News  Neilson takes presidency

Students pass QPIRG’s 75-cent fee increase

Around 50 people attended the election results party at Gert’s Thursday evening to witness Ivan Neilson and Alexandra Brown win the only two contested SSMU executive positions – President and VP Internal.

Neilson won SSMU presidency with 50.8 per cent of votes to 38.2 per cent for Peters, and 11 per cent spoiled. Brown and Brendan Sullivan’s race for VP Internal was closer. Brown won with 50.2 per cent.

Approximately 3631 ballots – less than one-fifth of the undergraduate population – were cast overall. Some pointed to the low voter turnout as evidence of problems with elections promotion.

SSMU claimed it worked hard to market the elections, sending regular emails reminding people to vote, but outgoing SSMU President Kay Turner suggested that the McGill community may be sinking deeper into apathy.

“This is not the first off-year,” said Turner. “We’re doing just as much as we have in the past in terms of outreach. Students are just becoming more apathetic.”

Turner hesitated to name any specific cause for student apathy, but said that shifts in student demographics could have an effect. As acceptance to McGill becomes more competitive and as the academic standards rise every year, students seem to be more focused academically and less involved in student politics.

“It was interesting that there were no student-initiated referendums,” noted Turner, “but there probably could have been better promotion.”

All SSMU and administrative referendum motions passed, though a motion to raise the QPIRG fee by 75 cents – the first increase since its inception in 1988 – was briefly contested because it was unclear if its approval rate of 48.3 per cent for and 46.4 per cent against constituted a simple majority.

The QPIRG issue was initially raised in an online Twitter conversation between McGill graduates Jake Itzkowitz, former SSMU President, Yahel Carmon, former SSMU Council Speaker, and Cole Ryan, former AUS President. Responding from New York, Washington D.C., and London respectively, the trio questioned whether the motion should be overruled by a Judicial Board ruling from 1995 which spoke to counting simple majorities.

“[We decided] that the [Judicial Board] case didn’t apply because in that question, [it had] four options, ‘Yes, no, no response, spoiled.’ It doesn’t apply,” Turner said.

In the case of QPIRG, the SSMU executives decided not to count spoiled ballots as a ‘no,’ and that while a simple majority is required for a referendum item to be approved, Clause 20.2 of the SSMU constitution does not specify “simple majority of what.”

Turner was relieved to have the issue resolved. “I think [Carmon] and [Itzkowitz] should get [lives]. You can quote me on that,” she said.

The executives also decided to interpret the SSMU constitution in favour of the QPIRG. QPIRG member Leila Pourtavaf said the 75-cent increase will finally deliver much needed funds to her organization.

“This was the first [fee] increase in 20 years. [It should bring] $30,000, but I don’t know the exact number,” QPIRG member Leila Pourtavaf said, adding that much of it would be used to just cover QPIRG’s debt.

“We had an $18,000 defect this year. A lot of it is just going to be getting us where we need to be.”

Turner and other executives also seemed pleased that a motion to reform the General Assembly (GA) passed. The motion approved the removal of requirements for quorum, advertising, and its occurrence each term.

“I was surprised it passed despite the negative press. The Tribune thought it was quite deceptive,” commented Julia Webster, current VP Internal of SSMU.

“I think, [though,] that we all know we need GA reform because the process isn’t working. The issues keep coming back in perpetuity.”

When asked how she felt about the GA possibly only occurring once a year – or less – Webster said that a regularly scheduled session would not necessarily guarantee a successful event.

“You need an engaging issue to bring people to the GA. You’re not going to come unless something touches you personally,” she said.

Both McGill ancillary fees passed, with the Athletic fee approved 54 per cent to 45.7 per cent, and the student service fee approved 53.7 per cent to 45.5 per cent.

The McGill Undergraduate Students Fee renewal passed with 57.2 per cent to 36.6 per cent, and the Athletic Improvement fund passed 50.7 per cent to 44.3 per cent.

-with files from Henry Gass