Last week, The Daily endorsed a “yes” vote for the University Centre Building Fee question. While the approval of this fee is vital for SSMU’s ability to run and meet its mandate, the endorsement of the fee should not be mistaken for an endorsement of the lease that necessitated it.
The new lease, signed in March after four years of negotiation with the administration, includes a $20,000 increase in rent – indexed to increase a further $5,000 per year until 2021 – and $100,000 in utility costs which were previously covered by the University. The lease’s terms dictate that McGill can evict SSMU from the building if it doesn’t pay; after signing the lease, SSMU’s options were to go bankrupt, be evicted, or increase student fees. In insisting on a lease that forces SSMU into a choice between bankruptcy and a fee levy, McGill has shown blatant disregard for student space on campus, for student-run clubs and services, and ultimately, for the student body as a whole. While SSMU did sign the lease with McGill, it is unreasonable to assume that student executives have the same sway in the negotiation process as a team of lawyers hired by McGill.
Despite the draconian terms of the lease, it is signed and binding. Without the student fees to support it, SSMU will be forced to make drastic changes; potential proposals include cutting building hours, raising prices at Gerts and the Nest, charging clubs for room bookings, and foregoing essential building renovations, just to name a few. SSMU’s constitution mandates that it provide services to “strengthen the educational, cultural, environmental, political, and social conditions” of its membership – the fee is required for it to do so.
While a “no” vote might look tempting to some because of the lease negotiation process, the actions of last year’s SSMU executive, or the re-introduction of a referendum question, students must resist the urge. The lack of information from last year’s executive about the fee referendum is certainly a point of contention. The Daily also concedes that it did not explicitly endorse the fee in the last referendum period, and thus failed in its role in keeping the student body informed. However, the impact of a $5.78 per semester fee for full-time students, or $2.89 for part-time students, is not proportional to the impact of the building’s loss on the student population.
This referendum question is ultimately one of the most important in McGill’s history in terms of direct impact on students. The Daily’s endorsement of the fee question is not an endorsement of the lease, nor of McGill’s negotiation tactics. Students should be angry about the lease, but a “no” vote is self-destructive and fails to penalize those who failed students the most: the administration.
Readers should note that The Daily holds an interest in the outcome of the referendum as its office is located in the SSMU building.
– The McGill Daily Editorial Board