The SSMU saw lackluster attendance from the student body at its Winter 2013 General Assembly (GA) yesterday. The GA failed to meet its required quorum of 100 members from the beginning of its session.
The Winter GA was initially scheduled for February 4, with the motion deadline set for Monday, January 21. Due to a lack of submitted motions, however, the GA was postponed to Wednesday, February 27.
SSMU President Josh Redel told The Daily that despite low attendance, SSMU doubled their efforts in advertising for the GA this semester. “We did 85 Facebook announcements, 59 class announcements, 8.5 hours of flyering in targeted buildings, 9.5 hours flyering outdoors.”
Redel acknowledged that the timing of the GA left much to be desired, especially with that day’s snowstorm. “It was a very weird mood [at the GA],” he said in an interview. “I’m glad we had conversation on things, but it didn’t seem like there was as much energy.”
At the beginning, the GA had approximately seventy active voters, a number that dwindled down to around thirty by the end of the evening.
In his President’s Report, Redel mentioned: “lease negotiations are currently underway…. There’s an interesting new model that we’re looking towards that will be beneficial to SSMU and the students…Negotiations will be done in a month and a half – expect very big news in four or five weeks.”
The negotiation for the Shatner building lease with the administration has been ongoing for the last three years. The information has remained confidential to the student body thus far.
Lack of debate on motions
The motion regarding support for the Social Equity and Diversity Office (SEDE) was one of the two motions submitted in time for the prior date of the GA on February 4. VP University Affairs Haley Dinel explained that the GA’s approval would “[affirm] the work we want to do, and [are] doing.”
The motion seeks to secure a permanent funding structure for SEDE from McGill, and to ensure support from the university community. Dinel briefly alluded to concerns about the impact of the recent budget cuts.
“Where budgets are being cut, it’s always unclear what the status is of new offices,” Dinel said at the GA.
In the consultative forum, the motion passed with 55 votes for, seven votes against, and two abstentions.
The motion regarding support for Indigenous peoples and allies was also submitted before the original January 21 deadline. The resolved clauses in the motion were divided at the Legislative Council meeting on January 24, and only the first resolved clause was up for vote at the GA.
This clause asks SSMU to adopt a position in support of the Idle No More movement. At the Council meeting, the councillors deemed the clause “too external” for the body to simply rubber-stamp.
Although the motion passed in the consultative forum with 51 votes for and 12 votes against, it will be sent back to Council.
Neither of the motions inspired any debate in the dwindling crowd at the GA.
A motion submitted after the postponement of the GA regarding conflict minerals did manage to pique some interest. The McGill chapter of STAND Canada submitted a motion to mandate the Financial Ethics Research Committee to “consider the role of conflict minerals in current and future investments under [SSMU’s] Five Year Ethical Investment Plan.
Two representatives from the McGill chapter were on hand to clarify the intentions of the motion. Conflict minerals – specifically tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold – are traded in known conflict regions, fuelling rebel groups with their sale and export.
Recently, legislation was passed in the United States requiring companies to report whether their products contain conflict minerals. Canadian Members of Parliament are drafting a similar bill, and universities in the United States have passed motions on the subject of investment in conflict minerals as well.
The consultative body passed the motion with 54 votes in favour and three against.
Illegal ancillary fees at University of Toronto
An additional motion regarding “fair tuition and fee charges” was submitted from the floor by SSMU’s Political Campaigns Coordinator Christopher Bangs.
Inspired by University of Toronto’s recent review of its ancillary fees based on student research, and aligned with Ontario regulation regarding tuition, the Motion to Ensure Fair Tuition and Fee Charges urged SSMU to “conduct a thorough review of all tuition and fees charged in all faculties or schools…to ensure that all charges comply with regulations internal to the University and with the laws and regulations of Quebec…and to ensure that all charges are made known to students when registering for classes.”
Bangs explained that the motion also was a reflection of his own experience. “In a civil engineering class…there was a $90 fee to access the engineering lab. I reached out to the Dean of Students and…I was able to get the fee waived…They did not make [the fee] clear when we entered the class…A lot of people don’t have recourse to the administration.”
U1 Arts student Sam Gregory, a candidate for SSMU VP University Affairs inquired why the motion was brought up to SSMU, as opposed to the Senate or the administrative body of the University.
“I don’t believe that some sort of legal [motion] would go through the Senate,” Bangs explained. “Considering that student unions are here to make sure that we’re getting the most out of the University, and considering that we have mandates for [tuition], I think it’s important to make sure that the University is not getting more than what they’re legally capped at.”
The GA concluded with an interactive session regarding Space in the Shatner Building.