The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is currently taking part in discussions to create a new student federation following turmoil within the largest provincial student federation, the Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). SSMU is currently not a member of FEUQ, but the recent disaffiliation from the federation by one of the most powerful member organizations, the Fédération des Associations Etudiantes du campus de l’Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM), has prompted SSMU—as well as 15 other students’ societies—to consider membership within a new federation. During this period of deliberation, SSMU should seek to join a federation that will be able to best advance undergraduates’ interests and use its bargaining power to successfully lobby the government to enact policies that better represent students’ needs.
A large student federation has the capability to advocate for student rights at a provincial level. While it has lost momentum recently with allegations of corruption and backdoor politics culminating in the disaffiliation of FAÉCUM, FEUQ and its recent issues have put a spotlight on SSMU’s need to belong to a federation. The increased attention towards the benefits of belonging to a federation—as well as the potential governance issues that can arise within such organizations—has brought up the question of what student associations should seek from a federation.
The interests of McGill students do differ from those of other student associations within a federation. As an Anglophone institution with a large proportion of international students, McGill’s needs are unique within the province. For example, health insurance for international students, and upholding McGill’s interests as an English university, should be taken into account when guiding SSMU’s decision to join a federation. SSMU should thus seek out other student associations with structural similarities in order to best advance its interests—for instance, the undergraduate unions at Bishop’s University and Concordia University. Moreover, SSMU and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS), which is currently a member of FEUQ, could bolster each others’ strength and bargaining power by joining the same federation by virtue of their shared similarities from being at the same university. SSMU and PGSS rarely join forces to tackle issues that they both face—the first ever joint summit between the university’s two student associations was held this year was their first ever. Increased collaboration is necessary moving forward and the incoming executives for both should continue to engage in discussions.
SSMU Vice-President External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette stated her intentions to consult students about joining a student federation at the beginning of her term. SSMU has since implemented the student experience survey, which consulted students on the issue, but there has been little else in terms of engagement or communication with students about joining a federation. Moreover, the survey should have been carried out earlier during the year so that SSMU would have the results now as they’re attempting to decide on a student federation. While Moustaqim-Barrette has attended several FEUQ congresses, the information regarding student federations has not been effectively communicated to students, something that the incoming VP External Emily Boytinck must rectify. Boytnick, should use the results of the consultation efforts to inform her actions next year and achieve membership within a student federation.
While consultation is necessary to determine student attitudes towards contentious issues handled by federations—such as opposing austerity—other less controversial matters that federations tackle have been ignored due to SSMU’s absence within a federation. Issues such as the need for bursary programs, health insurance, unpaid internships, and funding for the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), all of which the majority of student support, and which don’t require drawn-out consultation processes or negotiations, have fallen by the wayside. Therefore, SSMU executives should seek to join a stable and powerful student federation that will represent its interests at the provincial level as soon as possible. Where SSMU alone may lack the clout to advance the interests of its constituents, federations have the resources and the leverage to represent students and pressure the government to enact change on their behalf, which is why expedited consultation and more productive discussions should be prioritized in the coming year.