McGill’s Postgraduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its Fall General Assembly (GA) in the Thomson House ballroom on Nov. 15. At the GA, Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE) and the Quebec Student Union (QSU) gave presentations on their work and discussed an affiliation with PGSS would look like.
The GA also unanimously voted to condemn Bill 62, endorsed a ‘yes’ vote on the Daily Publication Society (DPS) Referendum after extensive debate, and welcomed recently-elected Secretary-General Maria Tippler to the executive. Following a brief presentation from Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer on the Our Turn national action plan, GA attendees voted to endorse the creation of a task force to implement the plan within PGSS.
Presentations and debate on Montreal student groups
In their presentation, UTILE President Laurent Levesque, who was joined by SSMU Community Affairs Commissioner Julien Tremblay-Gravel, described the organization and invited PGSS to collaborate. According to Levesque, UTILE is a nonprofit organization that works with student unions throughout Quebec to improve students’ living conditions.
Levesque referenced “studentification,” in which the growth of a student population in a neighbourhood decreases local property values and alienates other permanent residents. He cited the Milton-Parc community and the Plateau as examples of this. According to Levesque, UTILE is conducting a study on this form of gentrification and the feasibility of student housing options that avoid perpetuating it.
However, PGSS Equity Commissioner Emil Briones said they were not satisfied with the UTILE feasibility study proposed, and called for further examination of the disproportionate impact studentification has on minorities.
“Housing is a really loaded issue and I was not satisfied from the response of the UTILE representatives,” Briones said. “We know from empirical studies on social inequality that there are hard racial lines to be considered when we discuss housing, and at McGill in particular. Because of the demographic makeup of the student body we are very much complicit in the displacement of minoritized communities.”
In the second presentation, QSU Vice President Guillaume Lecorps gave an overview of the organization, which advocates for 77,000 students in Quebec at both the provincial and federal level. Some PGSS members took issue with the Union’s stance on Bill 62, which only condemned its specific effects on students, not its broader social impact.
PGSS External Affairs Officer Hocine Slimani explained that he invited QSU to speak because PGSS is currently unaffiliated with any student advocacy group, leaving it unrepresented on a provincial and a federal level. He also explained that former Secretary-General Jacob Lavigne observed both QSU and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), and wrote a report recommending that PGSS join the former. The PGSS currently remains unaffiliated with any federal student association, but hopes to vote to change this at some point in the future.
DPS endorsement vote narrowly succeeds
Family Medicine Graduate Student Society (MSc) Representative Jacquie Safieh moved for the PGSS to endorse a “yes” vote on the DPS Referendum. Safieh highlighted the Daily’s 116-year history and Le Délit’s status as the only francophone newspaper on campus.
Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite spoke against the motion because of frustration over how the referendum was implemented. He raised concerns that undergraduate students were overrepresented in the vote, and referenced confusion with distributing the ballot to all PGSS members, a miscommunication that led Elections SSMU to cancel the original online ballot at the end of the first day of voting.
“I don’t want this to be seen as me being against the DPS, I’m not taking a stance on that,” Satterthwaite said. “I’m against this referendum itself because it has not been run in a transparent manner, and it has been very full of confusion for everyone involved.”
The motion passed 35-25. The DPS has since won its referendum vote.
Introduction of new Secretary-General
Nov. 15 marked PGSS’ first meeting since electing Tippler to fill Lavigne’s vacant seat. Satterthwaite welcomed and congratulated her, and thanked the executives who fulfilled Secretary-General duties while the position was vacant.
“It has been fairly difficult for the executives in the past few months, and we have been without a Secretary-General since August, essentially,” Satterthwaite said. “I’d just like to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of all the other executives, a lot of which are sitting here. Everyone really stepped up and we survived throughout all of this. We’re very fortunate to have a very strong team.”