Five fee-based questions to go to referendum this semester

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The winter 2011 referendum period is set to start on March 4 at 9 p.m. There are five referendum questions this semester, none of which have caused significant controversy. They are mostly related to student clubs and services at McGill.

“I’m pretty optimistic about [the referendum period],” said Tais McNeill, Elections McGill’s chief electoral officer. “At the moment, there aren’t any conflicting campaign teams, so I’m pretty hopeful that, referendum-wise, it’s going to be a fairly quiet and mostly positive campaign.”  

McNeill said he had some concerns that, because most of the issues are generally uncontroversial, the elections will not be able to achieve quorum, which was a problem last year.

Three of the five referendum questions were initiated by the Students’ Society Council, the first being the renewal of SSMU’s Ambassador Fee, which provides financial assistance to student groups who wish to host or participate in academic competitions and conferences. The question also proposes raising the opt-outable fee—which is currently too depleted to give out any more funds this semester—from $1.25 to $2 per semester.

The second question seeks to renew SSMU’s Referral Services Fee, a $1.75 opt-outable fee that allows SSMU to fund Nightline, Queer McGill, and the Union for Gender Empowerment. The final Council-initiated question proposes a $1 increase in the Midnight Kitchen fee, to $2.25 per semester, in order to improve the services of the student-run vegan food collective.

“Our servings have gone up by a pretty big margin this year, and this year when all the Arch Café rallies were happening we provided food,” said Beth Austerberry, a Midnight Kitchen collective member. “So we just have increased needs. As we grow, there are more logistical requirements, so we have more hired positions.”  

According to Austerberry, the funding would also allow MK to cater for groups whose mandates are anti-oppressive or encourage student empowerment. The collective already has a hold on the Shatner Building’s room 302, which will be turned into a community space.  

The student-initiated referendum question regarding the renewal and increase of the TVMcGill fee proposes an opt-outable fee increase of 10 cents per credit to every student of the downtown campus.

According to TVMcGill President Carter Li, the media outlet has experienced significant growth over the past year, and the fee increase will allow them to further expand their services to meet students’ demands.

“It’s kind of like a snowball effect—now that we have improved our services [with the passage of a fee increase last year] people are really wanting to use them,” Li said. “So I think the main goal is just try to provide what the demand is. We feel like this would really help us [to expand] our ability to be a service for the students.”

The second student-initiated question proposes the creation of a fee for the McGill International Student Network. Currently, the organization receives no funding of any kind, and the proposed opt-outable fee of 50 cents per semester is designed to help MISN expand its services, which help international and exchange students integrate into life in Montreal.

“They’ve been one of the services that have been self-funded,” said Anushay Khan, SSMU vice-president clubs and services. “They often make their own revenues through the trips that they have, so it’s an interesting fee because they don’t necessarily require it [to] break even, but it will of course help expand their activities.”

A sixth question proposing a new format for the General Assembly was not approved, since more than 30 per cent of the petition’s signatures were from Arts students, which is against the rules for submitting a referendum question.

In addition to online voting, there will be polling stations open every day during the voting period in busy buildings, such as Leacock, Bronfman, and the Stewart Biology building.

“We are actually really hopeful about the poll stations because we are having them every day, all day long, and they’re all across campus,” McNeill said. “We really think that it will help drive turnout, and people can vote in the same poll for referendums [that they use] for the actual elections of the executive team.”  

In an attempt to increase student participation, referendum questions and SSMU executive elections will take place on the same ballot this year. McNeill hopes that the association of the two voting periods will drive more interest and aid the referendum questions in reaching quorum.

“There weren’t any [referendum questions] that [had] particular difficulty [going] through,” McNeil said. “All the teams that we are working on were really, really great to work with, they were all really helpful and accommodating, the campaigning doesn’t seem like it’s going to be extremely controversial.”