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PGSS election candidates spar at sparsely-attended debates

Post-graduates head to the polls today

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Annual General Meeting (AGM) last night at Thomson House met with lacklustre attendance and tame debate between candidates for next year’s executive.

The first to address the room of about 60 post-graduates were presidential candidates John Ashley Burgoyne and Roland Nassim. Burgoyne is the current VP University & Academic Affairs, and Nassim is the current VP External & Governmental Affairs.

All but two of next year’s positions – the President and the VP External – have been acclaimed.

Burgoyne and Nassim each acknowledged their similar platforms, while stressing a difference in focus and approach.

“Where we differ is focus,” Burgoyne said. He argued that PGSS needed to change the way the graduate student union presents itself to students.

“So many students don’t know the PGSS exists. I want to make it the first place students turn when they have a problem,” he said.

Nassim also said he wanted to work on better representing everyone in the PGSS, and introduced his plans to update the constitution, prepare five and 10-year plans for Thomson House, and lobby McGill for a waive of graduate tuition fees.

Both agreed that they would like to improve relations with SSMU and support the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), the union of Teaching Assistants.

The debate then moved on to the VP External and Governmental Affairs debate between Adrian Kaats and Melanee Thomas. The two disagreed over what levels of government they should be lobbying: while Kaats favoured a Quebec approach, Thomas argued for a federal focus.

“The Quebec student movement is probably the most strong and powerful in the country and we are not taking part in it at all. I would like to change that,” Kaats said.

Thomas pointed out that lobbying the federal government is more lucrative because they have greater taxation ability.

“The bulk of my political experience comes from Alberta, where I’ve dealt with probably the [country’s]most hostile government towards social programs,” she said.

The candidates also disagreed over lobby groups.

“We must strongly consider joining an effective provincial lobby,” said Kaats, who said he would push for membership with la Fédération étudiante universitqire du Québec (FEUQ).

Thomas said the PGSS already has a strong working relationship with FEUQ. She would like to maintain the PGSS’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students and work on building coalitions with other groups at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

The night concluded with an introduction of the sole candidates running for the other positions. Eric Pollanen briefly introduced himself as the candidate for VP Finance and described himself as “a man of action and few words.”

He was asked about plans to create more of a community for graduate students at Macdonald Campus, and what he would do about the current health care plan, but had no response to either.

Alex DeGuise introduced himself as the candidate for VP University & Academic Affairs, and said he, too, wanted to get people more involved in the PGSS.

“This is a research-intensive University and given that we are the ones doing the research, we have a lot of clout. But we haven’t represented ourselves or the University as well as we could have.”

The current PGSS President Amy Cox then introduced the PGSS Education Fund referendum question. The proposed fund would distribute money that PGSS already has in the form of $2,500 bursaries to 20 graduate students in financial need. The amount distributed would be matched by McGill.

Kaats brought up that the fund has been opposed by SSMU because it sends the message to the government that students are capable of dealing with funding problems themselves.

Despite this opposition, Cox said she was confident the motion will pass.

“It would be irresponsible of us to withhold money we have, that we know we could be using to help our membership, based on an ideological principle,” she said.

Much of the AGM’s agenda was cut, as the meeting failed to reach quorum.

Voting began this morning and will continue until March 25.