In the third Legislative Council of the year, the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) debated the Motion Regarding Policy on Moratorium on McGill Fees Until Fossil Fuel Divestment the longest and most extensively. While SSMU has already issued a statement in support of fossil fuel divestment, it has yet to take direct action against the administration. By passing the motion, SSMU aims to exert its influence by vetoing the creation or increase of student auxiliary fees.
SSMU to withhold the creation of any new student fees until McGill divests
The first motion on the agenda, the Motion Regarding Policy on Moratorium on McGill Fees Until Fossil Fuel Divestment, passed with 22 in favour, four against, two abstaining. The motion prevents the creation of new auxiliary fees and increases to existing fees, which are collected from students to be used by the McGill administration for various projects and departments. By withholding the creation or increase of these fees, SSMU hopes to financially constrain and pressure the McGill administration into divesting from fossil fuel companies. This motion was the most dramatic action taken against the administration for the divest campaign.
During the question period, Beatrice Mackey, Law representative, voiced a constituent’s concern over whether it is smart to politicize student services. Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Madeline Wilson responded by emphasizing how the administration uses student fees.
“Student Services have always been politicized,” Wilson said. “A lot of Student Services are self-funded units [meaning] a lot of the money to fund these services already exists. In the case that [the motion passes] and fees from students are not on referendum questions in the future, there are other sources for this money to come from.”
Council members also expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the moratorium and its implications for the study body. Sebastian Duckett, the proxy for Senate representative Andre Lametti, voiced the SSMU Senate’s opinion over the motion.
“At our most recent senate caucus meeting, this motion was discussed in detail and the response was overwhelmingly against it,” Duckett said. “Firstly, we believe that the moratorium on student fees will simply remove the student voice from the student process. Currently, the University allows [SSMU] to approve or deny any fees before being put to referendum. [….] If the administration is forced to circumvent SSMU to run referendums on fees, they will do so and it will become the new norm.”
In response, supporters of the motion emphasized the power of SSMU to represent students’ stance against fossil fuels and take direct action against the administration.
“As students, the biggest power that we have is money at this university,” Wilson said. “We pay an exorbitant amount of fees to the university. When we go on strike, that is because we are intellectual workers and our inability to comply with the university is a form of direct action. When we pass a moratorium, that is showing that our money is where our mouth is.”
“[SSMU] is able to do our part in obtaining climate justice. Over the past few weeks in office, we’ve been working with Divest McGill to help uplift their campaign and work in solidarity with them. We can use the power that we have as students, 23,000 strong, to send a message to this administration that divestment is our top priority,” SSMU President Bryan Buraga said.
Moment of the Meeting
Members of Divest McGill funneled into the room for the debate portion of the motion to pass a moratorium, attempting to encourage the Council to adopt the motion. They were able to bring extensive knowledge about the history of divest campaigns and their successful impact on other issues.