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Engineering undergraduates support tar sand exploitation

EUS reacts to Divest McGill campaign

The Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) council passed a motion “supporting the social, environmentally responsible, and ethical development of the Canadian Oil Sands, with a continued focus on engineering innovation to improve extractive technologies,” during their meeting on Wednesday.

The motion, signed by five Mining Engineering Co-op students, was moved partly in reaction to another motion passed at SSMU Council on January 24, committing SSMU to lobby the University to divest its holdings in companies connected to fossil fuel production.

The passing of the SSMU motion was “yet another example of how out-of-touch the SSMU is with constituents, including those of the Faculty of Engineering,” the motion read.

The motion also called for the EUS representatives to SSMU, Anna Cybulsky and Farzan Subhani, to work alongside SSMU’s political campaigns coordinator – Christopher Bangs, a spokesperson of Divest McGill, a group that is calling on the university to divest its holdings from companies involved in fossil fuels extraction – to “compel him to reach out to all engineering students to solicit their input and opinions.”

Discussion of the motion followed a presentation given by Bangs, who explained to EUS the impetus for the creation of Divest McGill, and fielded questions from councillors about what divestment would mean, both for the University and engineering students.

“No one has any desire to hurt employment opportunities for engineers,” Bangs told Council. “It’s not the tar sands or nothing, it’s not ‘if we don’t invest in the tar sands, where are the jobs,’ instead, we need a responsible transition from the tar sands to more responsible forms of energy,” he said.

Many councillors expressed concern about the effects that divestment would have on their constituents. Electrical, Computer, and Software Engineering Student Society President Dirk Dubois asked Bangs whether Divest McGill was also asking McGill to move away from research in fossil fuels.

“We have no control over, and no desire to hurt anyone’s research opportunities. This is solely focusing on the endowment fund, maybe the pension fund, it is not focused on research,” Bangs replied.

The motion noted that at least 26 of the 60 Mining Engineering Co-op students had been “provided invaluable co-op experience” at tar sands mining companies. Jonathan Aubertin, Co-op Mining Engineering Undergraduate Society president, who has worked in the tar sands in the past, and one of the motion’s signatories, brought a jar full of oil-covered sand to the meeting.

One councillor wanted to add a clause to the motion stating that EUS explicitly would not support Divest McGill’s campaign. However, this motion was voted down by a majority. Dubois also petitioned for the motion to be tabled until next week so councillors would be able to solicit their constituents. This was, he felt, an “inflammatory motion,” with the potential to “piss off a lot of people.”

Councillors were concerned that were they not to pass the motion, they would be “burning bridges,” since the motion passed by SSMU would show McGill engineering students in a poor light in the eyes of many energy companies. Were McGill to divest from these companies, the worry was that they would no longer want to provide research funds to McGill.

“I’d like Council to know that if McGill divests from oil sands companies, no oil sands company would come here for research or for any kind of grants. I don’t see why a company would come here if you take that explicit position that you are not supporting their industry at all,” Subhani told Council.

While the motion passed – meaning that EUS would not be supporting Divest McGill, but would instead be actively supporting the continued extraction of oil from the tar sands – Bangs was still relatively pleased with the outcome.

“The people who voted tonight, feel in some ways like they want to see fossil fuel production done in a more ethical way, which is certainly something we are in favour of,” Bangs told The Daily.

Other items on the agenda included policy changes to Blues Pub, McGill Engineering Competition policies, and a budget review.