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Motion to censure SSMU VP External fails by vote of 11-11-1

A motion to censure SSMU VP External JoëlPedneault failed at SSMU Council’s meeting last Thursday, March 29, with a narrow vote of 11 for, 11 against, and one abstention.

The motion, submitted to the floor by nine movers, cited several reasons to censure Pedneault, including his use of SSMU funds to print materials promoting a student strike, his decision to grant students and members of Coalition Large del’Association pour la Solidarite syndicale etudiante(CLASSE) after-hours access to the SSMU office, and his participation in picket lines at other Montreal universities. The motion also referenced the fact that last week the administration excludedPedneault from the university campus for five days.

The motion was addressed during confidential session and then debated in an open session in front of a full gallery, which included members of campus political groups, including the Mobilization Committee (Mob Squad) and the Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC).

In a subsequent vote, Council voted against debating in confidential session.

Kady Paterson, education representative and a mover of the motion, said that the motion was drafted on the day of Council.

“It’s us [movers] trying to keep our executive accountable and make sure that our constituents’ opinions are heard,” Paterson said.

SSMU president Maggie Knight opened the debate by emphasizing the gravity of a motion to censure.

“Censure implies misconduct. It implies that policies [and]  rules have been violated—not that somebody’s actions were disagreed with,” Knight said. “Regarding the concerns around VPPedneault’s political actions, I think it’s very important for the SSMU as it goes forward [to consider] that no executive, councillor, or any other member of the society be a scapegoat for policies people disagree with.”

Knight, who stated she would vote against the motion, continued to refute the clauses identifying the reasons for the censure. Among her reasons, she noted that allowing student activists supporting a SSMU mandate to use SSMU printers “could be entirely appropriate.”

“I’m not clear that [granting after-hours access toCLASSE members has] been proven to be true,” Knight said. “To my knowledge, there’s no written rule that says this is not allowed to happen, therefore it is not a specific violation.”

Senator and VP University Affairs-elect Haley Dinel explained her rationale for being a co-mover of the motion.

“It’s because of the actions, not because of the person,” she said. “It’s mainly because a lot of students this year have felt that the way the VP External portfolio [sic] has acted and has not [represented] undergraduates as a whole.”

Some councillors raised concerns of the lack of clarity of some current SSMU mandates.

“I think a lot of actions are being defended by the current mandate of [promoting] accessible education,” arts representative Joshua Fagen said. “Like councillor Hernandez was saying, ‘accessible’ is an extremely vague word. It’s very much open to interpretation.”

Several councillors were vocal about their concerns with the motion.

“I feel that this resolution to censure VP Pedneault would effectively mandate him to not do his job, which to me [is] a contradiction of what we should be promoting the executives to do,” Carol Fraser, VP Clubs and Services, said.  “The pull of Council is to promote executives to do their job. If this resolution passes, I don’t know exactly what VP Pedneault is expected to do.”

Arts representative Justin Fletcher described the atmosphere during debate as tense and emphasized the small margin of the final vote.

“It was crazy to hear that it was a tied vote with one abstention,” he said. “I think it reveals some of the divided sentiments on campus.”

Following the meeting, Pedneault said he was surprised that the motion was submitted.

“A lot of concerns they raised, I never had even gotten an email about,” Pedneault said, referencing the clauses regarding after-hours use of SSMU facilities. “The most shocking part of it was the allusion to disciplinary proceedings against me on campus,” he added.

“The discussion at SSMU is, ‘do we censure Joël Pedneault, in part because he was censured by the university in some way?’” he said. “I don’t see how it makes any sense in terms of challenging power dynamics and abuses of power, and I think it’s a real shame that that’s the discussion we have tonight instead of ‘do we condemn the university’s arbitrary exclusion of three students from campus for no clear reason and no clear procedure?’”

Both Fletcher and Paterson noted that the debate might have been different had it occurred in a confidential session, without the pressure of a majority pro-strike gallery.

“I think it’s fine that [the motion] didn’t pass,” Paterson said. “I think the point was to voice our concerns and air our problems, and actually give them some weight … I think that’s what we’ve done. Passing doesn’t matter.”

Pedneault noted that he will continue to support the strike and the Quebec student movement against tuition increases.

“If the censure motion had passed, I think I still would have been able to walk with my head high,” he said. “I don’t see myself as having committed anything wrong, overstepping any boundaries or going against SSMU mandates.”

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