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Editorial: PGSS healthcare fee reduction highlights benefits of effective representation

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In recent negotiations with health care provider Blue Cross, the Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) was able to secure a significant reduction in health insurance premiums for all international students, including undergraduates.This agreement was the product of three years of work from PGSS executives, as well as cooperation from McGill in setting up a competitive bidding process for health-care plans.

This case shows the upside of student associations pursuing targeted, clear changes and goals in areas that are directly linked to their primary role as representatives of students vis-à-vis the university. The PGSS representatives were able to convince McGill to set up the competitive bidding process that led to the reduction. Much as the SSMU saw success with its advocacy on the sexual assault policy, part of the success of the PGSS healthcare initiative was that there was a clear focus to an issue affecting students directly. One of the facts that sticks out about this agreement is the amount of time it took to complete. To engage in this kind of project over three years requires a substantial long-term vision, and one that makes it hard for any one set of student politicians to take on a project they won’t be there to manage or even see come to fruition. Other efforts that have been managed over multiple exec terms, such as the Student-Run Café and the  negotiation of the much-maligined University Centre lease, have faced similar issues of ensuring continuity between executives,  Institutional memory is an issue inherent to student organizations on McGill campus, and ensuring that longer-term initiatives are carried over successfully would open up the possibility for pursuing more of these worthwhile but slower to execute projects. Questions of representativeness are also at issue. Although SSMU is substantially larger than PGSS, much of the complaint at the SSMU level is that student representatives don’t reflect the beliefs of their constituents. Changing this requires councillors to pay greater attention to the views of their constituents, perhaps through periodic polling of students or other consultations. Former Medicine representative and current Medicine senator David Benrimoh  was often known for taking surveys to ensure that he was representing his constituents at Council, a practice that other councillors should increasingly take part in.

Institutional memory is an issue inherent to student
organizations on McGill
campus, and ensuring that longer-term initiatives are
carried over successfully would open up the possibility for pursuing more of these
worthwhile but slower to
execute projects.

The PGSS’ agreement with Blue Cross is one that will  yield substantial savings for international students, and also one that makes clear the benefits of when a student association extracts concessions in the provision of vital services. What we can take from this agreement  is the importance of student unions having clear, focused aims in advocacy projects, and ultimately willing to face the challenge of passing on projects to future representatives.

In this week’s Campus Conversation, we asked various students to address how they believed SSMU could better represent its constituents.

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