On Thursday, November 3, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for its fifth meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year.
Councilors heard a presentation from VP External David Aird on the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), one of Quebec’s main student federations, along with five reports from SSMU committees and three councilor reports.
Four motions were passed, including a motion to endorse an existence referendum for the McGill chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG), a motion regarding the election of student senators from the Faculty of Engineering, a motion concerning Board of Directors (BoD) seating allocations, and a motion which aimed to create a “Democratic Governance Review Committee.”
QPIRG’s existence referendum
Julie Skarha, a representative from QPIRG, came to Council to provide reasons in favour of SSMU passing a motion endorsing the group’s upcoming existence referendum. Incorporated at McGill in 1989, the group’s mandate “is to conduct research, education, and action at McGill and in the Montreal community on environmental and social justice issues,” according to the respective motion, and “provides resources and funding to students and community groups.”
McGill undergraduate students currently pay a five dollar opt-outable fee to support QPIRG. The motion saw no debate and Council passed the motion with 87 per cent in favour and 13 per cent abstaining.
Engineering senator elections
A motion was brought forward to Council regarding how student senators from the Faculty of Engineering are elected. Currently, more engineering students vote in the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) Executive Elections than SSMU elections, which seems to indicate a growing indifference for SSMU elections within the Faculty of Engineering.
The motion put forward would “concurrently [hold] the election of the Engineering Senator alongside the election of faculty-level association council members,” effectively placing the election of a Senate representative under the auspices of EUS, instead of SSMU, in accordance with SSMU’s Internal Regulations of Representation and Advocacy.
Engineering representative Richard (Tre) Mansdoerfer argued that the adoption of the motion would hopefully increase the number of interested candidates and voter turnout for the Senator position.
Senate Caucus representative Joshua Chin noted that this may become “more of the norm rather than the exception” in the future if other faculties choose to do the same, and asked if this could be revisited in the future.
VP University Affairs Erin Sobat responded that he was happy to look into this later, but asserted that it was each faculty’s prerogative to do the same as the Faculty of Engineering. He added that it is SSMU’s responsibility to fill these Senate seats, and delegating the task to faculties is a valid option. He noted that a higher level of institutionalized communication between SSMU and faculties would be helpful.
The motion passed with 91 per cent in favour, four per cent opposed, and four per cent abstaining.
Democratic Governance Review
A motion was brought forward regarding the “creation of an ad hoc Democratic Governance Review Committee.”
SSMU increased the BoD’s responsibilities last April. The motion raised concerns about the fact that the BoD, the highest governing body within SSMU, is not required to address Council or the General Assembly. The BoD is also not required to hold meetings at publicly available times, or make the minutes of its meetings public.
“The democratic legitimacy of the BoD depends on the transparency of its procedures and dimensions,” reads the motion. The proposed committee would review the overall role and mechanisms of the BoD, all the while aiming to “identify and propose changes to address any inconsistencies, ambiguities and omissions in the Constitution and Internal Regulations [regarding the BoD] that lie within the scope of the Committee’s mandate.”
SSMU President Ben Ger, speaking in favour of the motion, said, “As someone who is currently sitting on the Board, I am yet to be convinced that it is a perfect body for what was envisioned in terms of the division of labor [between Council and the BoD].”
“This motion is far from questioning the existence of the Board,” said Arts representative and former editor at The Daily, Igor Sadikov.
Chin, who was added as a mover of the motion during debate, also spoke in favour of the committee, specifically with regards to the division of labour between the BoD and Council.
“I’ve had this concern for quite some time now, that there is potential that […] the Board could be used to push contentious issues or debate on higher level and bypass [SSMU Council],” he said. “Who makes the decision with regards to where motions, debates, or discussions get presented, here [at Council] or at the Board?”
“That division is not properly outlined to some extent,” Ger. said “There are matters where the Board ends up dealing with something that could foreseeably be seen as a political matter, because it is tangled with something that is legal, so there definitely is room to further define what [goes to Council and what goes to BoD].”
Sobat also spoke in favour of the motion, saying the BoD was important for reducing Council’s administrative overhead, but acknowledging there are inconsistencies in SSMU’s governing documents about the BoD.
“The [SSMU] constitution gives members of Council and the Board power to put forward referendum questions, but the appropriate relations of elections right now only apply to council and members, so there’s effectively no regulations on the BoD because of that, […] which is something that was missed.”
The motion was split in two, with councilors first voting on whether the committee should exist, and then appointing councilors to sit on it.
The motion passed with 88 per cent in favour and 12 per cent abstaining. Councillors appointed to the Committee included Sadikov, First Year Council representative Kevin Zhou, Clubs Representative Adam Templer, and Residences Representative Olivia Shi.