Correction appended Nov. 8
Last week, a motion at SSMU Council to support CKUT 90.3 FM’s fee increase referendum failed, with 11 in favour and 11 against. CKUT – which is classified as an Independent Student Group (ISG), alongside the Daily Publications Society, the Tribune Publications Society, the Legal Information Clinic at McGill, and QPIRG, among others – won its fee renewal referendum last semester. This semester’s referendum maintains the fee’s opt-outable nature, but increases it by $1: the first increase that the campus-community radio station has implemented since it was founded in 1988.
SSMU VP Internal Michael Szpejda expressed concern over whether Council should take a position on a question where, “clearly, some students feel one way, and some students feel the other way.” To be clear, endorsing CKUT’s referendum – which The Daily and the Tribune did last week – does not force students to vote ‘yes.’ It does not penalize students for voting ‘no.’ It doesn’t even mean that SSMU Council endorses every initiative CKUT undertakes. Endorsing this referendum simply demonstrates Council’s support for the station and its existence. Yet this was deemed too divisive to be endorsed.
This attitude, unfortunately, is not unique to this year’s Council. Last year, a motion to censure former VP External Joël Pedneault was put forth in March, focusing on Mob Squad using SSMU resources, which councillors – including President Maggie Knight – argued was in line with SSMU’s mandate to support and work for accessible education. The motion was widely seen as an attempt to both punish Pedneault for “politicizing” his position, and confine SSMU to apolitical positions – a student union that, in the past, held a political mandate to lobby for McGill’s divestment from South African companies in protest of apartheid, divest from tar sands, and to support free education.
By not endorsing the CKUT referendum, SSMU Council is symbolically withdrawing support from an ISG at a time when student groups are being forced to spend time, money, and energy on a referendum every few years, when online opt-outs are easier and more crippling than ever, and when costs continue to rise as revenue drops. By refusing to support CKUT, Council is not taking a neutral stance, but is sending a message to students that supporting student groups is not a priority.
Szpejda told Le Délit this week that SSMU doesn’t need “to endorse a particular side as this may alienate us from some of our constituents.” Not every member of Council agrees with this – after all, 11 councillors voted to support the referendum, and VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper sits on the ‘yes’ committee for both CKUT and M-SERT’s referenda. Yet, it is worrisome that any representative would take Szpejda’s position. SSMU executives, like all representatives, are elected in order to make decisions. Obviously “some students feel one way, and some students the other,” but that is why we elect representatives – so that, despite our differences, a decision is made. Does Szpejda want the student body to assemble for each and every decision SSMU must make? If so, that’s a morally commendable position, but unlikely to be one Szpejda considers practical.
We vote for representatives based on their political platforms, to make decisions in our stead. As in any representative democracy, those elected individuals must act in a way that serves their constituents and adheres to the platform they ran on. If councillors feel that students are not being served by funding their own campus-community radio station, then they should say that. But misinterpreting representative democracy and claiming neutrality harms those constituents more than any dollar could.