Correction appended April 17, 2014.
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met for its last session of the academic year on April 10. Councillors heard a presentation from Elections SSMU, approved a question regarding the University Centre building fee for the Fall 2014 referendum, and adopted the 2014-15 budget.
Elections SSMU suggests changes to bylaws
In a presentation to Council, Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ben Fung debriefed the recent election and outlined Elections SSMU’s proposed changes to bylaws.
Fung noted that Elections SSMU faced difficulties this year in making campaign rules clear for candidates and their supporters, in particular the newly created rules for campaigning in residences. “A lot of external members and non-campaign committee members accidentally campaigned for a lot of the candidates, so making rules clear for everyone was a big issue,” Fung said.
The election saw a turnout of 31.4 per cent, the highest in recent history, according to Fung.
Fung then discussed the invalidation of the results of the presidential election by Elections SSMU. The decision to invalidate the election of former president-elect Tariq Khan – which Elections SSMU was required to make internally, without appealing to the Judicial Board – automatically made the runner-up, Courtney Ayukawa, the new president-elect.
The current bylaws do not allow for the possibility of holding a by-election in such circumstances – a rule that many students have criticized, according to Fung. Fung acknowledged the necessity of reforming the bylaws that govern the operations of Elections SSMU, but emphasized the importance of being diligent.
“A lot of people asked us to make changes to the bylaws this [meeting], and bring forward 20 or 30 changes to ensure that this doesn’t happen again; [...] we realized it would be incredibly irresponsible [...],” Fung said. “So what we’re proposing is, over the summer we’re going to do a complete review of the bylaws [...].”
Fung recommended the introduction of an investigative protocol and a demerit system to formalize the investigation of complaints and the issuing of sanctions to candidates. The process currently relies on the judgement of the Elections SSMU CEO, Fung said.
Fung also suggested the creation of an elections board, a body independent from Elections SSMU, that would make decisions regarding disqualification of candidates following an investigation by Elections SSMU.
“Elections SSMU currently acts as the cop, the investigator, the judge, the jury, and the executioner, which really doesn’t make any sense,” Fung stated.
Fung also recommended the introduction of a preferential ballot, in which candidates are ranked. This would allow the transfer of votes for a disqualified candidate without calling a reelection.
Elections SSMU will complete research on details of the implementation of the proposed changes by the end of the summer, according to Fung, so that the new bylaws can be adopted in the fall.
Building fee referendum question and councillor accountability
Council passed a motion approving a question for the Fall 2014 referendum period regarding the implementation of a University Centre building fee. The question, similar to the one that was voted down in the Winter 2014 referendum, concerns the creation of a non-opt-outable fee levy of $5.78 per semester for full-time students and $2.89 per semester for part-time students. The proposed fee is lower than the original $6.08 as SSMU has a higher student attendance estimate for the upcoming academic year.
The motion stipulates that the fee will be used to pay the rent and utilities of the newly-signed lease agreement between SSMU and the University, and that any excess generated by this fee will be restricted for building renovation projects.
Clubs Representative Zachary Rosentzveig expressed concerns about “infring[ing] on what I think [are] pretty basic democratic values” if council approved a question for a referendum that will not take place during the current councillors’ term.
“I think it’s problematic that this council wants to vote on a referendum question that next year’s council will be tasked with defending and presenting,” Rosentzveig said. He then voted against the motion, and was the only one to do so.
Medicine Representative David Benrimoh, who was not present at Council, also co-drafted a motion calling for a commitment to accountability among councillors. The motion would require councillors to follow certain guidelines for “active representation,” such as holding regular consultations with their constituents.
Several councillors agreed with the intent of the motion, but expressed reservations with its applicability as presented. “This is the kind of motion that we’re going to pass, that we’re going to feel great about, because it’s based on Councillor Benrimoh’s admittedly excellent practices as a councillor, but [...] we really want to think about [...] other ways of going about it,” said Rosentzveig. “This seems, frankly, a bit useless.”
The motion failed to pass, with four votes for and four abstentions.
Following a presentation from Kakwiranó:ron Cook, Aboriginal Outreach Administrator at the First Peoples’ House, Council approved two motions mandating SSMU to write two letters addressed to the relevant members of the administration: one in support of the Aboriginal Affairs Working Group’s request to fly the Hiawatha Belt flag – a symbol of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy – on campus on National Aboriginal Day, and the other in support of the moving of the Hochelaga Rock to a more prominent location. The monument, which commemorates the Iroquois settlement that stood on the land now occupied by McGill, is currently located to the left of the Roddick Gates.
Budget involving major cuts adopted
VP Finance Tyler Hofmeister presented the final version of the 2014-15 budget. Because SSMU must fulfill its constitutional mandate to break even in the case that the University Centre building fee fails to pass the Fall 2014 referendum, the budget does not include revenue from that fee.
The budget, which has been adopted by Council, includes reduced hours of operation for the Shatner building, cuts to clubs, services, and executive portfolios, as well as price increases for SSMU mini-courses.
The Shatner building will close at 1 a.m. on weeknights, and will remain closed on weekends. After-hours access will be granted to student groups only until the end of September, at which point it will be revoked if no additional funds become available, Hofmeister said.
The Club Fund, which underwent severe cuts in 2013-14, will be set to $50,000. This is an improvement over the preliminary draft presented at the previous Council meeting, which saw the Club Fund cut entirely, but does not match its value of roughly $100,000 in 2012-13 and previous years.
An increase in profits of $10,000 is projected for SSMU mini-courses, which will undergo price increases. Gerts is expected to return a profit of $17,000, and may increase its prices depending on sales, Hofmeister said.
The budget also involves cuts to the executives’ personal budgets, which include allowances for travel and food. Hofmeister cited students’ frustration with the abuse of these allocations by past executives. “By eliminating personal departments, I believe soon we’ll able to stop the misappropriation of Society money,” Hofmeister said.
Because of cuts to executive portfolios, the VP University Affairs will have to apply for a grant from the SSMU Equity Fund to run SSMU’s annual Equity Conference.
Hofmeister also presented a long-term financial plan spanning five years, which involves cuts to projected investments and no transfers to the Capital Expenditures Reserve Fund (CERF), even though yearly transfers of $50,000 are mandated by the bylaws. Hofmeister said that he is developing an alternate version of the plan to be followed in case the building fee passes, which will better reflect SSMU’s long-term projects and include transfers to CERF.