Understanding Wednesday’s General Assembly motions

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Undergraduate students will gather tomorrow beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the Shatner cafeteria to participate in the Winter General Assembly. With seven new motions on the table there is a wide variety of SSMU policy to be decided.

Motion Re: The Defense of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection

Put forward by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, this motion has emerged as perhaps the most controversial Genderal Assembly motion. Should it pass, the Students’ Society would be mandated to “issue a statement reaffirming its commitment to human rights,” expand the Financial Ethics Review Committee, allow for instituting a Corporate Social Responsibility committee, and have either active committee investigate McGill University’s investments.

The motion has drawn attention mainly due to the two non-debatable, non-amendable “whereas” clauses that mention the conflict in the Middle East.

“The main concern was to make sure that McGill has an ethical and moral way of handling business and that they don’t invest in any companies that don’t support human rights or in any way infringe upon anyone’s human rights,” said Samer Sefian, SPHR vice-president internal.

Sefian added that he was not surprised by the opposition garnered by the motion.

“Some people will believe that we are putting Israel aside and just targeting Israel, which is not true at all. I think it came out like this because either they have not read the full motion, which I doubt anybody did, or they are just thinking of it in a different way.”

The motion doesn’t specify any direct action to condemn Israel, though opponents to the motion believe that it has been written in a similar spirit to last year’s motion to condemn Israel for the bombing of educational institutions in Gaza.

“A lot of last year’s motion was about not wanting the campus to be polarized and we have the same position – we have no interest in seeing this campus as being divided on ideological lines,” said Mookie Kideckel, Hillel McGill President and Tribune Columnist. “But in a way, we almost see this resolution as more underhanded than last year because last year some actually asked McGill students to take an ideological position – this one does so in a really sly, covert way.”

Motion Re: Discriminatory Groups

In the aftermath of this year’s chapter in the Choose Life saga, a motion has been put forward to ban any pro-life group from becoming an official SSMU club.

If passed, the motion would amend the SSMU equity policy to include the following statement: “The SSMU further resolves to condemn any group, student association or organization whose goals and methods compromise the safety and health of any person or engage in acts of discrimination such as but not limited to pro-life groups; the SSMU will not grant full or interim status to any such group.”

Natalie Fohl, president of the suspended Choose Life club, said that the motion is a preemptive attempt to disallow Choose Life from being reinstated with full club status.

“It is very unfortunate to hear, coming from a group of students, that they would basically like to stifle dialogue on a legitimate topic by deeming the topic, or at least one perspective on it, illegitimate,” Fohl said. “I think that’s really against the spirit of what a university campus is supposed to foster, which is to question everything and open dialogue.”

Motion Re: Self-funded Tuition Model

As the University struggles to close a $14 million dollar deficit, the administration has announced that it will instate a self-funded tuition model for the Master’s of Business Adminstration program, a move which will create a flat tuition rate of $29,500 per student in the 2010-2011 academic year.

The motion seeks to establish a formal policy against self-funded tuition models and mandates SSMU to lobby against the self-funded tuition model on the university, provincial, and federal levels.

Motion Re: SSMU for Free Quality Accessible Education

Staying with tuition issues, the motion for Free Quality Accessible Education seeks to require SSMU to lobby for ultimately eliminating university tuition and student debt and also to “reinvest in education to maintain the quality and accessibility.”

Motion Re: Ancillary Fees

Ancillary Fees are another issue with strong ties to the McGill deficit. With the Quebec Ministry of Education’s current cap of $15 per student per semester set to expire on 2011, this motion seeks to mandate SSMU to oppose any future increases in ancillary fees unless passed by referendum.

Motion Re: Tar Sands

Should it pass, this motion would mandate SSMU to condemn the industrial development of the Alberta Tar Sands, examine investments of over $15,000 for ties to the Tar Sands industry, create a sub-committee of the FERC to research investment ties that McGill may have to the Tar Sands, and redefine the criteria for what is considered involvement with the Tar Sands.

Motion Re: Restoration of $5 Bill ATM Machines

If passed this motion will require SSMU to negotiate with the McGill administration to reinstate the availability of five dollar bills in ATM machines on campus.

GA Reform

Although tomorrow’s GA will go ahead under the current rules, the possibility for reform has again been brought up. At last Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, a motion was passed that will create a council-initiated referendum question to be put to students in the Winter Referendum period.

The referendum question, signed by SSMU President Ivan Neilson, VP Clubs and Services Sarah Olle, VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley, and Councillor David Marshall, would amend the constitution to make it more difficult for GAs to set policy on issues external to the Society.

“The spirit behind the question was to sort of redefine the GAs so we get all the really positive elements of direct democracy, and leave out some of the confusion, and the messy, more problematic motions which tend to come up and which don’t really have anything relating to SSMU,” said Neilson.

Currently, Article 28.1 of the SSMU Constitution reads: “A General Assembly may establish, amend or rescind any policy of the society except” and lists the constitution, membership fees or other financial matters of the society, and the composition of the society’s staff. The amendment would add to this list “policies on matters external to the Society’s regular activities.”

The amendment would also insert a new section, 28.2, which would read: “exceptionally, a policy on a matter external to the Society’s regular activities may be adopted at a General Assembly if the following conditions are satisfied,” and lists as the conditions: 500 members of the society are present, two thirds of the General Assembly votes in favour of debating the resolution, and the resolution passes with a simple majority.

Students will be able to vote on the question in the referendum period in early March. The campaign period begins on March 2, and regularly polling takes place from March 9-11.

– Additional reporting by James Gilman