News  QPIRG special referendum runs amidst campaign violations

Clarification of SSMU by-laws hopes to smooth group’s second referendum

From April 10-16, an online referendum is being held regarding Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s (QPIRG) status as a PIRG, as well as its lease of its building from McGill on University.

Hubie Yu, new Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer, has taken steps toward more clearly defining external student organizations, which was an issue during the referendum campaign QPIRG ran last fall.

“The definition of whether a certain organization or individual is ‘external to SSMU’ was a pretty grey zone in the fall…but it’s been cleared up since then,” said Yu.

Yu said she worked with SSMU President Maggie Knight to amend SSMU by-laws with a clearer definition, and on March 29 SSMU Council approved the amendment.

QPIRG is holding the special referendum as a result of the McGill administration’s request for a new vote before beginning negotiations regarding QPIRG’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA).

 The administration voided the result of QPIRG’s fall referendum, citing that the referendum question had been confusing.

 This referendum period, the ‘no’ camp is using QPIRG’s support of the #6party occupation of the James Administration Building earlier in February as the focus of its campaign. The committee is banking on the perceived unpopularity of the occupation as a way to encourage students to vote ‘no.’ 

Elissa Brock, a member of the ‘no’ committee, elaborated via email: “QPIRG has lost the support of students. No one agrees with their divisive political causes and their support of 6party. They are asking for more than a fee: they are asking students to cough up $141,000, the total cost of cleaning up the mess 6party left behind.” 

The ‘no’ campaign also decried what Brock called QPIRG’s “divisive other dealings,” including its support of Tadamon!, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group that has raised controversy in the past through, according to the ‘yes’ committee, “supporting the removal of Hezbollah from Canada’s official list of terrorist organizations,” among other initiatives such as encouraging boycotts of Israeli products and organizing Israeli Apartheid Week.

The QPIRG ‘yes’ committee sought to counter Brock’s argument that QPIRG does not represent the majority of students. 

Lena Weber, a press liaison for the ‘yes’ committee, described campus support for QPIRG as “overwhelming.”

“We’re just trying to build on that. So many people from all departments and faculties have been tirelessly getting the word out. We’re basically building upon the amazing momentum and love for everything QPIRG does that we saw last fall, when an overwhelming majority voted ‘yes.’”

The referendum held last fall – in which 65.6 per cent voted in favour of the question – included a clause changing the opt-out system to end online opt-outs. This result was challenged and eventually invalidated by McGill’s Judicial Board due to it “[dealing] with two issues, instead of one as required by the [SSMU] Constitution.”

As to the ‘no’ committee’s charge that QPIRG was an active participant in the #6party occupation of the James building, Weber denied this claim.

“We’re trying to continue to clarify that QPIRG was not involved in the #6party occupation at all. In fact, they found out about it at the same time as everyone else on campus. Contrary to some assertions, nobody who held a director position at the time of the #6party occupation was involved in its planning or execution,” Weber said.

“A vocal minority seems to take issue with QPIRG’s respect for students’ right to take political action, but we think it is important to stand in solidarity with people who are engaged in their own struggles. QPIRG tried to bring a speedy resolution to the occupation by asking McGill to set up a meeting between QPIRG, the occupiers, and a member of the administration, though the meeting was refused,” she added.

When the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns were asked about interactions between the two, they emphasized that, other than “correcting misinformation” on both sides, no dialogue has been attempted. Campaign violations have occurred on both sides, all of which have been publicized through Elections SSMU listserv emails.

The ‘yes’ committee has been sanctioned for receiving an endorsement from an external organization, and the ‘no’ committee has been sanctioned for engaging in slanderous campaigning.

The other issue that the referendum addresses is the addition of an online ratification system requiring a quorum of 15 per cent participation regarding motions that have been passed at General Assemblies.