and the power of having a vision. As a Frosh leader the past two years I have formed bonds with fellow students and witnessed the importance of inclusivity and creating safe spaces for students. As a volunteer teaching young students conflict resolution with Peace by Peace, I've seen how creating a culture of respect and understanding truly changes group dynamics. My experiences have shaped who I am and how I approach people and problems. I would like to create an open dialogue on campus where students are encouraged to contribute as I'd like SSMU to represent an amalgamation of all our ideas rather than those of just the person holding the position.

Why did you not run in the last election?

It wasn't until recently that I learned I could afford to take the time away from my studies and fully commit to the position. I didn't want to run if I couldn't dedicate myself to the job. I highly value this position and all of its duties and want to make sure that, if elected, I am giving adequate time to each aspect of the portfolio.

Jason Rutman

How do you plan on overseeing the different aspects of your portfolio?

Frosh

In my opinion, Frosh simply isn’t long or wild enough. If elected, my first order of business, after erecting a 5m [tall] marble statue of myself outside the SSMU Club building, would be to declare independence from McGill and establish Frosh in the place of normal classes. The bonding and lifelong memories created during Frosh are simply too important to pass up on, and I believe that they are far more important than anything you can learn in class.

Francophone Affairs

Francophone affairs are an important part of my platform. I regularly watch French language soap operas, with my favourite being Plus belle la vie. I’ve watched all 11 seasons and I can assure you that those characters have engaged in numerous affairs. There were many cases where a husband cheated on his wife or a boyfriend cheated on his girlfriend, so I’m definitely knowledgeable about francophone affairs. I think my experience watching these programs gives me an advantage over the other candidates.

Old McGill Yearbook

The yearbook is an important issue. SSMU […] is currently in the red because of these yearbooks and this is really hurting their progress on completing the Death Star. Everyone, myself included, was really looking forward to seeing the Death Star completed before graduating, so seeing this pushed back is disappointing. If elected, I would focus all our efforts away from yearbooks and towards the Death Star.

Communication

Communication has always been a priority for me. I’ve taken CCOM 206, a communications course offered for engineering students and I received an A, so you could say that I’m a masterful communicator. Whether I’m on the bus yelling at strangers, or alone in my room talking to a mirror, I’m adept at expressing my point of view.

Equity

Equity is also important. It’s so prevalent in day to day life. Say, for example, that you own a car worth $15,000 but owe $5,000 on that car. That car represents $10,000 equity. I believe that it’s imperative that all students graduate with basic knowledge of finance and economics to ensure that they make smart financial decisions in the future.

How do you plan on coming in halfway through the term and adjusting, knowing that you have four months left?

As soon as I am elected, I will stage a coup, removing the other members from SSMU […] and declaring myself the eternal president. Afterwards, my plan is to move SSMU […] headquarters to Copenhagen, Denmark for an undetermined period of time.

Is there anything you’d like us to know about you as a candidate and your platform?

I feel as though gingers are underrepresented in student body politics. Being a full-blooded ginger myself, I want to bring [ginger issues] to the forefront. For example, SSMU […] currently distributes sunblock during Frosh only. However, I think, as a ginger, that it should be distributed year round. It’s an important issue that I believe needs addressing.

Why did you not run in the last election?

I was running in the New York City marathon when I fell in an open manhole and got trapped. To escape I had to saw off my own arm, yet despite the blood loss finished the race with a time of 127 hours. After the race, upon awaking from my coma, I decided that it was time that I really did something with my life.

Lou Bernardi

How do you plan on overseeing the different aspects of your portfolio?

Not at all, I'd resign immediately.

How do you plan on coming in halfway through the term and adjusting, knowing that you have four months left?

I plan on resigning immediately so the next guy only has to have the position for three and a half months. That would be so much less stress on their shoulders. I realize sometimes, that I am truly a giver in life.

Is there anything you'd like us to know about you as a candidate and your platform?

I am the most qualified joke candidate to run this election. I come hot off the campaign trail of the federal elections where I ran for member of parliament, unfortunately losing to another status quo candidate.

Why did you not run in the last election?

Last year’s election drama for president was hilarious and terrible, however the need to mock something wasn’t strong enough until this [most recent round] of elections.

SSMU moves for electoral reforms in light of recent election

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Councillors discuss electoral reform (Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 19, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) voted in favour of establishing an ad-hoc electoral reform committee, institutionalizing support for indigenous communities, and creating a committee to initiate and propose changes to the student health and dental plan.

 

Electoral Reform Committee

 

In response to recent and prolonged SSMU election disarray, Arts Representative to SSMU, Adam Templer, spoke in favour of passing a motion to create an ad-hoc electoral reform committee.

“In the aftermath of the elections this Fall, last [Winter, and] elections before that […] SSMU elections have really gotten a bad reputation from the way [they] have been run,” Templer said. “[This motion is about] bringing forward a committee to investigate avenues for electoral reform, to make it less personal, more functional, [and] more sustainable.”

Vice-President (VP) Clubs and Services Kimber Bialik cited a need to reform online campaigning.

“What was left out [of the previous revision were] any guidelines […] on online campaigning, which has been a primary issue in past campaigns,” Bialik said.

Council looks to address online campaigning alongside strategies for faster responses to issues during the election period. Consultation from the student body on desired changes to the current electoral format will also be prioritized. Visiting former Council member Omar El-Sharawy described student consultation as a step in the right direction.

“I believe the biggest problem for the larger student body is just feeling that SSMU isn’t listening to them,” El-Sharawy said. “The fact that we’re trying to involve students, and trying to have students engaged, and trying to have student consultation is literally what students have been begging SSMU to do.”

The motion passed unanimously, with an amendment to include six councillors and six members-at-large, as opposed to the four of each proposed originally.

 

Institutionalization of support for indigenous communities

 

Council voted unanimously in favour of renewing the motion to adopt the Traditional Territory Acknowledgment for another year.

This motion calls for the practice of indigenous solidarity by SSMU and the student body as a whole by resolving to state the Traditional Territory Acknowledgment at all major SSMU-affiliated events. This motion also gives access to room bookings through the VP University Affairs to indigenous students and groups that organize events aiming to bring greater support and visibility for indigenous communities. Bialik brought up a concern with the room bookings clause, relating to existing space capacity issues on campus.

“We have a pretty serious space constraint issue, and it isn’t possible for us to support all our current clubs and services right now,” explained Bialik. “If we keep offering free room bookings to everyone, we’re less and less able [to accommodate].”

SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim reminded the Council that they had passed a similar motion on mental health space.

“Indigenous groups are 0.006 per cent of the population at McGill,” said Ibrahim. “The visibility of that community is so minute, that to add this to what they can access is not going to [disadvantage other groups], but speak volumes to what [SSMU] is doing to make sure that [the ingidenous] voice is heard throughout this campus and in our country.”

 

Improving mental health and legal services for students

 

Councillors voted in favour of creating a subcommittee to propose changes to the existing student health and dental plan, with a focus on improving mental health and legal services.

Templer referenced a March 2014 survey conducted by Alliance Pour La Santé Étudiante au Quebec (ASÉQ), a Quebec insurance company, in which McGill students requested better mental health coverage, as a reason for developing this committee.

“McGill Mental Health Services has a wait time of two weeks for initial appointment, followed by an additional two weeks to see a psychiatrist, and a three-to-four month wait for regular psychotherapy,” Templer said. “It’s completely strained [….] This committee will allow for investigating options to get students the help that they need.”

On the legal front, Templer explained that the McGill Legal Information Clinic only provides free, confidential advice and representation to students seeking legal advice in matters involving the university. Reforms would allow coverage for students in need of representation in cases such as a dispute with a landlord, or an underpaying employer.

“We need better support systems for [students] in those instances,” Templer said.

CKUT fee increase fails in SSMU referendum

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(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

The results of the 2015 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum were announced on Nov. 15. All referendum questions passed, with the exception of the CKUT fee increase.

 

The Safety Network fee

 

The first referendum question, which proposed the creation of a SSMU Safety Network Fee passed by 75.3 per cent. The non-opt-outable fee, which will charge students $3.97 per semester, will be used to collectively fund the services of the SSMU Safety Network: The McGill Students’ Emergency Response Team (M-SERT), DriveSafe, WalkSafe, and the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

The Safety Network fee will replace the old fee structure, where M-SERT was funded by a non-opt-outable student fee of $0.50 per semester, and SACOMSS was funded by a non-opt-outable student fee of  $0.75 per undergraduate per semester. WalkSafe and DriveSafe were funded by a $0.05 and $0.25 per student per semester fee respectively, allocated to them by SSMU from the SSMU base membership fee. SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Zacheriah Houston spoke to the success of the referendum question.

“We’re thrilled that the safety network fee passed,” Houston said. “The passing of this fee means that [MSERT] will have guaranteed funding for the next five years, and is also more transparent to students because they know what they’re paying directly into. SACOMSS getting a fee increase is incredible because they’ll be able to pay their staff, which is something that they need to do.”

The Safety Network fee will be charged to students from Winter 2016 to Winter 2021, inclusively.

 

CKUT fee

 

In the referendum question regarding the CKUT Radio student fee, 54.7 per cent of students voted “No” to the referendum question that proposed increasing the CKUT fee for all undergraduate students regardless of faculty by $1.50.

According to the CKUT’s annual budget for 2015-2016, the radio station is currently running a deficit of $40,251. Chair of the CKUT Board of Directors Cecilia MacArthur spoke to the ramifications of the results.

“The loss has dire effects on our ability to function as a radio station,” MacArthur said. “Still, we will not be closing. As a station, we will continue discussions about new sources of fundings, including restructuring how we sell ads and fundraising in other ways.”

 

Plebiscite questions

 

The vote on the first plebiscite question, proposing that SSMU increase its focus on developing projects that alleviate the cost of commodities, like housing and food, for students, saw 79.0 per cent of students in support.

“Do you support the SSMU focusing more of its energy on developing projects to increase the financial accessibility of commodities, such as student housing and food cooperatives, for students?” the plebiscite question read.

SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim expressed his excitement about the opportunities that the results of  this plebiscite has presented.

“I’m definitely excited to see that students would want to see SSMU having a more active role in not only student-run co-ops but also in just making things more accessible to them financially,” Ibrahim said. “There is this student housing that we’re interested in exploring, also making the Nest and the [Student Run Cafe] a bit more student-run, it’s something I think would be of interest to students, and something we could invest more time in.”

In regards to the second plebiscite question, 56.9 per cent of students voted “Yes” to part one, which proposed the creation of a new yearbook fee to fund Old McGill, McGill’s yearbook. For part two of the plebiscite question, 76.6 per cent of students voted “Yes” for which stated that this fee would be non-opt-outable.

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