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Procedural debate delays decisions on SSMU GA motions

Councillors divided over online ratification

Last Thursday, the Legislative Council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) met for the fourth time this semester to discuss a series of motions presented at the Fall General Assembly (GA) earlier this month.

Instead, councillors found themselves tied up in procedural debate after a report by the Steering Committee found a series of weaknesses in the by-laws of the SSMU constitution.

The Steering Committee’s report detailed several tensions between the role of Council and the constitutional integration of online ratification.

In accordance with article 7.3 in the SSMU By-Law Book 1, motions passed at a GA that have lost quorum – and are thus non-binding and passed as a consultative forum – are then passed to Council by direction of the Steering Committee. The traditional role of Council is to simply “rubber stamp” the motions based on the vote of the consultative forum.

However, as the by-law stands, there is no precedent for the integration of online ratification in the situation of a vote by consultative forum.

Councillors were divided over the merits of online ratification.

Claire Stewart-Kanigan, newly-elected Arts representative to SSMU, told The Daily, “decisions should be arrived at via discussion and debate, but with online ratification, this process is devalued,” adding that she “fundamentally disapproved” of the process.

VP University Affairs Haley Dinel, on the other hand, saw online ratification as “beneficial to the GA process.”

“I am in fact hopeful that it will lead to a different kind of participation at the GA,” Dinel told The Daily.

The Steering Committee also raised concerns about Council’s mandate to pass external and potentially divisive motions – such as the motion on war with Iran – and held in its report, “the Legislative Council holds no authority to adopt positions on external affairs brought to the General Assembly.”

Several councillors proposed to amend or debate the motions in question to orient them more under SSMU’s mandate and make the motions less externally-based.

President Josh Redel, however, cautioned against Council debating or amending motions presented in a GA, pointing out the “clear distinction between the direct democracy of the GA and representative democracy of the council.”

There is a legal precedent in the by-law book to table all motions passed by a consultative forum until the next GA, which would take place in the 2013 winter semester.

Suggestions to follow this precedent were met with strong opposition.

“[These motions] are time-sensitive issues that must be discussed as soon as possible. By the time the next GA rolls around, it may be too late to take a meaningful stance on the issues at hand,” Stewart-Kanigan told The Daily.

VP Internal Michael Szpejda said that it was preferable to fix the constitutional loopholes before passing the motions in either Council or in the next GA.

The four motions were tabled until the next meeting of Council on November 1 to allow the Steering Committee to make final decisions on the possible amendment of the by-laws.