On Monday March 20, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council met for its eighth council meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year, and its second General Meeting (GM). At Council, a motion was approved to create a special referendum regarding the graduate innovation culture fund, councillors were appointed to the appointments board by a lottery system, and a motion was brought from the floor to endorse a letter to McGill requesting that the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM)’s referendum question be blocked.
At the General Meeting, PGSS members heard announcements, as well as reports from each of the executives. They also discussed ways to increase engagement at PGSS Council meetings in the future. Quorum was lost roughly half way through the GM, and as a result, new business was tabled until the next meeting.
Motion to block LICM referendum
From March 20 to 26, the LICM is hosting a referendum which asks graduate students, “Do you agree to increase the non-opt-outable Legal Information Clinic at McGill association fee paid by all graduate students on the downtown campus, excluding post-docs, from $2.00 per student per semester (excluding summer) to $4.50 per student per semester (excluding summer), starting in Fall 2017?”
During the Council meeting, a motion was brought from the floor by PGSS Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Manmeet Rai. The motion initially sought to block the LICM referendum, but according to PGSS Council bylaws, this would have been illegal. In view of this, it became a motion to endorse a letter to McGill requesting that the referendum be blocked, regardless of the result.
The motion brought by Rai stated that the LICM presented the referendum question before PGSS Council at its January 2017 meeting, and it passed. However, “the next day certain discrepancies were found in the information provided by the LICM representatives at the Council.”
It further alleged that the LICM lacks financial transparency and has adopted “skewed” procedures in running the referendum, and called for a PGSS representative to be placed on the LICM’s board to report on the organization’s workings and suggest improvements.
It further alleged that the LICM lacks financial transparency and has adopted “skewed” procedures in running the referendum.
At one point, a student from the Computer Science Graduate Society asked for more details regarding the procedural discrepancies. In response, Rai said that the LICM had provided a provision for a preamble to be added before the voting period begins.
According to Rai, the LICM claimed the preamble would only add factual information, but “what is happening with this factual information in technicality, [is] if a ‘No’ Committee goes out and garners a lot of support, and you add new information which is going to show up on the ballot, it takes away that element of all your campaigning that you’ve done.”
“This is something which is absolutely rigged and should not be allowed, and this is not how referendums take place,” Rai said.
Moreover, Rai said the LICM has allowed anyone to join the ‘Yes’ committee, but students who would like to be part of the ‘No’ committee would have to go through a nomination process. He added that this process is unclear.
Rai also claimed that on a ballot, LICM is allowed to provide a link to the statement of the ‘Yes’ Committee or the ‘No’ Committee. However, Rai claimed that the link LICM provided leads directly to LICM’s website.
The motion also noted a number of financial concerns with regards to LICM, and questioned whether a fee raise from $2.00 to $4.50 was necessary.
“This is something which is absolutely rigged and should not be allowed, and this is not how referendums take place.”
One student, Matthew, asked the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of LICM to address the concerns brought up by Rai.
Colby Briggs, CEO of LICM, claimed that there is no preamble on the ballot, as LICM is using an omni-box system which provides a link to a version of a candidate system, something which is typically done in PGSS elections.
In addressing the claim that a nominations process is required only for students wishing to join the ‘No’ Committee, Briggs said that “LICM obviously wants the fee levy to pass, so it’s not really logical to have a distinct nomination process, but if they did have a nomination process, it would be a matter of ‘Hey, CRO, I would like to be on the ‘Yes’ committee.’”
The nomination process for the ‘No’ committee would be the same. Briggs added that no student emailed him saying they would like to form a ‘No’ Committee.
In response, Rai said “I don’t see any statement out there which says that if you are applying [to be part of] a ‘No’ Committee, it will only be, ‘Hey, CRO, put me on the ‘No’ committee.’”
He added that, according to the LICM’s procedures, the LICM Yes Referendum Committee will be exempt from nomination procedure.
“In practice, I’m not sure it really matters if there is a nomination process or not,” Briggs responded. “The Yes Committee is automatically the Legal Information Clinic because the Legal Information Clinic is holding a referendum to increase the fee.”
“LICM obviously wants the fee levy to pass, so it’s not really logical to have a distinct nomination process, but if they did have a nomination process, it would be a matter of ‘Hey, CRO, I would like to be on the ‘Yes’ committee.’”
Mina Anadolu, PGSS Internal Affairs Officer, also pointed out that in an email sent out by Elections LICM on February 27, LICM called for the formation of yes or no committees.
However, the motion was then tabled, as the Council meeting had reached its time limit.
At the end of the General Meeting, PGSS Secretary-General Victor Frankel asked PGSS members how they thought engagement could be improved.
In response, Andrew Dixon, PGSS Health Commissioner, suggested that awards for PGSAs could increase engagement at Council. Jacob Lavigne, PGSS External Affairs Officer, said that people might feel disengaged because they may have a lack of understanding of many of the issues discussed at Council, and thus suggested further training at the beginning of the year.
In response to these suggestions, Anadolu announced that awards for PGSAs are in the works, as is an increase in orientation sessions and training.
Finally, a student named Matthew from the Graduate Students’ Association for Neuroscience said, “One of the things that I’ve noticed this year on Council is that there’s really not a lot of motions to discuss. When we get to Council we’re really just hearing reports, there’s no actual discussion going on. I don’t know if that’s because nobody knows how to actually write a motion [but] I think a workshop at the start of the year on how to write a motion, how to present it to Council, and how to actually make a difference here would be very interesting.”