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Winter 2016 SSMU Referendum Endorsements

a/Editorial/Opinion by

Motion Regarding Constitutional Amendments 

Part 1: "Yes"

The revised constitution proposed by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) includes general syntactical and grammatical changes, as well as clarifications and some vocabulary adjustments. This revision is a useful step towards making the constitution more accessible to students. The Tribune therefore endorses “Yes” to this question.

Part 2: "No"

The expansion of the Steering Committee’s role—which currently exists to ensure motions are properly formatted and to approve them to be brought to the General Assembly (GA)—directly contradicts the democratic purpose of the GA. The amendment would enable the Steering Committee to eliminate a motion from the GA if it is deemed “divisive or external” to SSMU. Not only is the Steering Committee comprised of individuals who are appointed rather than directly elected, but the provided definitions of the terms “external” and “divisive” are so vague as to encompass many motions brought forth to the GA. While any motion that is rejected by the Steering Committee may be overruled by a majority vote at the GA, the sentiment of this amendment leads the Tribune to endorse “No” to this part of the question. 

Students should be troubled by the idea of relinquishing the right of open discussion at a GA, that is meant to be open to all, to the opinions of an elected few.  That realization exists even after ignoring the extreme irony that comes with SSMU councillors sending this motion forward to the student body to vote on as a last act of democratic pretense. 

If it were to pass, the amendment would likely result in one of three unneccasry or divisive outcomes. In one scenario, the Steering Committee would allow all of the motions to go through, resulting in an added bureaucratic step that wastes students’ time. In another scenario, a “divisive” motion, such as the Motion to Support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), is shot down, making a divisive motion even more controversial. In the final scenario, all motions are rejected as external or divisive, and the apathetic student body does nothing about it, leading to the death of the GA. In all scenarios, the Steering Committee acts as a bureaucratic inefficiency, either serving to delay or undermine the democratic process. None of this should be viewed as acceptable to the student body. 

The Motion Regarding the AVEQ Affiliation Referendum: "Yes" 

If SSMU votes to join the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), it will be the first time since 2006 that SSMU will be a fully affiliated member of a student federation. In April 15, the McGill Tribune called on SSMU to join a federation that would advance student interests at the provincial level. AVEQ is well-suited to represent McGill student interests. Unlike the Table de Concertation Étudiante du Québec (TaCÉQ), which SSMU disaffiliated from, or the Union étudiante du Québec (UÉQ), which SSMU chose not to bring to a vote for this referendum, AVEQ’s voting system is one-institution-one-vote, which would prevent large francophone student unions from ignoring or overruling McGill’s anglophone and international interests. By joining early, SSMU would help to legitimize AVEQ and ensure that McGill’s interests are represented at an early stage, which means that it is more likely that SSMU will stand to benefit from the federation in the long-term.  

Waiting longer before joining a student federation means SSMU will continue to lack the institutional strength needed to be a powerful lobbying force in the Quebec government. Moreover, being part of a federation will improve SSMU’s ability to lobby the provincial government on austerity measures and tuition deregulation—two issues that have a profound effect on the student body.  

The Motion Regarding the Creation of a Club Fee: "Yes"

Clubs currently receive essential support from SSMU. The recent failure of the SSMU base fee increase, however, means that funding for clubs will likely be cut in next year’s budget. The creation of the opt-outable Club Fee, which would cost students $2.75, will serve to counteract this problem by providing a consistent source of funding for student clubs on campus. The creation of this fee would address that need in a clear, traceable way, allowing students to directly benefit from the money they put into the system. Due to the fact that it is opt-outable, it also offers students who argue against having to pay SSMU for services they don’t use the chance not to participate. Even if 10 per cent or more of students opt out of the fee, it could still generate around $100,000 annually for clubs. That being said, SSMU should make the consequences of not paying into this fee clear.

The Motion Regarding the Creation of a Mental Health Fee: "Yes"

McGill University has been woefully inadequate in providing sufficient accessible mental health resources to students. SSMU’s push to create an opt-outable Mental Health Fee is meant to address that failure. While the nature of the fund encourages innovation on behalf of students in filling the gaps in mental health services at McGill, its implementation should not indicate a further allowance of the university to shirk on its responsibilities to its students. It is important that the review board proposed is properly implemented to ensure that the projects this fund supports are indeed feasible and accessible. SSMU should clarify the repercussions of opting out of this fee, and avoid the result being a restriction of access to those services, as students in crisis should not be penalized for opting out at the start of the semester.

The Motion Regarding the Increase of the SSMU Health Plan Fee for the Addition of Mental Health Coverage: "Yes"

Increasing the SSMU Health Plan Fee in order to include mental health coverage of up to $500 is an appropriate and necessary response to the currently overburdened mental health services at McGill. This increase of $25 will be part of the opt-outable SSMU Health Plan Fee, which means that if students opt out of the plan, they will also opt out of the mental health coverage. While $500 is far from an ideal cap—one session can cost upwards of $100, meaning that students will only be covered for 5 sessions a year—it will allow students who are unable to access mental health services in a timely fashion to receive help from private practitioners. 

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the SSMU Access Bursary Fee: "Yes" 

SSMU’s Access Bursary was created in 1999 and provides financial support to more than 2,000 students annually, with every dollar put into the fee matched by McGill staff and alumni. The fee, which is opt-outable, is a crucial institution to address financial inequality and need, and should continue to be supported by the student body.

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the SSMU Equity Fee: "Yes" with reservations

While the Editorial Board supports the ideals behind the SSMU Equity Fee, it is concerning that information regarding what the fund supports is not readily available. This fee should be held to the same standards as all others, and that includes clearly stating which groups have applied for and received funding, and how that funding has been utilized. To this end, the SSMU Equity Committee should make the release of its reports more transparent and detail. This way, the funding committee can be held accountable to students who pay into this fee.

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee

Part 1: "Yes"

As a student-run resource on campus, TVM: Student Television at McGill provides educational resources for students interested in video production, and produces content across the campus. As the only student-run video production outlet on campus, it is an integral component of the media landscape. We look forward to the organization’s continued presence on campus. 

Part 2: "No"

Although it might be well-intentioned, TVM’s call for a $0.75 fee increase is disconcerting because of the lack of transparency regarding its financial standing and why an increase is needed. Based on TVM’s budget, included as Appendix A to the question, it is unclear why an increase by this amount has been put forth. TVM’s membership has grown, it seeks to expand the size of its executive, and wants to put some money aside for future expenditures, but the motion lacks the adequate detail needed to justify an increase in student fees. It should approach the student body only once it can demonstrate that it truly needs a fee increase in order to improve its services.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that TVM receives funding from SSMU. The Tribune regrets this error.

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