November 24, 2014

Commentary | March 24, 2014
The lease is a disaster and should be terminated
Another referendum is not the answer
Written by | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

Last week’s failure to pass a referendum question on the introduction of a Shatner building fee was not a mistake, but rather a repudiation of the deeply unfair lease agreement between McGill and SSMU. It is far too easy to blame misinformed or apathetic students, as this year’s executive team did, for the results. Instead, SSMU ought to look in the mirror and reflect on what four years of arduous negotiations have wrought: yet another shift in costs to students.

Never mind, it seems, that other student associations in Canada only pay a $1 symbolic fee for their rent. For Katie Larson, the SSMU president, the problem is not the lease, but the referendum question. Last week, she told the McGill Tribune she hoped students would reconsider their vote in a special referendum on the issue. In other words, last week’s vote was meaningless; SSMU will have its way, one way or another. And this time, to prevent the vote from swinging the wrong way, SSMU even brandished the threat of cutting back on some of its services, including Gerts – essentially a bluff, since the bar is one of the student association’s few ventures that generates enough income to break even.

This is the sort of politics we’ve grown accustomed to in the real world, but it is especially troubling when we see it replicated on campus.

SSMU’s solvency, we are told, hung on the outcome of a single question, and nobody budged. Apparently, it was easier to be sanctimonious in hindsight than plan for a successful referendum.

Joey Shea, SSMU VP University Affairs, went as far as to declare that she felt ashamed by the results of the vote. “Students [of McGill] don’t understand the ramifications of their actions with this vote,” she told the Tribune. But the vote was destined to fail. While SSMU dithered back and forth on Brian Farnan’s apology email, the lease and the referendum went on the backburner. Not a word was said on the fee increase until after the vote took place, and nobody, it seems, questioned the wisdom of including such an important issue on an already cluttered ballot.

Where were the posters, the flyers, and the Yes and No committees? And where were the executives and their smug speeches last month, before the voting period began? SSMU’s solvency, we are told, hung on the outcome of a single question, and nobody budged. Apparently, it was easier to be sanctimonious in hindsight than plan for a successful referendum – not that the question deserved to pass anyway.

Like many of you, I voted against the measure. I was angry at SSMU for signing such a piss-poor lease and angry at the University for even suggesting one. Four years of talks, and our student association is in an even more precarious position than before. If this is the sort of deal McGill can foist on us, then why bother negotiating? The lease could have been signed years ago.

Unfortunately, it is unclear if SSMU can rectify its mistake. When it comes to rescinding the lease, the contract’s language is clear: “The University accepts that the ASSOCIATION may terminate the lease due to financial concerns with a minimum of three (3) months prior notice sent by letter to the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning). […] At the end of the notice period, the SSMU shall vacate the building and terminate all activities therein.”

The University knows that the new lease will likely drive SSMU into bankruptcy with its current structure, and it implicitly threatens eviction if we fail to increase our fees. But would McGill follow through on its threat? The move would certainly be unprecedented, and the question is worth considering. At this point, none of our options are particularly attractive. But the next time our student association gets to sit down with the administration, it could at least pretend to have a backbone.


Laurent Bastien Corbeil is a U3 student in Political Science and a former Daily news editor (2012-13). He can be reached at bastiencorbeil@gmail.com.

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