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SSMU Council talks tar sands, Idle No More

Debate bogged down in procedure

SSMU Legislative Council reaffirmed its opposition to the development of Canadian tar sands, and committed to lobbying the University to divest its holdings in companies connected to fossil fuel production, at their meeting last Thursday.

Councilors engaged, once again, in debate over how far the mandate of the council extended.

Before passing with 13 votes in favour and three against, the motion regarding McGill Free from Fossil Fuels sparked disagreement over whether SSMU has the mandate to adopt motions that concern broader social justice issues.

Some councilors expressed concern with the motion’s assertion that SSMU should “adopt a position in favour of a rapid transition to a carbon-neutral society.”

“By just passing this [motion] saying we have a mandate, and then repeating the same process over and over by which an actionable process does not occur… [This is] institutionalizing the same problem,” Law representative Andrew Baker said at the meeting. He added that he recognized the difficulties in “translating the emotion into something more actionable.”

Councilor Zachary Rosentzveig disagreed. “It’s important that SSMU have this mandate to hold McGill to a higher standard,” he said to Council.

Political Campaigns Coordinator Christopher Bangs explained some actionable projects that the motion could accomplish, including helping the student group Divest McGill.
“What would help [Divest McGill] the most is a letter to the Board or Governors of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility saying that SSMU has adopted this position … that [SSMU] feels that addressing global climate change is of the utmost importance,” he said at the meeting.

Councilors found further issue with the motion regarding Support for Indigenous Peoples and Allies, which was debated lengthily in both substance and procedure.

The motion also advocated that SSMU should divest its holdings in companies that did business on Native land without the permission of communities, and that SSMU should encourage McGill to do the same.

Councilors were divided over whether the motion should be labeled external, a procedure which would restrict the legislative council from voting on the motion.

Council voted to divide the motion into two separate motions. As one of the movers of the original motion, Rosentzveig likened the division of the motion to “going on a campaign without a position of support.”

The first newly-created motion asked to support the Idle No More movement, and for solidarity with the First Nations and Inuit communities. It was perceived as the most external, but the councilors remained divided over whether or not to commit the motion to the upcoming winter General Assembly (GA).

In the end, the legislative council voted to commit the motion. It will now be addressed at the upcoming GA on February 4.

The second newly-created motion concerned SSMU and McGill’s divestment from companies that did business on Native land without the permission of Native communities, passed with 16 in favour and eight against.

The motion regarding an endorsement of a Yes vote for the Daily Publications Society’s Referendum Question passed with 21 in favour, and six abstentions.