Correction appended March 30.
On March 20, members of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) elected all but one of the society’s executives for 2015-16. No candidates ran for the VP External position initially; now, two candidates are running in a by-election with a voting period from April 1 to 3.
The VP External represents the members of SSMU in the wider Montreal and Quebec community. They are in charge of keeping students aware of campaigns to improve post secondary education and of communication with other institutions, maintaining relations with McGill’s labour unions, and lobbying relevant governments on behalf of SSMU.
Emily Boytinck has been the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) VP External for the past two years, and was previously a Clubs & Services Representative to SSMU in 2012-13. She has emphasized sustainability and equity in her work at SUS, and has also acted as a live-in facilitator for the ECOLE project and as an organizer with Divest McGill. Although her knowledge of French is rudimentary, which could be a drawback for inter university collaboration, Boytinck indicated to The Daily that she plans to take intensive classes.
Boytinck’s platform focuses on community engagement, transparency, and action on climate change. She noted that she wants to use SSMU’s resources to facilitate student involvement with community organizations and to empower students to bring forward political campaigns. She hopes to increase student engagement by making this process more transparent and accessible by publicizing current campaigns and providing help to students who want to start new ones. She did not emphasize anti-austerity mobilization in her platform, but told The Daily that she wants to continue educational initiatives on the topic and allow students who might be intimidated by activism to engage in a variety of ways. Boytinck noted that it was unclear whether joining a student federation would be beneficial to SSMU, and highlighted cooperation on action on climate change as a way to build relationships with other universities.
Boytinck acknowledged SSMU’s role as a political actor, considering it essential to take stances on issues that affect students like the accessibility of education. In addition to her platform points, she noted cultivating a better relationship with faculty associations as a way to foster engagement with SSMU.
Joanna Schacter does not have a great deal of experience in campus politics, but she has been involved with campus publications at McGill and during her year at Harvard. She acted as the student liaison for the History Students’ Association Library Committee in 2012-13, and was a frosh marketing coordinator in 2013 and 2014. As a Montreal native, Schacter is fully bilingual.
Schacter emphasized that her main goal would be to accurately inform students about ongoing issues such as austerity or any issue brought to a General Assembly, taking care to present both sides of the issue at hand adequately. She believes that this will help address the problem of student apathy by helping students develop informed opinions. Schacter recognized that SSMU has been given an anti-austerity mandate, and suggested giving constituents the option to vote for SSMU-organized faculty strikes to implement it; she did not make clear how this would be an improvement over the current faculty-level procedures. Bilingualism is a central component of Schacter’s platform – she considers it important that both SSMU’s documents and communications be available in French, and that other universities with which SSMU partners make relevant documents available in English. Regarding representation at the provincial level, Schacter said that McGill’s isolation had to be addressed, and indicated that she would continue efforts to examine the possibility of joining a student federation.
Speaking to SSMU’s role as a political actor, Schacter said that SSMU has a responsibility to educate students on issues that affect them, in order to be able to meaningfully represent students. For Schacter, educating constituents is the way for SSMU to show political leadership.
Endorsement – Emily Boytinck
The Daily endorses a “yes” vote for Emily Boytinck, as her relevant experience and concrete platform offer solid grounds for the position. She not only has experience in the bureaucratic world of student politics, but also with organizing in a community-campus context, mostly with environmental movements. One drawback is that she has not worked directly under the VP External portfolio, meaning that the learning curve might be steeper, but we do not find that this consideration will substantially impact her leadership abilities.
In addition, as the most political and active position on the SSMU executive, it is refreshing to see Boytinck committing to both educating and mobilizing on important issues, as well as engaging more with students. Her stance on austerity is not as emphatic as we would hope, especially in a time of strikes around that very issue, but her answers to constituents’ questions have shown that she has a solid understanding and vision of this issue.
In addition to mobilizing the student body, the VP External is responsible for liaising with other Quebec universities and the provincial government. Boytinck’s lack of bilingualism poses a potential problem, especially with the eventual creation of a student federation on the horizon, but she has strongly stated her commitment to improving her French – which is more than many other VP Externals have done in the past.
A previous version of this article incorrectly described Joanna Schacter’s level of French as “conversational.” In fact, Schacter is fully bilingual. The Daily regrets the error.