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Editorial: SSMU Building Fee essential to continued viability

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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.

  • ab14

    A successful “Yes” vote for the referendum sets a dangerous precedent, that if the student body rejects a proposal, SSMU can ignore their wishes and just hold more referendums until they get their way. Regardless of what SSMU thinks is in our “best interests,” they are here to represent the student body, so they need to respect our choice either way.

    Would a “No” vote result in some cutbacks? Absolutely, but life would go on and people would make do. And it would show SSMU, and McGill administration, that the students do not agree with the lease that was negotiated, and they need to make some changes.

    • Chloe Rourke

      Students have every right to disagree with the lease that was negotiated and if they choose to vote ‘no’ due to this reason or any other that is their right to do so. However to make an informed judgement on the success/failure of the lease negotiations (that were confidential) its important to know about the circumstances of those negotiations. This information was unfortunately released AFTER the first referendum question, so through no fault of their own students had very little information given to them about the lease negotiations in order to make an informed decision (which arguably could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the first question, but that is another matter). If you havent already, I would suggest you check out this tribune article released in April as I found it gives some context. http://mcgilltribune.com/news/reviewing-ssmu-lease-behind-four-years-confidential-negotiations/

  • ElieLubendo

    “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.”

    You have to be kidding. Regardless of the fact that submitting a referendum question twice on the basis that it’s in the “best interest” of its constituents is a slippery slope (who gets to decide what’s in their best interest if not the constituents themselves?), there is a grave difference between re-submitting to a legislative body (i.e. McGill Senate, SSMU Legislative Council, etc.) and the entire student body. First, to use the example of re-introducing motions at a legislative body, at the SSMU Legislative Council a motion can only be re-introduced with a 2/3 majority vote to have it re-introduced. Meaning if we were to mirror such a process, the Building Fee wouldn’t be allowed to be re-introduced unless the students first voted to have a re-vote on it with a 2/3 majority. This is clearly not the case and hence why it seems ridiculous to be voting once the same motion twice. Furthermore, there is no indication that the Building Fee won’t be re-introduced for a third time if it fails in this Special Referendum… And given how obscure national politics can be, let’s refrain from quoting their tactics as a way to justify our actions.

  • Jan

    This is what was said in a muddy way: Clearly, the students were misinformed when they voted “no” the first time. It’s in their best interest to allow them to correct this mistake by organizing one more referendum. This way they’ll be able to base their decision less on “uniformed criticism” (might want to fix that in the text) by voting “yes”. Then they can get what’s best for them. Because although they don’t know what’s best for them, the McGill Tribune does and so do the SSMU executives.

    The opinion expressed in this editorial is illogical and hollow. The arguments contain words like “ill-founded” and “egregious mistake” that make seem like whoever wrote the text has an opinion that is worth more than anybody else’s and is more knowledgeable about the facts. It attempts to do this by simply pointing out that the “no” voters were objectively wrong. Could it be that there is information available now that was not available at the time of the original referendum, and that knowing this new information would convince any sensible person to vote “yes”? The use of authoritative arguments in the editorial text makes clear that this is most likely not the case: the editorial brings up no pertinent (or new) explanation but tries to inflate its value by judging everyone who voted “no”.

    Together with the practical issues brought forward by Elie Lubendo, there appears to be no logical reason to do the referendum all over again. If I were a cynic I would wonder why the McGill Tribune isn’t spending its time snooping through the SSMU budget finding outrageous expenses and complaining about those?

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