At its Nov. 2 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted against endorsing the Daily Publications Society’s (DPS) upcoming existence referendum. Additionally, Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer and three faculty representatives moved for a special extension of the Fall 2017 referendum period. The Council also passed a motion mandating that SSMU contest Quebec’s Bill 62.
Legislative Council deliberated Spencer’s motion to endorse a “yes” vote on the upcoming DPS existence referendum question posed to all downtown campus undergraduate students, which would renew the DPS’ non-opt-outable fee of $6 per undergraduate student per term and $3.35 per graduate student per term. The DPS relies on student fees to publish both Le Délit and The McGill Daily. As is mandated for clubs with non-opt-outable fees, a referendum question is posed every five years asking students to support the DPS’ existence. Although the Legislative Council previously endorsed a “yes” vote for the Winter 2013 DPS existence referendum, the current motion failed to pass, with 10 votes in favour, 12 votes against, and two abstentions.
The motion emphasized the importance of a diversity of independent publications on campus, with Le Delit being the only francophone paper at McGill. It also highlighted the fact that a free and critical press is necessary for SSMU’s democratic legitimacy.
“The Daily and Le Delit have constantly been at all of our [meetings],” Spencer said. “It’s really important that we, as an institution, support those that are holding us accountable,”
Some council members opposing the motion worried that, by encouraging students to support the DPS, SSMU would appear to be endorsing The McGill Daily’s editorial views, including support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Some argued that it was inappropriate to encourage all students to renew a fee that would support The Daily given its political stances. SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva voted against the motion, believing that SSMU should not take a stance on the DPS’ existence.
“Seeing that this is a student referendum, we should let the students make their own individual decisions, and vote on the referendum as they wish,” Tojiboeva said. “I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable endorsing The Daily specifically, because we shouldn’t endorse a paper that marginalizes certain voices on campus.”
Throughout the debate, several councillors questioned the impartiality of the student press. Nora McCready, a news editor at theThe Daily, emphasized the DPS’ role as an educational institution in the absence of a formal journalism program at McGill.
“Both The Daily and Le Delit provide a space on campus for students to explore the field of journalism,” McCready said. “and even if there are people in the room who might disagree with The Daily's current editorial line, that’s something that has shifted through the years that it’s been in existence.”
Online voting on the 2017 DPS existence referendum opens Nov. 13.
Citing the importance of SSMU’s accountability to students, Spencer moved to extend the Fall 2017 Referendum period in order to add a question for a motion proposing sweeping amendments to SSMU’s constitution. Although the question was submitted in accordance with all submission regulations, it was not approved for the normal Referendum period due to concerns about the scope and legality of its proposals.
“[Last year] a lot of changes to the Constitution and [Internal Regulations] took power away from Legislative Council and the GA and give them to the [SSMU Board of Directors],” Spencer said. “[We’re] trying to […] give those powers back.”
SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes explained at a previous meeting of the Board of Directors (BoD) that the motion requires further approval from the BoD and SSMU’s legal team. Extending the Referendum period from Nov. 8 to Nov. 30 would allow time for this process.
Tojiboeva also presented the BoD’s main reservations on approving the question.
“The Board doesn’t feel like it’s rightful to bring it right now, because it’s a bit rushed,” Tojiboeva said. “The [Board’s] recommendation was [to] have more consultations with the student body, and then bring it back to the Winter 2018 Referendum [….] If we don’t do it properly then, moving forward, we won’t be able to have a proper constitution that’s coherent.”
Council tabled the special Referendum motion until its next meeting on Nov. 16.