The McGill administration has informed CKUT, McGill’s campus-community radio station, and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG), that the results of their fall existence referendum questions will not be observed.
The organizations are required to go to existence referenda every five years. In the fall 2011 referendum, both CKUT and QPIRG’s questions proposed changing the system of opting out of fees to an in-person process rather than online through Minerva.
The organizations must pass their existence referenda in order to begin negotiating their Memorandum of Agreement with the University.
Kira Page, a member of the QPIRG Board of Directors, said that the organizations met with Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson in December, “wherein [it] was firmly suggested that [rejecting the referendum results] would be the decision of the administration.”
In a press release from CKUT and QPIRG, a letter from the administration is quoted as saying that referendum results were “unclear.”
According to Mendelson, “[the administration] only saw the questions when they were published for the referendum – too late to suggest changes to improve clarity.”
Before being presented to students, referendum questions must either pass through SSMU Council, or gather 500 student signatures, as well as undergo a review by Elections SSMU (formerly Elections McGill).
“Elections SSMU found the questions to be very clear,” said Rebecca Tacoma, chief returning officer of Elections SSMU, in an email to The Daily. “We did take note of the fact that some students expressed both questions to be a difficult choice between voting ‘Yes,’ for continuing to support the student group in question through a fee that is not opt-outable on Minerva, or voting ‘No,’ for not continuing to recognize the group in question as a student group that collects fees.”
“However, just because the questions may have presented options that were difficult for some students to choose between, this cannot be confused with the actual clarity of the question,” Tacoma wrote.
In an email to The Daily, Mendelson said that, in the past, “some fee referenda have not been implemented, because they also lacked clarity.” He did not offer specific examples.
SSMU released a letter directed to Mendelson addressing the decision. “We are naturally concerned that a democratic decision by the student body – and, by extension, SSMU’s democratic processes in general – are being declared invalid, and would appreciate a response to these concerns,” wrote SSMU President Maggie Knight.
Page said that the administration has told CKUT and QPIRG to run a second referendum with questions that they approve.
“[The organizations] can also ask a separate question on whether the fee should be non opt-outable, on the understanding that the administration cannot be bound by a referendum on the method of opting out,” wrote Mendelson.
Voting for the winter referendum period will occur from March 8 to 14.
Page pointed out that running a second referendum question would forestall negotiations with the University.
“We’re definitely looking into other options…we had very clear student support from that fall referendum campaign, and [we are] using that to pressure the administration into accepting the results and looking into our other options in negotiations,” Page said.
Students Zach Newburgh and Brendan Steven have filed a case with SSMU’s Judicial Board (J-Board) requesting that the results of the fall 2011 referendum question regarding the existence of QPIRG be invalidated.
According to J-Board Chief Justice David Parry, the public hearing for the case will be on January 30, in the Lev Bukhman room. Quorum for J-Board is three justices.
The students’ 64-page case file – which includes evidence gathered from emails, Facebook activity, SSMU Council minutes, and campus publications – accuses the QPIRG ‘Yes’ committee of numerous infractions. The case claims that campaign rules were enforced irregularly, and challenges numerous decisions of Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer Rebecca Tacoma.
After requesting access to the SSMU membership list in late September, Newburgh used his access to check the membership status of the signatories to the petition for the QPIRG referendum question. A list of 12 students who are deemed to be non-SSMU members is included in the case file.
Steven distributed a press release about the case two days after the distribution of a press release from CKUT and QPIRG, which detailed the refusal by the McGill administration to recognize the referendum results.
In a letter to QPIRG and CKUT, the administration cited concerns over the “unclear” referendum question. Similarly, Steven and Newburgh’s petition references a quote by Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, in which he describes QPIRG’s question as “convoluted.”
The case file focuses only on the constitutionality and clarity of QPIRG’s question, despite the nearly identical structure of the fall referendum question regarding the existence of CKUT.
Tacoma, Newburgh, and Steven are not granting interviews regarding the case.