The results of this year’s Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive elections are out. The short of it: Nearly every candidate on the ballot won, because nearly every candidate ran uncontested. For the presidency—the only contested position—Tre Mansdoerfer edged out Corinne Bulger by only 69 votes. Voter turnout was higher than previous years, at 32.8 per cent. Yet, for multiple candidates, more students abstained than voted “Yes.” If one counts abstentions as a candidate, “Abstain” actually came second for the presidency, with 38 more votes than Bulger.
The outcome of this election means two things for next year’s SSMU executive committee. First, the incoming executives have to prove they are worthy of being on the executive committee, despite running unopposed. They must demonstrate that they are the right people for the job, and, crucially, that they will be accountable to students. Second, this election shows, as usual, that SSMU and the McGill community have serious work to do when it comes to engaging students with their society.
That is not to say that next year’s executives are unqualified. Many seem more than cut out for their positions. However, right now, their most relevant qualification as a team is that they actually wanted to be SSMU executives. Now that they are SSMU executives, they must demonstrate everything else that they bring to the table, and rise to the challenge of being the responsive, accountable, and competent leaders that McGill students deserve.
This will be more challenging for some executives than others: Next year’s team has a wide range of levels of experience with SSMU, and The McGill Tribune has expressed serious concerns about at least one incoming executive’s qualifications. That only makes it more important that the president and vice-presidents-elect form a cohesive team. They should learn from the conflicts that have plagued this year’s executive, and work to support, not undermine each other.
Moreover, election by a voter turnout of just over 30 per cent—never mind the fact that all candidates received at least 30 per cent abstentions—doesn’t make for much of a democratic mandate. It is therefore essential that these executives make concerted and ongoing effort to hear out student voices, and put concrete, specific action into maintaining and improving the society’s accountability.
SSMU must be functional and effective next year, for immediate pragmatic reasons, such as the building closure, but also for the society’s longer-term interests: Namely, re-engaging student engagement and involvement in SSMU. Between allegations of anti-Semitism at the Fall 2017 General Assembly and executives’ various internal conflicts throughout the year, student attitudes toward the society currently range from status-quo apathy to active resentment. The result is yet another election with a dearth of candidates and tepid voter engagement.
Incoming executives often cite the importance of renewing student interest in SSMU. And, while often failing to also provide workable solutions, they’re not wrong: SSMU can’t ignore the problem of student disengagement indefinitely. The society is, ultimately, run by students—if no students step up to the job, it can’t exist. However, student disinterest in SSMU isn’t inevitable, nor unsolvable. By showing students what a functioning society does for them, SSMU shows students why they should be engaged in their student union, and maybe even be involved.
Demonstrating SSMU’s full value is admittedly a tall order. While students can see firsthand what campus groups and services do for them, SSMU’s administrative role in making those groups and initiatives possible is more behind-the-scenes. Improving information sharing and transparency around executives’ day-to-day responsibilities are good places to start, both during election periods and throughout the year. When students see how SSMU can impact them in concrete, positive ways, they pay attention. Response to the referendum question on a Fall reading week policy is a testament to this: Only 6.1 per cent of voters abstained.
Student groups on campus have a role to play on this front, as well. Campus press, organization included, serve to hold SSMU accountable, but also to keep students informed and engaged enough to do the same. Reporting on SSMU regularly, accurately, and compellingly is something we continue to work on. An electorate motivated to vote conscientiously is also in clubs’ and services’ best interests. After all, these groups can only function effectively with a SSMU executive competent enough to support them.
Student apathy toward SSMU is a campus-wide problem, and demands a campus-wide solution. That starts with a strong executive team showing students why they should care in the first place. The 2018-2019 president and vice-presidents-elect have their work cut out for them. It’s up to them to prove their worth.