When Alexandra Brown – SSMU VP Internal candidate against Brendan Sullivan – came into The Daily office to have her photo taken, she joked that she was in a good old democratic race. We’re dismayed that only two of the six SSMU exec positions were contested in this year’s election. This disturbingly low turnout leaves students little choice over who will direct their student union next year.
The overwhelming attendance at this semester’s General Assembly featuring the controversial Gaza motion proves students aren’t always apathetic. Though the motion dealt with an external issue, the participation it generated gives us faith that the student body’s energy could be harnessed to butter SSMU’s daily administrative bread.
Studies have shown that involvement in student politics reflects larger involvement at a national or provincial level, so the sparse election doesn’t bode well for our generation’s future in politics.
Unless SSMU makes a sincere effort to reach out to students before election season, apathy may become the rule in executive elections. Every year, candidates promise to inform students of what exactly SSMU does and how it can help them during their time at McGill, and this year has been no different. Many of the candidates reiterated the same hopes to engage students, without offering much in the way of specifics. Such platform promises speak to a larger structural problem within SSMU, namely that its functions and power remain a mystery to most students. The recently revamped web site – which, as of press time, didn’t even include a mention of the current election – should be used to demystify the Society. Including an administrative tree of the names and objectives of all SSMU positions and committees would be a good first step.
We suspect the majority of bright, politically-minded students are unaware of the opportunity to gain experience through a SSMU executive position – the Students’ Society doesn’t even publicize that executive positions come with a salary of more than $20,000. And at SSMU-hosted events like Frosh and SnowAP, we’ve never seen information disseminated about ways to get involved in SSMU and what executive platforms consist of.
The requirements on eligible candidates are minimal – hopefuls only have to be undergraduate or Law students – and should stay that way, since it guarantees that independent political voices will have the chance to make it to student government. But we believe that SSMU should create other, part-time positions through which students can gain experience with the Society before running for exec or Council positions.
SSMU Council recently reprimanded Elections McGill for its lacklustre performance this year. While we agree that they dropped the ball on some basic communicative tasks, such as failing to post the referendum questions on their web site before voting began, their primary duty is to ensure that elections run smoothly and fairly, not to market SSMU.
There are a variety of simple things that SSMU could do to buck this alarmingly apathetic round of elections for its top positions, including the following: more classroom announcements in advance of and during elections; making the Council agenda more publicly accessible; adding more office hours and a general open-door policy for students wishing to meet with executive members; a SSMU job-shadowing program in the month leading up to the election for students interested in getting involved; more outreach to faculty and departmental associations; and a bulletin in the Shatner building and online, detailing upcoming SSMU events and issues discussed at Council. Whatever changes they decide to make, SSMU needs a game plan to make sure we don’t see another election like the current one.