The sole question of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum consists of a series of proposed changes to the SSMU Constitution, as suggested by the Ad-Hoc Democratic Governance Review Committee. The new constitution would contain changes to dozens of current clauses: Notably, it would change the titles and functions of some executive positions, modify the procedures surrounding General Assemblies (GAs), and update the Land Acknowledgement. While some of the proposed changes would provide meaningful improvements to certain areas of the constitution, they are outweighed by a series of changes that would make some SSMU procedures less transparent, and less democratic.
The proposed changes include several improvements, such as the rebranding of the VP Operations as Vice-President (VP) Sustainability & Operations, and shifts the management of human resources from the VP Finance to the President’s portfolio, where it was prior to the 2016-2017 academic year. However, these understandable administrative tweaks are overshadowed by a series of detrimental changes which will make SSMU’s functioning less representative and democratic.
This motion lowers the standards of representation for the bi-annual GAs hosted by SSMU. In a major change, this motion would remove the current requirements surrounding quorum for the GA that help ensure a broad range of McGill students are represented at the session. Currently, quorum for a GA is 100 members, who must be from four different faculties or schools, and with no single faculty accounting for more than 50 of those members. This guarantees that the students present at the GA are roughly representative of the diverse faculties at McGill. The current proposal would remove this protection, instead setting quorum at 100 members, with no consideration for their faculty of origin. For Special GAs, quorum is further loosened from 100 members down to 50, and provisions about the faculty of members are again waived when it comes to submitting agenda items at GAs.
In recent years, the SSMU has often struggled to achieve quorum—but loosening the protections that ensure broad representation is an undemocratic way of addressing this issue. The SSMU can and should explore other options to increase participation at the GA, like pushing for cancelled classes on the day of the GA, or even hosting a GA only once per academic year. But amending the constitution in order to move the goalposts—as this motion would—is not the appropriate solution.
Furthermore, one of the proposed changes would no longer require the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) to inform the student body when it holds a confidential session. The BoD already exhibits a lack of transparency, as minutes of their meetings are difficult to obtain online. Especially given recent scandals involving SSMU, the society should be striving to be more transparent and accountable, not less.
Not all of the proposed changes in this motion are negative, and yet they are all included in one question, which only give students the option to approve or reject them all at once. And given the harmful effect some of these changes will have on representation and transparency in SSMU, the Tribune endorses a “No” vote on this motion. Those changes that are beneficial will hopefully be proposed in a future referendum, without being attached to detrimental ones. In the meantime, this motion simply isn’t worth the potential risks.