Commentary  Hyde Park: Finding solutions to red tape

When I began to run for a SSMU exec position in March, I was appalled by the amount of red tape surrounding the Students’ Society elections. I even decided not to run for SSMU exec partly because of it, and to devote my time to creating tools to help other candidates instead. Now that I’ve popped my McGill bubble and stepped into the real world, I’ve had another chance to run in an election, as the Green Party candidate in Lévis-Bellechasse, a federal riding on the south shore of Quebec City. Now I understand that the electoral rules at McGill are not that different from the Canadian ones.

I’ll explain the basics, step-by-step: federal government, under our democracy, is made out of elected members of parliaments. To run the country, they use laws. These must be complied with and enforced. To facilitate compliance, forms are devised. When there are too many forms to fill, it becomes red tape, or administrative burden. A way used to help people cope with it is tools, whether they be software, supporting documents, reminder lists, etc. Some people will get out of the system altogether, aiming to avoid red tape to save time or money. Others will develop a mentality of finding the weaknesses of the rules to make the best of it. Then neverending arm’s race ensues.

I’m self-employed and have a contract with Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Fauna (MRNF). Even inside the box, I found that there is enough red tape to make anyone turn anarchist. The Ministry has really wonderful organization charts, which McGill cruelly lacks for the non-senior administration. Unless one has established a good network, one is really likely to get stuck in a web of phone calls before finding the necessary information, because location within the administration – but not the job title – is included within their staff directory, unlike McGill’s.

Once the federal elections were over, I reminded SSMU Councillor and AUS VP External Hanchu Chen, of my ideas about the SSMU electoral regulations. Despite the overwhelming thickness of the Canadian Electoral Law and the numerous forms to fill before and after the elections, Elections Canada digests the information and supports candidates throughout the process (print kits given by the returning officers, DVD of documents and a software, explanatory power points and videos, the website, etc.). Elections McGill can improve a lot, if only by building a support package to help candidates comply with their regulations.

My red tape-cutting ideas are a way for me to give back to the political life at McGill. Networking with the many environmental groups on campus, being a Senator for the Arts Faculty, and taking a look at some of the rules defining our student societies definitely helped me to run under the Green banner and gave me a good understanding of organizational behaviour, which I apply to the MRNF. To paraphrase Adrian Angus, last year’s SSMU VP University Affairs, finding the weak spots of the system allows one to hit at the right place in order to make it run again. Problem-solving is empowering; have a crack at it by becoming involved before you graduate.

Lynne Champoux-Williams is a BA ‘08 School of Environment graduate.