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Referendum period opens one question short

It was after midnight when SSMU Council came to their 18- 5 vote against calling for Dick Pound’s resignation as McGill Chancellor due to his August statement referring to Canada 400 years ago being “un pays de sauvages.”

“We can either tolerate it one more time and give this guy the benefit of the doubt, or we can take a stand,” said Arts Representative Stas Moroz, who favoured Pound’s resignation.

Yet while some councillors focused on whether his comments were “racist,” many centred on asking for an apology, as Pound is recognized as having supported aboriginal rights and being in line with student opinion against the administration.

“To kick someone off the administration who has been so great to us is a little overly dramatic,” said Alexandra Brown, a Clubs and Services Representative. “He’s on our side; he’s been on our side.”

Marie-Dominique Giguère, the Social Work representative, noted that aboriginal justice isn’t contingent on punishment.

“In the aboriginal community, justice is restorative,” Giguère said, explaining how those who commit wrongs go before the community and the victims to discuss their actions, ask for forgiveness, and be readmitted into the community. Councillors mentioned how Pound has been more than willing to sit down with students and talk about what he said, as he did the afternoon of Council with the students organizing the call for his resignation.

Because the motion was only about calling for Pound’s resignation, it could not be amended to ask for an apology, or for Pound to meet with Council. After the vote was announced, some councillors tried to amend the agenda to immediately discuss what other measures could be taken, but they did not get the two-thirds majority required. Council did, however, overwhelmingly approve talking about it at their next meeting, on November 27.

A last-minute alteration of the fall referendum questions – which opened Friday morning – was passed in order to strike an administrative charge ancillary fee increase from the ballot. The question, crafted by the administration after several redrafts, asked for a $5.25 yearly fee increase instead of the intended $5.25 per-semester increase. They sent a last minute update two hours before Council asking to double the fee increase – but SSMU could not change the question because doing so, so close to the opening of polls, would have violated their bylaws.

SSMU VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson requested Council strike the question entirely.

“The question would be lying to students because it promises things they won’t be able to do with the money they asked for,” said Wilkison.

Councillors then brainstormed ways they could pose the question without violating their rules, even considering suspending their by-laws, which requires a two-thirds majority of Council. Although no one mentioned or seemed to notice that changing the wording of a question or adding a new one would also violate section 26.2 of their constitution – which neither Council nor the Executive can suspend for any reason – Council eventually agreed they should not bend their rules for the administration’s error, especially considering the administration would be unlikely to return the favour.

“If they didn’t feel these questions were important enough to bother proofreading, I don’t think we should be suspending our by-laws for them,” said Wilkinson.

While President Kay Turner said Council could always call another referendum period later this fall – which happened last year when SSMU and the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society forgot to put up the latter’s expiring fee levy for reapproval – councillors seemed unwilling to fund the extra expense. The earliest that voting for another referendum could have started was December 4, two days after the last day of classes, and it would have continued into the exam period.

McGill may decide to levy their increases anyway – it is allowed to raise ancillary fees by $15 a year without student approval, something they requested to show their good faith, according to Turner and Wilkinson – or it may propose the increases during an exceptional referendum period that Council can approve with a two-thirds majority, likely to run concurrently with the Winter referendum period. Two other ancillary fee increase requests – on the Student Services Fees and the application fees for prospective students – will remain on the ballot.

Council voted to approve two remaining General Assembly questions – supporting the Association of McGill Undergraduate Student Employees and a motion on transparency in military researching – as well as another motion supporting indexing financial aid to the cost of living and tuition increases, and one on SSMU’s constitutional obligations to bilingualism. Former SSMU Environment Commissioner Trevor Chow-Fraser also presented the environmental assessment of SSMU’s building and its operations that he co-wrote with fellow commissioner Derina Man. Council also voted for Haven Books, which has already hit 85 per cent of its projected sales for this year, to continue its operations until its lease expires in February 2011. It is unlikely to break even, but keeping it open will likely be cheaper than closing it and paying the fixed costs until the lease expires.