COMMENTARY: The GA for dummies

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Tomorrow’s Students’ Society Winter General Assembly is an opportunity for McGill undergraduate students to decide what we believe in and what policies SSMU should abide by. The GA is a venue to propose positions, in the form of resolutions, for our community to debate and decide on together. The rules of procedure can be used to ensure a constructive GA – if you know how to use them, that is.

The best advice that I can give in preparation for the GA is to get familiar with the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order (www.robertsrules.org). This will ensure that you will be able to follow what is happening and empower you with the technical knowledge to effectively carry out what you want. During the GA, a quick list of procedural rules will be listed on your placard for your reference. If you have a question about a procedural rule or are confused about what is happening, you may ask the Speaker for clarification.

Debate Procedure

At the GA, debate switches between pro and con speakers, who are lined up at the pro and con microphones. Debate will normally continue until there are no more speakers left. Here are a few common procedural motions that affect how debate is carried out:

1. Motion to Limit Debate: This is used to limit the time of debate. You can limit the total time allotted for debate on a resolution, or cap the number of speakers for each side. This motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

2. Motion to Extend Debate: The inverse of the previous motion. This motion can reverse or adjust a previous Motion to Limit Debate. This also requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

3. Move the Previous Question: This motion ends all debate and calls for an immediate vote on the resolution. This also requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Resolution Procedure

Here are various ways to approach a resolution:

1. Debate and vote: In this approach, a resolution will be debated as written. The assembly will then vote on whether to adopt it as policy. A resolution requires a simple majority (more than 50 per cent of votes) to be adopted.

2. Amend a resolution: Amending a resolution can strengthen or weaken support for a resolution. You can delete a part that you don’t like, or add a word, sentence, or entire clause in order to develop a resolution more clearly. You can only amend the resolved clauses; whereas clauses are not amendable. Amendments require a simple majority to pass.

3. Defeat a resolution: A resolution can be defeated before it is voted upon through several different motions. These motions include Motion to Postpone Indefinitely, Motion to Refer to Committee, and Motion to Postpone to a Certain Time. These motions each require a simple majority to pass.

I hope you can use the information given here to help you accomplish your policy goals at the GA. If you have any questions about parliamentary procedure or about the GA, please don’t hesitate to email the Speaker at [email protected]. See you at the GA!

Sarah Olle is the SSMU vice-president clubs and services. You can contact her at [email protected]