Winter 2023 SSMU referendum endorsements

The McGill Tribune Editorial Board presents their endorsements for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2023 referendum questions. 

Creation of the Legal Essentials Plan Fee: Yes 

The Tribune endorses a “yes” vote for this $30 per-year opt-outable fee that would finance legal support, provided by Studentcare, “for housing, employment, academic, and human rights disputes, small claims support, and civil mediation” for SSMU members. As lawyers can be expensive, this fee bridges a critical gap in access for students—for example, aiding international students who may need to hire immigration lawyers. Further, the motion notes that a contract regarding the provision of these services from Studentcare has already been signed by the SSMU Executive Committee; a majority “no” vote would mean SSMU was in violation of the said contract. Those who do not deem these services necessary can simply opt out.

Creation of the SSMU Grocery Fee: Yes

When SSMU ran a pilot of its new Grocery Program in late 2022, all 200 spots were filled, demonstrating students’ need for increased access to groceries on campus. This $1 opt-outable fee would help combat the pervasive problem of food insecurity at McGill by funding the program for the next five years. As such, the Tribune votes “yes” to the creation of a Grocery Fee.

Arab Student Network (ASN) Fee Renewal: Yes

The ASN creates spaces for Arab students at McGill to come together, celebrate Arab culture, advocate, and network by hosting events such as barbecues, ski trips, and its annual Arab Fest. The Network, which aims to foster a more inclusive and equitable university environment for Arab students, also publishes the Mubtakaran Journal, which showcases Arab students’ artistic work and poetry. The Tribune endorses a “yes” vote for this $0.50 opt-outable fee because the ASN’s important community work is a necessity on campus.

Plate Club Fee Renewal: Yes

The Tribune votes “yes” to renew the $0.14 opt-outable fee that enables Plate Club to lend out reusable dishware, limiting waste and contributing to sustainability efforts on campus. (The Tribune adds that our office is in desperate need of a reusable fork supply.) 

Student Space Fund Fee Renewal: Yes

The Student Space Fund would allocate money for furnishing and maintaining student spaces around campus. Although the motion regarding the referendum question is somewhat vague about what exactly the fund would be spent on, upgrading furniture in the University Centre is one of its aims. Since the $1 fee is opt-outable, the Tribune endorses this fee so that students can choose whether they wish to financially support upgrades student spaces. 

Black Students’ Network (BSN) Fee Renewal: Yes

The Tribune votes “yes” to renewing the BSN’s opt-outable $1 fee. The BSN works to make McGill’s campus a safer, more inclusive, and more equitable space for Black students by fostering community, organizing events, compiling scholarship and employment opportunities, doing advocacy work, and much more. It is crucial that the BSN fee is renewed so that the organization can continue its essential work; creating a campus where Black students can find community and flourish.

Environment Fee Renewal: Yes

The Tribune supports the continuation of this $1.25 opt-outable fee that would enable SSMU to continue funding sustainability initiatives around campus through funds allocated by its environment and funding committees. 

Daily Publication Society (DPS) Fee Renewal and Increase: Yes

In solidarity with fellow student publications, one of which is the only francophone student outlet on campus, the Tribune votes “yes” to the DPS’ $1.50 proposed non-opt-outable fee increase. The DPS has not asked for a fee increase in 15 years and the additional funds would go toward compensating staff across two weekly newspapers, the Daily  and Le Délit, meeting higher operational costs due to inflation, and expanding their coverage. The Tribune hopes that the DPS will allocate some of these additional funds to round out the Daily’s editorial staff and resuscitate the annual journalism week (formerly known as J-Week) mentioned in their referendum question. 

ECOLE Fee Renewal: Yes

The Tribune supports the renewal of the $2.00 opt-outable ECOLE fee, without which the sustainability project would cease to exist. Not only does ECOLE support student research by providing an opportunity to apply theories in the field, but it also seeks to make the McGill campus a more sustainable place. Students can participate in the wide range of events hosted by ECOLE, like game nights, used bookstore crawls, and meditation & mindfulness circles, all of which make campus a healthier, more fruitful space. 

Student Support Fee Renewal: No

Though we understand that Student Support has provided three helpful services to students on a trial basis over the past year—Grammarly, Calm, and Udemy—the Tribune cautions against voting to uphold a partnership with a for-profit company that has demonstrated a lack of transparency. When the company was named FundQi, students at Carleton overwhelmingly voted against maintaining their student union’s partnership with the organization after a drastic proposed fee increase of $95. The Tribune trusts SSMU to find another way to provide access to these vital services, which can be important for those who do not speak English as a first language.

Midnight Kitchen Fee Increase: Yes

The Tribune strongly supports the proposed $4.65 increase to Midnight Kitchen’s opt-outable fee. Midnight Kitchen is a non-profit and student-run organization that works to combat food insecurity—a pressing issue at McGill—by providing vegan and nut-free meals free of charge to the community. The organization has said that it plans to expand its service and serve more students each week if the fee increase is approved. Notably, the referendum motion states that Midnight Kitchen currently works on approximately a fifth of the operating budget of People’s Potato and Loaded Ladle, analogous organizations at Concordia and Dalhousie. While the increase may seem large, student-run, affordable food sources are essential and students can choose to opt out. 

Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) Fee Increase: Yes

The MSA provides a range of services for Muslim students on campus, such as a weekly prayer space, weekly Friday prayer, a student-run Islamic library, and much more. The association has held events such as MSA Frosh, Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha celebrations, and lectures. The Tribune supports the increase of MSA’s opt-outable fee from  $0.99 to $1.55 to help the organization put on more community events and better serve Muslim students at McGill. 

Referral Services Fee Increase (Queer McGill and Eating Disorder Resource & Support Centre): Yes

The Tribune votes “yes” to increasing the opt-outable Referral Services Fee by $1.11 to allow Queer McGill and the Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre to meet demand and fund expanded operations. If passed, Queer McGill plans to use the fee increase to close a nearly $9,000 budget gap and redesign the group’s website, among other endeavours. The Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre plans to use the fee increase to translate all materials into French in compliance with Bill 96 and to finance an expanded staff.

15. Mental Health Fee Increase: Yes

The Mental Health Fee funds advocacy, outreach, and initiatives related to mental health at McGill. A fee increase would also allow for more total hours to be dedicated to the SSMU Mental Health Committee’s work by providing more funds for staff salaries in line with inflation and minimum wage increases. In the absence of reliable mental health services run by the university and taking into consideration the severity of the mental health crisis across university campuses, the Tribune supports the Mental Health Fee becoming non-opt-outable and going from $0.40 to $0.75.

16. Safety Services Fee Increase: Yes

The Tribune votes “yes” for the non-opt-outable Safety Services Fee to be increased from $4.32 to $5.65. This increase would allocate more funds to DriveSafe, a free service where volunteers drive students home safely between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., and the McGill Student Emergency Response Team (MSERT), which is a volunteer first responder team that serves the McGill community for free. DriveSafe would use its extra $1 to curb rising operating costs due to inflation, which has resulted in rental cars and food being more expensive. MSERT would use its extra $0.33 to purchase equipment, hire more instructors, and ultimately offer more first aid courses, which it says have long waitlists. 

17. Creation of IRSAM Fee: Yes, with reservations

The International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM)—a non-for-profit that holds special consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations—calls itself the university’s largest student group. The Association has numerous portfolios, including the McGill Model United Nations Assembly, Flux: International Relations Review, McGill International Review Online, and the IRSAM Youth Advisory Delegation. Because the new fee would be opt-outable, the Tribune endorses a “yes” vote, but is concerned that a fee levy to support the group would disproportionately benefit students studying  international relations. If a fee is established, the Tribune urges IRSAM to make transparency and outreach to the entire McGill community a key tenant of its operations in order to ensure its operations benefit all, not just the few hundred IRSAM members. 

18. Ratification of the Board of Directors Members 2022-2023: Yes

As per section 6.5 of the SSMU Constitution, a majority “yes” vote would formally ratify the Board of Directors, which oversees the “legal, financial, and operational affairs” of the Society. 

19. Nomination of the Auditor for 2023 Fiscal Year: Yes

SSMU must appoint an auditor yearly, both by law and according to its own constitution. A majority “yes” vote would confirm FL Fuller Landau LLP—who has already served as SSMU’s auditor—as the auditor for the 2023 fiscal year.

20. Plebiscite Question: Bar Milton-Parc Solidarity Cooperative: Yes

A plebiscite question is non-binding but seeks a general consensus on student interest in a new initiative potentially undertaken by SSMU. The Tribune endorses a “yes” vote, which would show interest in SSMU investing five per cent of its Capital Expenditure Reserve Fund (CERF) in the Bar Milton-Parc Solidarity Cooperative, a community space on Avenue Parc. Investing in this project is worthwhile because it would mean investing in the notion of a solidarity economy. Further, students would benefit from a memorandum of understanding that would establish preferential treatment for McGill student groups looking to book event space and a solidarity meal program to help combat food insecurity in Milton Parc. 

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