News | PGSS executive candidates face off in debate

Heated discussion over upcoming Midnight Kitchen referendum question

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its second hustings of this election period on Tuesday at Thomson House. Executive candidates, as well as chairpersons for referendum question committees, debated and answered questions in front of a crowd of around 40.

CFS court case and mental health

Many of the candidates’ platforms noted the necessity of ending PGSS’s ongoing legal battle with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). PGSS has been involved in the court case since the CFS refused to recognize the result of a disaffiliation referendum held by PGSS in 2010.

When asked for their position on the issue, all of the candidates reiterated their commitment to leaving the federation. “I personally think that the CFS is one of the most corrupt organizations I have ever encountered, and the sooner we can leave, the better,” said Nikki Meadows, Financial Affairs Officer candidate.

Internal Affairs candidate GeSa and Member Services candidate Brighita Lungu raised mental health as a major issue for graduate students. Current Member Services Officer Elizabeth Cawley asked the candidates what they would do in their position to improve students’ mental health.

“We need to sit down professors and staff at McGill and tell them: we do have a problem,” said Juan Camilo Pinto, Secretary-General candidate. “We need an honest debate on how professors are handling this issue with their students. Are they actually aware that there is a huge problem at McGill?”

Jennifer Murray, one of the candidates for Academic Affairs Officer, spoke to the necessity of raising awareness and destigmatizing mental health. She emphasized her desire to work on improving student-supervisor relationships to ensure that students are “academically engaged, happy, and able to complete their work on time in the way that they want to.”

In the debate period, Murray’s opponent Behrang Sharif cast doubt on Murray’s level of preparation for the position, noting that her first PGSS Council attendance was “last month.”

Murray countered later that, while new, she has the necessary enthusiasm and leadership experience for the position.

All other candidates – who are all running as a slate, which has a common platform – did not take part in debates, as they are running unopposed for their respective positions.

Midnight Kitchen and Athletics fees

McGill Graduate Association of Political Studies Students representative Lorenzo Daieff urged PGSS members to vote in favour of a fee levy of $0.50 per semester to allow the Midnight Kitchen collective to expand its operations. The Midnight Kitchen provides free daily vegan lunches to around 250 students, and is currently exclusively financed by an undergraduate fee levy of $3.25 per semester.

Jonathan Mooney, current Secretary-General and chairperson of the ‘No’ committee for this question, objected to the fee levy on the grounds that the Midnight Kitchen, as a SSMU service, is not accountable to PGSS. He contrasted it with other services like CKUT, where PGSS members sit on the board of directors.

Daieff responded that some members of the collective are, in fact, graduate students.

An audience member expressed surprise at the intensity of the debate, remarking that the fee only amounts to $6 after a six-year PhD program. Daieff added that the fee would also be opt-outable. “If you don’t want to pay $6 dollars over the course of your PhD because you want to use that for research funding, you can.”

Adam Bouchard, current Academic Affairs Officer, recommended that PGSS members approve a non-opt-outable $3 dollar per semester fee to the Athletics Building Improvement Fund, which would help finance a turf improvement project on the McTavish Reservoir.

Cawley voiced her support for the project, but spoke against the fee levy, asserting that the Athletics budget is mismanaged. According to Cawley, graduate students should oppose the fee levy as a tactic to send the message that McGill Athletics “should look at their budgeting.”

The PGSS election and referendum period runs from March 13 to 21.