News  Graduates vote to join student federation

Referendum held before resumption of classes

The Post Graduate Student’s Society (PGSS) voted in favour of joining the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)—the largest student federation in Quebec—last week. The move will align PGSS with a predominantly French-speaking consortium that lobbies for student interests on a variety of issues.

The motion was approved with 58 per cent in favour and 36 per cent opposed. With 588 votes cast, the referendum exceeded quorum with 10 per cent of the graduate student population participating—double the percentage required by PGSS by-laws. The number of graduate students present in August—roughly 5,800—was 1,800 short of McGill’s 2008 academic-year average.

Though PGSS Council originally recommended that the referendum be held in October, a motion was brought forward in PGSS Council over the summer to move the referendum to an earlier date. Since the Council itself did not have quorum to decide on the change, the issue was bumped up to the Executive Committee, which approved it.

Both PGSS President Daniel Simeone—and VP External Ladan Mahabadi—members of the Executive Committee—said that they supported the date change for logistical reasons. They cited the high level of work demanded of elections officials and felt it would be incompatible with the demands graduate students face during class time.

Mahabadi also said that given the Society’s other responsibilities, it made sense to hold the referendum early.

“The Executive Council moved the dates to August because had we waited for September, the window would have been gone. You have to have 14 days of campaigning,” Mahabadi said. “I had other initiatives that would be coming up — that Council had to decide on, and members had to go to referendum on. We just didn’t have the manpower [to wait].”

Holding the referendum before classes and campus journalism had resumed raised eyebrows, leading many to question the legitimacy of the vote. However, Simeone, Mahabadi, and even Tarek Hamade — the only member of the “No” committee — felt that this was a non-issue.

“Graduate students don’t go by season. Most of the graduate students I know are always here; they don’t take off during the summer,” said Hamade.

Hamade was also content with the extent of information available to students prior to the vote — despite the absence of the student press. He also chose not to create a Facebook group or web site — unlike his opponents.

“I didn’t see the point [of making them] because the message was circulated to the inbox of every graduate student. Everyone was aware of the debates and platforms,” Hamade said.

As Elections Commissioner, Simeone felt that overall the election had been carried out fairly.

“I thought both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ groups had [some negative] issues. I was not happy with either statement. But both behaved well at the debates. It’s fair to say there was a bit more mobilization on the ‘Yes’ side, but there was the option to form committees.”

Simeone added that the idea of contacting the press had not even occurred to him until the last moment.

“The campus media don’t write about us. We hadn’t even thought about [telling them] until later,” he said.

Adrian Kaats, last year’s PGSS VP External, was more specific about why the press was not notified until late.

“I think The Daily wrote an article once about PGSS last year; The Tribune one time ran an article. [Campus media] just don’t care about the graduate students,” Kaats concluded.