A motion that sought to abolish QPIRG’s funding, and would have put its opt-outable to a referendum, was declared out of order by the SSMU speakers yesterday, and is no longer on the agenda for today’s SSMU council session. The motion was initially approved Tuesday, but then declared out-of-order after it became apparent that SSMU has no jurisdiction over the fees administered by a independent student group.
“The question couldn’t happen,” said Raymond Xing, Speaker of Council. “SSMU doesn’t have any authority to do anything about the QPIRG fee.”
Since both SSMU and QPIRG are independent organizations on campus with their own individual Memorandums of Agreement (MoAs) with the University, they can’t control each other’s fees. SSMU Councillors Spencer Burger, Lauren Hudak, Matt Reid, and Eli Freedman were signatories to the motion.
SSMU President Zach Newburgh conferred with Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson yesterday to assess the legality of the proposed referendum question.
In an email correspondence between Newburgh and Mendelson obtained by The Daily, Newburgh cites Article 1.6 of the QPIRG-McGill MoA as an indicator of the potential illegality of the referendum question, describing how only the University has the authority to approve any adjustment in QPIRG’s fees.
The MoA states that “no adjustment to the QPIRG’s fees shall be applied or collected by the University unless the Dean of Students has confirmed in writing that the formalities required by the QPIRG’s constitution for fee adjustments and applicable law have been followed.”
“In the same way that QPIRG could not launch a referendum question to alter the fees that are payed to the SSMU, the SSMU cannot launch a referendum question regarding a change of fees for QPIRG,” said Newburgh.
Mendelson insisted that he was not involved in the decision to strike the motion from the council agenda.
“My view is that SSMU does not have the authority to ask such a question,” Mendelson wrote in the email to Newburgh. “Perhaps one confusion is that groups not affiliated with SSMU use Elections McGill to conduct their referenda, which may lead some people to believe, incorrectly, that the referenda are SSMU referenda.”
Burger wrote in an email to the Daily that he authored the motion to “have an open and civil debate about QPIRG’s role on campus, what its role should be, and whether it should function according to the same rules that apply to other explicitly political groups.”
According to Speaker Cathal Rooney-Cespedes, council speakers were first informed of the illegality of the referendum question in an email on Tuesday from Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan, a member of QPIRG’s Board of Directors and former SSMU VP External.
The question itself was only able to make it onto the agenda in the first place because the SSMU Council Steering Committee elected to extend the deadline for motions for today’s council from 5 p.m. Monday to Tuesday morning.
“People were late with motions,” said Rooney-Cespedes. “It wasn’t arbitrary. We decided to grant everyone further extensions.”
According to Freedman, the motion was first submitted on Monday by Reid, but was found unconstitutional by the speakers of council.
“The main issue was that there were far too many statements of opinions within ‘whereas’ clauses,” said Rooney-Cespedes.
The motion was amended and resubmitted by Burger on Tuesday. Motions to council require the signatures of four councillors.
Freedman was quick to clarify his own role in the submission of the motion. “My involvement was limited to signing the document. I lended [sic] my signature to the fact that [the motion] was constitutionally acceptable,” he said, adding “some statements were unconstitutional. They made accusations – which in their opinion were true – that were never made clear by the SSMU body.”
The revised motion described various “alienating” characteristics of QPIRG, as well as the recent confrontation between QPIRG members and members of the opt-out campaign in the McConnell Engineering Building. The incident led to the EUS council banning QPIRG from renting space in the building for the year. The motion further described QPIRG as funding “goals and groups that deeply disturb members of the SSMU.”
The question at the end of the motion reads: “Do you agree, That the $3.75 student fee (per semester) of every SSMU member to fund QPIRG McGill be annulled effective immediately?”
Rooney-Cespedes affirmed that, had it not been for the illegality of the motion, the question could have got a lot of support among the SSMU council. “Not until QPIRG brought this [illegality] to our attention did anybody object,” he said. He pointed out that while SSMU makes its by-laws and constitution public, QPIRG keeps its documents private.
“QPIRG should do a lot better in terms of making themselves more transparent,” he said. “They don’t do anything to make themselves accessible. We should be able to know what their by-laws, how they govern themselves.”
With the motion removed from today’s council agenda, Rooney-Cespedes also recommended other avenues through which the motion authors could pursue their aims.
“I gave [Burger] a list of things SSMU was capable of,” he said. “I recommended to him that he make a symbolic gesture.” Such gestures included going to plebiscite – essentially a survey of student opinion on an issue that has to go to Council the same way a referendum question would – and having SSMU take a stance on the anullment of QPIRG fees.
“SSMU has alternative avenues he can take. None of them actually do anything,” said Rooney-Cespedes. “He knows he can’t go [to referendum].”
Burger, or any other councillor, would have to pass a two-thirds vote to amend the agenda for today’s session in order to achieve any of those objectives before next session, but Xing firmly dismissed any possibility of the revised motion making it onto today’s agenda.
“No suspension of rules could possibly make it in order. There are fundamental legislative issues with the question,” said Xing. “It’s not going to happen.”