The University Centre Building Fee question failed during the Winter 2014 referendum period, with 53.6 per cent of the electorate voting “No.” The fee was proposed following the signing of a lease agreement between the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and McGill, a lease that had been under negotiation for three years.
Although the lease signing can be considered a success, the failure to pass the fee to fund the new agreement was the latest in a long line of SSMU’s faux-pas during the 2013-2014 school year and contributed heavily to anti-SSMU fervor. Criticism of elected officials is an absolutely necessary component of a healthy democracy, even at the student-government level. Bitterness towards last year’s executives, however, is reflecting itself in this year’s campus discourse and inhibiting the student body’s ability to move forward from this situation.
Students have a right to be irate, but it’s easy to offer uninformed criticism, and even easier to seek retribution by voting “No.” In reality, another “No” vote will harm the average student more than it will harm SSMU, the representative body. Students need to consider what the building fee means to them and what the Shatner University Centre gives them access to.
The cuts implemented so far have reduced funding to clubs, shortened building hours, and slashed the portfolios and committees tasked with improving student life. Cutting off your nose to spite the face would be an egregious mistake that would undeniably do more harm than good.
There are some among the student population that question the democratic legitimacy of submitting a referendum question once again after it has failed, but those concerns are ill-founded. One need not look further than politicians who attempt to pass legislation that has previously failed because they believe it is in the best interest for their constituents, exactly what SSMU is attempting with this referendum question.
This year, a “Yes” committee was formally approved at the Sept. 11 SSMU Council meeting, a glaring component missing from last year’s efforts to promote outreach and increase knowledge about what the fee entailed. Additionally, a website has been created to explain the nature of the referendum question and address concerns that have been raised by students. This year’s executive has also been in office for less than a month of school, hardly enough time for constituents to pass educated judgement. However, this does not mean that the student body has forgotten about what can potentially go wrong, nor should they. Students should give this year’s SSMU executive and council the benefit of the doubt on the issue of the building fee, but SSMU needs to give the students something in exchange. A passage of the fee is no grand victory; rather, it is an opportunity to reflect inwards and ask why, and how, it came to this point in order to act proactively to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
The Tribune endorses a ‘yes’ vote for this referendum question, but our support is not unconditional. This referendum question is about a building that represents one of the few bastions of social cohesion and community on a campus otherwise plagued with apathy, a building that is home to over 250 clubs, services, and independent student groups. What this question is not is a referendum on SSMU; that particular question is one that should continue for the entirety of the year following a strategic vote in the coming week.
Students should be critical of SSMU, but for this referendum, SSMU is not the scapegoat. The return of the Building Fee in the SSMU saga has been a lesson for all involved—a lesson that never happened the first time around. The student body is now entrusted with a second chance, an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. SSMU also has a second chance to prove that it is willing to do right by its constituents, and that it will properly communicate and perhaps more importantly, properly listen. Wasting this opportunity would not only be a detriment to students, but would also be counterproductive in encouraging change for SSMU.