The need for the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) to increase its political presence was the main topic of discussion at the March 16 Council meeting, following the circulation of a list of proposed positions for an emerging student federation, the Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ). The Annual General Meeting (AGM), also scheduled for March 16, was cancelled due to lack of quorum.
Proposed political stances
Secretary-General Danielle Toccalino explained that, because PGSS currently has very few political positions, it was difficult for her to represent PGSS in the elaboration of AVEQ’s political stances. Toccalino sought Council’s feedback on the proposed political stances that AVEQ had not yet adopted due to a lack of mandate from a majority of the associations at the table. PGSS is not a member of AVEQ, but External Affairs Officer Bradley Por told Council that a referendum on provincial affiliation would likely be held in April.
Several councillors saluted Toccalino’s initiative in increasing PGSS’s political presence, but some noted concern that this list of positions, which covers a set of social justice and fiscal policy issues and does not include stances already adopted by AVEQ, was not a good starting point.
“It’s a reasonable idea on the surface that PGSS have a new position book, but […] it’s being developed from ideas from AVEQ, which is an organization that we haven’t decided whether we want to be a part of yet, rather than coming from PGSS and PGSS members – it makes sense that our positions should be originating from within,” said Graduate Student Association of Neuroscience representative Brent Dawe.
“I know that this document is trying to start a conversation, but I’m not sure it’s the right start, because it seems to me that a lot of these positions lack nuance.”
Toccalino expressed that the list was not intended to be adopted as is, and more substantive policies on the respective topics would be written if PGSS were to adopt them.
“I really want things to come from the ground up, but there’s been a history at PGSS of very few things coming from the ground up,” said Toccalino. “There are things […] that other people bring from external parties that could be very well beneficial to our members, so […] it’s simply to get the discussion started.”
Equity Commissioner Régine Debrosse emphasized that many of the proposed positions would require detailed and nuanced examination before potential approval.
“A lot of these positions have to do with equity questions […] and reading these is a little bit hardcore,” said Debrosse. “I know that this document is trying to start a conversation, but I’m not sure it’s the right start, because it seems to me that a lot of these positions lack nuance – some of them are incomplete, some of them go against the work of some people on campus, some of them take sides on very big debates. […] It’s going to be a complicated discussion if it’s framed in terms of this document.”
The discussion was tabled indefinitely, with the understanding that councillors would consult with their constituencies regarding next steps. In addition, as part of a set of bylaw amendments, Council adopted the separation of the Policy and Positions Manual into two sets of documents, one containing internal policies and one containing external political positions.
Environment Commissioner Amir Nosrat brought to Council an updated version of the Environment Policy, the first such update since 2007.
The updated version was unanimously adopted.
“What’s happening here is an update of the language […] that’s needed to make the policy relevant to modern conceptions of environmental sustainability, and it also provides more specific actionable policy directives,” said Nosrat. “Primarily, it’s co-curricular education that really drives the policy, and there’s also […] advocating for policies that improve our communities, whether it be in a local setting or in a global setting.”
In the wake of an incident last November where a student was sued in order to destroy his Master’s thesis, Council adopted amendments to the University/Industry Research Partnerships policy, introducing additional conflict of interest disclosure requirements and stating PGSS’s opposition to “efforts by private corporations to revoke research publications or theses.”
Council also passed a short mental health policy focused on advocacy, and a statement of solidarity with students arrested at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India.