If you Google the acronym “AVEQ,” the top result is a Quebec electric vehicle association—Association des Véhicules Électriques du Québec. The website probably saw an unexpected spike in traffic during McGill's 2016 Winter Referendum, when students voted on the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) becoming a member of the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). The motion to join the provincial student advocacy organization failed to pass—although “fail” may not be the right word, given that 25 per cent of votes were abstentions, and voter turnout was 17 per cent. At its meeting on Oct. 12, SSMU Council will vote on resurrecting the question of AVEQ affiliation for the upcoming 2017 Fall Referendum period.
SSMU executives have recently cited a lack of student awareness and understanding of AVEQ as reasons why the motion failed the first time. That’s likely true, given the number of abstentions. This time around, if SSMU wants to see a vote that is decisive and reflective of student preferences—and by extension, legitimizing of its democratic mandate—it must provide effective, informative programming on AVEQ. Students, in turn, should take steps to educate themselves.
AVEQ is an organization of Quebec university student unions that lobbies student interests at a provincial level. SSMU currently holds non-affiliated member status, meaning it is represented in the organization’s deliberation processes, but doesn’t have a vote on final assembly decisions. Affiliated membership would grant that vote, as well as more significant resources for campus campaigns, but would also require an annual fee. It stands to affect student life in concrete ways—whatever the outcome, students should understand what they’re voting on.
AVEQ advocates on behalf of students on provincial issues such as tuition deregulation and sexual assault. That’s no small task: Universities operate within the confines of Quebec legislation, so substantial reform on campus often requires lobbying the provincial government. Instead of individual student unions pressuring their respective university administrations to push student interests with mixed success, AVEQ assumes the middleman role vis-à-vis the Quebec government. While that is always a fraught process, the results can be worthwhile: AVEQ was a key advocate for the Quebec government’s recent allocation of funds to developing campus sexual assault policies.
However, SSMU’s membership would mean a mandatory student fee of $3.50. For students who see AVEQ as an umbrella organization with only distant, trickle-down effects on McGill student life, that may be a tough pill to swallow. The organization also campaigns on political issues less clearly tied to student interests, such as pipelines and divestment, that some students may not want to pay to support. While the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Quebec (FÉUQ) recently disintegrated, another student federation, the Union Étudiante du Quebec (UEQ) remains active, meaning AVEQ is not the only organization that McGill may consider.
It makes sense to put AVEQ affiliation to referendum again—there are arguments for both sides, and either outcome carries consequences for McGill students. Further, as a non-voting observer, SSMU currently has de facto ties to an organization that McGill students haven’t explicitly signed off on. SSMU needs to move out of that limbo state one way or another—based on a decisive vote from its constituents.
However, as was the case in 2016, many students are still confused about what AVEQ even is, never mind what full membership would mean for them. That throws a wrench in the democratic process: SSMU can’t be representative of student interests if students aren’t informed enough to voice those interests. When a proposal has direct impact on student life—whether at the level of provincial advocacy or of individual student fees—it is students’ responsibility to educate themselves enough to vote decisively.
But, SSMU has a responsibility to provide students with the resources necessary to inform themselves about AVEQ. Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer has made strides on that front, via in-person tabling and online outreach. With the referendum campaign period coming up, more must be done to keep AVEQ membership on the campus radar—particularly, when it comes to presenting facts and arguments from both the “yes” and “no” sides. SSMU may see affiliation as the best path forward, but that cannot colour how students make their own decisions about it.
If the AVEQ question comes time to another referendum, students will be presented with a brief blurb on AVEQ, on the one hand, and the words, “mandatory student fee,” on the other. A cursory Google search will tell them, first and foremost, about electric cars in Quebec. If this referendum is to produce a definitive answer on AVEQ affiliation, SSMU and students need to lay the necessary groundwork to learn and understand its implications before the vote.
A previous version of this article stated that a majority of votes in the Winter 2016 AVEQ Affiliation referendum question were abstentions. In fact, 25 per cent of voters abstained. It also stated that SSMU voted on re-introducing the AVEQ question Sept. 28, when in fact they will vote on the motion at their meeting on Oct. 12. The Tribune regrets these errors.