Ten editors at the McGill Tribune resigned at midnight Monday to help run the newspaper’s fee levy campaign in the winter term referendum. According to SSMU electoral by-laws, editorial staff of major campus publications or on-air personalities must resign during the election period.
The weeklong resignation has been a headache for publication, but editor-in-chief Thomas Quail, who resigned last week, said the newspaper’s greater concern is whether or not students will approve their proposed $3 non-opt-outable fee.
The Tribune is currently supported by funds provided by SSMU, but was mandated two years ago by the Society to become independent by January 2010. The fee levy will allow the newspaper to support itself after independence.
“A ‘No’ vote means you support the cessation of the publication of the McGill Tribune. It’s a referendum on how valuable the Tribune is as a student service,” Quail said.
The date was later pushed back to September 2010 in order to provide the newspaper with more time to plan for the change.
According to Quail, the newspaper’s move to independence was motivated both by concerns over a conflict of interest, since the newspaper reports on SSMU while also depending on the Society for funding, and the fact that SSMU is legally responsible for the newspaper.
“If we publish something legally libelous or slanderous, we are not accountable for our actions,” Quail said, noting that legal costs would come out of the SSMU budget. “If we’re sued that threatens club funding.”
The mandate for independence was originally dictated by SSMU without consulting the Tribune editorial board. However, Quail said that the publication is now looking forward to the change.
“It’s a valuable, natural step for a newspaper that’s 30 years old. The best papers across Canada are independent – and in order to do that we need to separate from SSMU,” he said.
According to Elections McGill chief electoral officer Mike Vallo the Tribune’s independence bid has run smoothly to date, though he suggested the campaign may have been unduly complicated by SSMU’s strict election laws.
“Personally I think the rules could be loosened a bit. The campaign rules are pretty narrow,” Vallo said, although he explained that universities with looser regulations have had problems containing campaigns. “We’re trying to avoid the situation at Concordia, where they have billboard trucks [for candidates],” said Vallo.
Quail said that he was informed of the bylaw that required staff to resign several weeks ago at a meeting with Elections McGill. Editors will return to their positions when the campaign period closes.