Burger wrong on QPIRG opt-out Fee

McGill Tribune

Spencer Burger, Faculty of Arts representative to the Students’ Society, ran for his position and was ultimately elected on a platform of transparency, creativity, and principled leadership. As an Arts and Science student represented in part by Councillor Burger, I would like him to be transparent about his motives in putting forward a referendum question proposing that SSMU annul the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s opt-outable fee of $3.75.

Burger was quoted in the Tribune last week saying, “This is a resolution not to take a side on this issue, but to put it out there,” and that the question was intended to “allow students to weigh in on the debate.” I find it difficult to see this as transparent, given the incomplete and biased picture painted by the whereas clauses of the proposed question and the fact that there are many potential ways for students to contribute to debate that are more engaging and less polarizing than an online referendum question.

The proposed question oversimplified two very complex issues. (Namely, the status of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and the tactics of the Zapatista movement in Mexico.) It discussed funds to two working groups, amounting to a total of 0.87 per cent of QPIRG’s total budget, but made no mention of QPIRG’s numerous working groups, which include B. Refuge, Barriere Lake Solidarity, Campus Crops, Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble (a marching band), Climate Justice Montreal, Filipino Solidarity Collective, Greening McGill, KANATA, Milton Parc Ad Hoc Committee to Save Parc Oxygene, QTeam, and the Montreal Media Co-op.

The proposed question also stated that students are “deeply disturb[ed]” by QPIRG’s actions. Since this was to have been a Council-initiated question (rather than a student-initiated question requiring 500 signatures), we know of only four disturbed SSMU members. The whereas clauses include no information as to how many other students have voiced their concerns. As a constituent of Councillor Burger’s, I have received no invitation to provide my input. I am not trying to trivialize the body of students with deeply held concerns, but merely to request additional transparency to prevent the perception that this question was ideologically driven, put forward by a member of Conservative McGill who also happens to be a SSMU councillor.

If the Opt-Out Campaign is indeed concerned with the way that QPIRG operates, then let’s have a meaningful and mature debate about those concerns. Mounting an extensive opt-out campaign which provides minimal and biased information on what QPIRG does (and no information on the benefits that QPIRG provides to McGill students) and attempting to financially cripple an organization in which many McGill students are involved only polarizes the debate. This approach is unlikely to move us towards a solution to this ongoing issue.

By providing incomplete and misleading information in the proposed referendum question, it appears that a small group of councillors were attempting to undermine the democratic process, which relies on a well-informed electorate. It would have been a shame if ill-informed students had voted “yes” and an entire section of student life at McGill had been silenced. I await and would welcome Councillor Burger’s explanation of how his recent statements embody the ideals of transparency, creativity, and principled leadership for which he supposedly campaigned.

Maggie Knight is a U3 Environment & Economics student, a Clubs & Services Representative on SSMU Council, and a former member of Greening McGill, a QPIRG working group. She can be reached at [email protected]

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