The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Oct. 19 amid debate over a lack of transparency, questions about breaches of confidentiality, and allegations of underhanded politics. Structural projects such as the building closure, the libraries improvement project, and the proposed bike facility were discussed, but the most divisive and lengthy topics addressed were the statement expressing no confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, and the motion calling for a student vote on whether SSMU should affiliate with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) at the upcoming Fall 2017 referendum.
SSMU Executive board announces position of no confidence in President
During the announcement period, SSMU Vice-President (VP) Student Life Jemark Earle read a statement on behalf of himself and VP Finance Arisha Khan, VP Internal Affairs Maya Koparkar, VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke, and VP External Affairs Connor Spencer describing what they perceived as Tojiboeva’s lack of transparency. While stating their position of no confidence, they recommended that Tojiboeva step down as SSMU’s official spokesperson.
“There has been a serious issue regarding a lack of transparency and communication on the part of the President, which is particularly troubling when decisions being made concern some or all of the executives,” Earle said. “It is for this reason that we wish at this time to state our position of non-confidence in the president and her ability to fulfill her mandate.”
Earle explained that the executives were acting on behalf of the student body in announcing their no confidence position, and reiterated student criticisms of Tojiboeva.
“It has also come to our attention that there are student-led campaigns revolving around the idea of a constitutional reform,” Earle said. “We understand that the current structure that we have has many flaws and many of the proposals put forth in these campaigns are justified.”
Tojiboeva refuted the Executives’ position, citing flaws in its constitutionality, misinformation about the alleged lack of transparency, and workplace hostility she’s faced. She alleged a lack of professionalism and animosity toward her within the Executive Committee.
“I was repeatedly bullied for being different, and having different political opinions from the executives,” Tojiboeva said. “I was not only body shamed, but also my qualifications were called into question only because my opinions did not match those of the executives.”
Further calling into question the motivations of the rest of the executives, Tojiboeva addressed her intentions as a spokesperson.
“Every single time I met with members of the media, I was [later] met with comments from the executives that I did not represent their viewpoints,” Tojiboeva said. “I would like to point this out as a problem. I am not here to represent the viewpoint of the executives. I am here to represent all of the members of the undergraduates at McGill.”
Debate regarding the criticisms of Tojiboeva heavily dominated the question period, with many members of the gallery present at the meeting defending Tojiboeva. Andrew Figueiredo, U2 Arts, expressed his distaste for the actions of the executive council.
“Our president was democratically elected by, we, the students, […] now this executive body is trying to unilaterally override and undermine our democracy,” Figueiredo said. “I’m sick and tired of SSMU being unaccountable and we finally voted for change, yet the VPs are trying to undermine that.”
Many questioned the democraticness of the statement and attested to Tojiboeva’s qualifications, prompting the executives to clarify that their primary intent was to bring their position of no confidence in Tojiboeva to the Council, not to unilaterally remove her as President. Spencer readdressed the executives’ statement, concluding the question period.
“[The five executives] didn’t mobilize [because of] political differences, that was something that was mobilized by the President,” Spencer said, “[It’s] not the constitutionality of actions, but the ethics of actions, that was something that was concerning to the executives and why we’ve been working towards this for so long and why it’s finally come to this channel.”
Council postponed voting on whether to join AVEQ—a provincial federation of student unions that lobbies for student interests at the municipal, provincial, and federal level—should be asked in the Fall Referendum until there are further faculty consultations. Tabling the motion has effectively excluded the question of AVEQ affiliation from the upcoming referendum, with the Oct. 25 deadline for submitting referenda falling before the next SSMU Council meeting on Nov. 2. Tabling the motion has effectively excluded the question of AVEQ affiliation from the Fall Referendum, with the Oct. 25 deadline for submitting referenda falling before the next SSMU Council meeting on Nov. 2.
Spencer first introduced the motion at Council’s Oct. 12 meeting, but due to intense debate and councillor complaints about insufficient knowledge of AVEQ, Council agreed to postpone voting on it. Additionally, Tojiboeva argued that further consultations with faculty associations are necessary before Council is ready to put AVEQ affiliation to a referendum.
“I think it would be useful to bring back this question to be discussed at the faculty level, and then bring it back again for us to actually put [AVEQ or Union Étudiant du Québec (UÉQ)] on ballot,” Tojiboeva said.
In order to gather and report more information to Council about AVEQ and UÉQ, Athletics Representative Yué Jiao suggested creating an ad-hoc committee to observe both student federations. A Councillor will introduce the motion to create such a committee at the next Council meeting on Nov. 2.
Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer also presented a report titled ‘Summary of Experiences Observing the Quebec Student Union (QSU) and Association For The Voice For Education in Quebec (AVEQ) Over The 2016-2017 Term, to Date.’ The report describes the 2016-2017 Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) External Affairs Officer Jacob Lavigne's experiences as an observer at the assemblies of both AVEQ and the QSU, the predecessor of UÉQ. In the report, Lavigne detailed his criticisms of AVEQ.
“AVEQ’s plans were bare and only consisted of a rubric with a timetable showing when they would be working on each item,” Lavigne wrote. “While my objective at the start of my term was to have a referendum for an affiliation to a federation during my term as [external affairs officer], I have realized over the past few months that this was not favourable.”
Lavigne recommended that the PGSS only pursue membership in the QSU in the 2017-18 year. However, PGSS has remained independent from both student federations since Fall 2017.
Spencer, who was mandated to sit as an observer of AVEQ by the 2016-2017 SSMU Legislative Council, described her experiences as an observer as positive overall.
“Since the beginning of my mandate, I have worked very closely with AVEQ,” Spencer said. “They really have done a great job [of] constantly checking in […] through my office [about] the priorities we are working on, and how [SSMU can] make sure they are addressed while also navigating [AVEQ].”