Commentary  More than just going through the motions

Since its establishment in 2006-2007, the General Assembly (GA) held by SSMU has suffered from chronically low student turnout and perceived ineffectiveness. This year was no exception. Some have suggested that this is reason to abolish the institution altogether. But the biannual GA is the most direct way in which undergraduate students can influence their student government. Thus, the student body’s disengagement from this democratic process is alarming and should galvanize us to seek immediate and effective reform.

This year’s SSMU executive ran on a platform pledging this kind of reform, but any promised improvements were notably absent last Monday. The GA lost quorum after the third motion passed, when attendance dropped below the meager 100-person count required for the resolutions passed to be binding. This turn-out can be attributed to the conspicuously early date chosen for this semester’s GA, which was moved up to September 26 from last year’s date of October 21. This was compounded by insufficient advertising in the two weeks prior to the event – the time frame in which the Speaker of Council must solicit motions from the student body. As a result, the five motions at Monday’s GA were unilaterally authored by executives and councilors.

The Daily urges the SSMU executive and Speaker of Council to fulfill their responsibilities in advertising the GA, and to do so more effectively. This should include a more aggressive publicity campaign, including a greater number of pre-lecture announcements, posters, and an increased online presence. Publicizing motion-writing workshops and making Robert’s Rules (the rules which govern the assembly) less opaque will improve accessibility for students. Making use of SSMU’s website to allow resolutions to be submitted online through a template, as well as maintaining a public list of these resolutions throughout the semester, could make students more willing to get involved. Moreover, faculty associations should take greater responsibility in advertising the GA.

But as a student body, we should remember that the democratic process involves responsibilities as well as rights. Increased accessibility at the GA won’t amount to much without increased student involvement. Write a motion about anything from instituting no-pants Fridays to advocating for free and accessible education. This is your chance to see positive change at McGill, whether you’re politically passionate or just want to make campus more fun. Either way, it’s important to remember that the GA is only as interesting and effective as we make it.