The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its second Legislative Council meeting of the year on Feb. 9. Members of the council voted on whether to approve questions for the upcoming Winter 2023 referendum. While questions regarding a fee increase for campus groups such as the Muslim Students Association and Midnight Kitchen were approved, a question regarding the continuation of the Student Support fee was struck down.
The meeting began with two presentations, one of which was a pitch from University of Toronto student Nelson Lee, the founder and CEO of HAVEN, a campus safety app. The app allows users to send alerts, seek resources, and communicate with emergency services in cases of harassment or assault on campus.
“We noticed that a lot of current resources [offered by universities] are more on the reactive side, dealing with things such as counselling after a traumatic instance, rather than providing tools for students to preemptively get help from campus police, from their friends or family, or from emergency services,” Lee said.
The second presentation was given by SSMU vice-president (VP) External Val Masny, who recommended several student federations SSMU should consider joining. They suggested Undergraduates of the Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU) and Inter-Associatif, which are coalitions of student associations at the federal and provincial levels, respectively. UCRU would require a fee collection of $0.50 per semester per student, while Inter-Associatif would require $4 per semester per student.
Masny argued that, because Inter-Associatif services would allow for both faculty-student unions and departmental student unions to be affiliated, it would be worth considering despite the higher fee. An alignment with UCRU would mean that SSMU could continue to represent student interests on Parliament Hill as part of the organization’s federal lobby week, which, in the past, has helped eliminate interest rates on student loans across the country.
A representative from the Bar Milton-Parc Solidarity Cooperative—a community-owned gathering space—motioned for a plebiscite question asking students whether they are interested in investing five per cent of SSMU’s Capital Expenditure Reserve Fund (CERF) into a project to revitalize Bar des Pins, which has been closed since 2019. The project, which would be owned and operated by the Milton-Parc community, would offer free lunches twice a week, café services, and a co-working space during the day, doubling as a pub at night.
“The cooperative is going to be owned and operated by the community,” the representative said. “The name of the game is a space that is open to all groups in the area, students and non-students alike.”
The plebiscite question would be a non-binding trial poll to gauge student interest in the project. The motion passed with 15 votes in favour.
There was a great deal of contention surrounding a Winter 2023 referendum question that would implement a fee for the for-profit Student Support corporation, which provides the university with access to Calm, Udemy, and Grammarly. In March 2022, the Student Support fee passed in a student referendum for a trial period of one year.
For the upcoming referendum, Student Support is seeking an opt-outable levy fee of $10.29 per semester for providing these subscriptions. Ajamu Attard and Karim Atassi, founder and representative from Student Support respectively, argued that to disapprove the motion would be to deprive students of vital learning services.
Councillor Amelia Whitcomb began the debate period by asserting that while the services are important to many students, they worry about the corporate nature of Student Support.
“I feel that working with a for-profit company as a student society is probably not within reason, because for our students to be supporting the profits of a company doesn’t really feel good for me,” Whitcomb said. “I would prefer if it was possible for SSMU to do the leg work on our side and work with the companies on our own.”
Councillors struck down the referendum question, prompting an email from Student Support on Feb. 13 explaining that their services would be discontinued as of Aug. 13. The company is urging students to fill out a poll stating whether they would have voted yes to the fee.
Moment of the Meeting:
SSMU President Risann Wright announced that the nomination period for executive positions at SSMU has opened and will run until Feb. 20, and encouraged students to reach out to any of the current executives if they are interested in applying.
“I recognize that there were concerns about the overall validity of this company as an organization and previous ethics questions, but I think […] this is ultimately a value statement that each of us individually is making about whether this is worthwhile for our peers, and I think that our peers are better equipped to answer that question than we are.”
— Engineering representative Mahia Reed arguing in favour of the Student Support referendum question