Over the next week, McGill students will be asked to vote on next year’s SSMU executive team. The SSMU executive is tasked with negotiating a favourable position for students in relation to the administration, carving out student space on an increasingly corporatized campus, supporting initiatives concerned with disadvantaged groups, and demonstrating leadership in “matters of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection,” according to the SSMU constitution. The present SSMU executive has failed to live up to this mission, especially in leadership on political and social issues.
This year’s executive has continued the trend of depoliticization and increasing apathy that has plagued the student union over the past few years. During the AUS strike vote in 2012, SSMU Legislative Council attempted to censure VP External Joël Pedneault for supporting the strike, with charges that he had “politicized” his position. In 2013, SSMU councillors were roundly criticized for failing to endorse CKUT’s fee increase referendum. They claimed it would not be possible to take a stance in case some constituents disagreed, despite their mandate to support groups that amplify marginalized voices.
When political stances are brought to the fore, responses are often months late and advise no discernible action. This year, political stances have been few and far between. The only political motion put to a vote at a General Assembly, opposing the Charter of Values, was brought to a general assembly in October 2013, and although a working group was created, there has since been little discernible action.
Student politicians wield an enormous amount of power in representing McGill’s 22,000 undergraduates. Each SSMU executive is paid a salary of approximately $28,000 a year, funded by student fees. That the positions are legitimized by the administration also gives them power, making it even more deplorable that they make no attempt to assert a political stance or to use their power to its greatest advantage.
The political reticence of McGill students – which often relates to off-campus issues – also impacts the relationship between McGill and its greater community. Particularly, it secludes the McGill community even further from the political context in which it exists. Student politicians – past and present – have actively shied away from joining student associations such as ASSÉ.
TaCEQ remains the only student association of which SSMU is a part – and now, with its looming demise, this last remaining tie to the rest of Quebec seems vulnerable. TaCEQ has failed to make any sort of impact for SSMU, and has instead been tied up in lawsuits and endless bureaucratic failures.
So, as students gear up to vote, The Daily asks you to remember SSMU’s mandate. We hope that the SSMU executive elected for the coming year is both cognizant of, and committed to, acting in accordance with its own mandate. Not only is it an integral part of the job, but it is crucial in situating the McGill student community within the greater context of Quebec.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board