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Building fee passes in Fall referendum

SSMU to re-negotiate legal relationship with McGill a year early

On October 1, both parts of the University Centre Building Fee referendum question passed, with a majority of the 4,890 students who turned out voting “yes.” A fee of $5.78 and $2.89, for full-time and part-time students respectively, is now visible on undergraduate student account summaries.

The first question, pertaining to the fee levy itself, received support from 69 per cent of voters. The second question, which indexed the fee to increase at 5.6 per cent per year as dictated by the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) lease with McGill, obtained a “yes” vote from 55 per cent of voters.

The fee levy was introduced to cover utility costs and increased rent entrenched in SSMU’s new lease with the administration, signed last March after four years of negotiations. A similar fee failed to pass in the Winter 2014 referendum.

While the fee will be visible on student account summaries as of today, its impact will only be felt gradually over the next few weeks. The SSMU building will once again be open on weekends as of October 18, but before that, there is no weekend access. “The SSMU building will be closed [the weekend of October 4] because McGill is coming in to do some pretty hazardous construction in the basement (pulling up 60-year-old asbestos), and then next weekend is Thanksgiving and so we’re closed anyway,” said SSMU VP Finance and Operations Kathleen Bradley in an email to The Daily.

As of October 14, the building will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. during the week, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. on Saturdays, and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

According to SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, broader projects, such as SSMU research positions, will have to wait until the new SSMU budget is approved. “Until that revised budget is approved at Council, we can’t start planning any jobs or job descriptions,” Ayukawa told The Daily in an interview.

The revised budget will be presented to SSMU Council on October 23.

In an email to The Daily, Bradley commented on the referendum results. “The Executives are very happy that the Building Fee is passed. We’re all very excited to be able to fulfill our mandate to students, to be able to support more mental health and campaign positions for students, and to ensure the long term sustainability of the Society.” Bradley continued, “In short, we’re glad to be back on track, and are very grateful to the Services, Councillors, and engaged students who took the time to consult with us, learn about the lease and the fee, and vote mindfully.”

Ayukawa also expressed satisfaction with the results of the referendum. “We’re extremely excited to move on with the year and start planning things and bring back a lot of things that we had campaigned on, for example student research positions and bringing our budgets back to where they once were,” she told The Daily. “And also not worrying about finding ways to pay for rent and utilities that would cut services.”

Impact of the “yes” campaign

Presumably learning from the widely noted failure of last year’s executive to publicize the previous building fee that ultimately failed to pass, this year’s SSMU executive implemented a “yes” campaign for the question. According to Ayukawa, the campaign helped broaden SSMU’s understanding of student concerns.

“I think campaigning was a really great way to get feedback from people […] I think, on our end, we really appreciated being connected with everyone,” she said.

Indeed, students had a variety of concerns about the building fee and the lease that prompted it. Along with the implications of re-introducing a failed referendum question, one of the loudest concerns amongst students was with the negotiations that led to the lease.

“I feel like the biggest one was the lack of transparency with regards to negotiating the lease was a frustration that a lot of people had,” said Ayukawa. “This campaign and our feedback has just really emphasized to the SSMU team how important it is to be completely transparent to the student body especially when it comes to dealings with the administration.”

While Ayukawa could not comment on the lease negotiations, as she was not part of the executive last year, she did note that the 2013-14 SSMU executive released an open letter about the lease negotiations. The letter called on the administration to “demonstrate that [it was] advocating in students’ best interests” within the context of the negotiations.

MOA renegotiation

Ayukawa also stated that SSMU is “hoping to start renegotiating [its] MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] with the University.” The MOA, which outlines SSMU’s and McGill’s legal rights and responsibilities to each other, is re-negotiated every five years – this was last done in 2011, so these negotiations are coming a year early.

While Ayukawa said that she and SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan had already met with Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens to discuss the matter, she also noted that “the University, at this point, isn’t even being as willing as we had hoped to open up negotiations with us for the MOA one year early.”

–With files from Igor Sadikov