News  Grad students take stance against austerity at annual general meeting

Approved bylaw changes include reform of judicial body

Correction appended October 28, 2014.

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its annual general meeting (AGM) on October 22. Members discussed and approved a bylaw reform package, and took a stance against the provincial government’s austerity measures and budget cuts to education. A motion to ratify the appointment of PGSS’s Board of Directors also passed.

Bylaw reform package

A set of major changes to PGSS bylaws required final approval at the AGM, having been approved by PGSS Council and ratified by the Board of Directors. A motion to approve the reform package was adopted and the proposed bylaw changes were implemented.

The many changes proposed by the reform package included a major restructuring of the Appeals Board of PGSS, which would be renamed the Judicial Board.

According to the original text, three out of the five total members of the Appeals Board were to be appointed through a lottery conducted at a Council meeting. The proposed revision sought to reduce the number of members to a total of three judges, one of which would be nominated by the Graduate Law Students’ Association (GLSA). This change received criticism at the AGM.

“What we are doing here is that we are giving, permanently, a privilege to a student association to nominate one member. […] In my mind, that’s a problem. If you consider that students from [GLSA] are more competent with their training to be on this committee, then this should apply to any other members in a [departmental graduate student association],” said one participant.

In response, PGSS Secretary-General Juan Camilo Pinto explained that, before the bylaw reform, members with legal training already had priority over other members in becoming members of the Appeals Board.

“Now, you’re saying that we should open this to a broader majority, but the reality is if tomorrow, five people from GLSA wanted to come, and they wanted to become the five judges of the [Appeals Board], they can do it,” said Pinto. “There is nothing that’s restricting them [from doing] that.”

Karim Bouayad-Gervais, a graduate student in the Psychology department, told The Daily that he thought that the motion had been rushed.

“The Board of Directors actually ratified this motion less than 24 hours before [the AGM at a special meeting called for this purpose], because they were running out of time,” said Bouayad-Gervais. “Maybe it was a good first draft, but that was certainly not something suitable for an AGM.”

Opposing austerity measures

A motion to oppose the austerity measures and budget cuts to universities imposed by the provincial government was moved by Social Work student Andrea Palmer. The motion originally asked PGSS to endorse and participate in an upcoming protest on October 31 organized by the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics – a coalition of over 85 groups opposed to charging for public services and privatizing them – and for PGSS to hold a one-day strike on the same day.

“If you are cutting social and health services, you’re going to have a human rights issue.”

“I work as a social worker, so I know how these cuts could particularly impact our most vulnerable populations, including us as students, for our future generations, [given that] education is a right and is a social determinant of health,” Palmer said, speaking in favour of the motion.

“[The provincial government is] saying, ‘We’re not going to cut front-line services,’ and unions are declaring, ‘You can’t cut administration and not affect front-line services.’ Different groups have come forward, including the Human Rights [and Youth Rights] Commission of Quebec, stating that if you are cutting social and health services, you’re going to have a human rights issue,” said Palmer to The Daily.

PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet expressed concern over the lack of information about the organizers of the rally.

“I don’t know much about this rally, and rallies in Quebec are known, sometimes, to get out of hand. I know there is one that will be held sometime in November, that is much more mainstream and reformist, and in line with our grand reformist politics, as opposed to revolutionary politics,” Ouellet said at the AGM.

In the end, the AGM decided to strike out the clauses that asked PGSS to participate in the protest and hold a strike, but replaced them with a clause that encouraged PGSS to take action in the spirit of the original motion. The motion was then passed.

Ouellet told The Daily that he was pleased with the result. “I completely agree with the motion, the last version of the motion. I think this is something that’s going to help us show to the administration and to the government that we are really resolute in countering those cuts in education and in other social programs.”

In a previous version of this article, Karim Bouayad-Gervais was incorrectly referred to as a student in the Neuroscience department. In fact, Bouayad-Gervais is a student in the Psychology department. The Daily regrets the error.