What is AVEQ?
The Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) unites student unions at four-year universities around the province. According to its mission statement, AVEQ serves to defend the needs and interests of students in Quebec through research, activism, and representation. The association stands for many of the same values as the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), such as democracy, equity, and solidarity with marginalized groups. AVEQ recognizes students’ political engagement, advocates for causes including the accessibility of education, and organizes campaigns concerning the government’s decisions on economic or socio-cultural matters, such as Quebec’s $23 million investment in a zero-tolerance campus sexual assault prevention strategy.
AVEQ operates under principles of democracy, and attributes one vote to each student association in its membership. Each student association has equal weight, regardless of the size of its student body, thus preserving transparency and political autonomy. The CSU (undergraduates of Concordia), AGECAR (Université du Québec à Rimouski), and MAGE-UQAC (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) student associations are all currently full members of AVEQ.
What does this have to do with McGill?
Currently, McGill students do not have a direct voice in the provincial government, and SSMU is currently unable to meet with provincial officials to voice their concerns and lobby for change. As such, it is difficult for McGill students to have their say in provincial policies that affect them, such as tuition fees and health insurance coverage for international students. However, the provincial government meets representatives from student federations like AVEQ. By joining AVEQ, SSMU would be given the opportunity to influence how AVEQ represents student interests to the provincial government.
“[I do not] currently have the power to make provincial requests on behalf of the student body,” SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer said. “Education is regulated at the provincial level, so it makes sense to have provincial representation.”
Spencer has been stressing the importance of having McGill students’ voices heard on a provincial level since her opening statement at the SSMU Executive Candidates’ Debate, and she has been an advocate for joining AVEQ since before she took the position. Former VP external Emily Boytinck also strongly supported the idea of SSMU joining AVEQ, and first brought it to referendum in March 2016.
What happened the last time students voted on AVEQ affiliation?
The Winter 2016 Referendum resulted in SSMU members voting against joining AVEQ, though the society has still been able to participate in the association as a non-voting member. Spencer attributes the motion’s failure largely to a lack of understanding of AVEQ within the student body.
“[AVEQ] was still a newly-founded organization during the first referendum,” Spencer said. “There wasn’t much information available, and it was clear that students wanted to make informed decisions.”
Twenty-five per cent of voters in the referendum chose to abstain. Many students were opposed to the non-opt-outable $3.50 charge per student per semester that would have been invoked had the referendum passed.
Why is it being brought back now?
Nearly two years after the failed AVEQ referendum, SSMU Legislative Council plans to bring the question of affiliation to the Fall 2017 Referendum, and will vote on doing so at an upcoming council meeting. Those in favour of affiliating believe that the association will provide a more effective platform for university students to lobby at a provincial level.
In an effort to increase student awareness of AVEQ for this referendum, Spencer has taken an active role in disseminating information about the union by tabling at this year’s activities night and in her email listserv. Further, Kristin Perry, AVEQ Coordinator of Mobilization and Associative Development, attended activities night and the Sept. 28 SSMU Legislative Council meeting to explain the association.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that student associations of the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and the Université de Sherbrooke are currently voting members of AVEQ. In fact, associations from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and the Université de Sherbrooke have been observers at AVEQ. Additionally, the article stated that a majority of votes in the Winter 2016 AVEQ Affiliation referendum question were abstentions. In fact, 25 per cent of voters abstained. The Tribune regrets these errors.