The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council held its first meeting of the academic year on September 16. Council discussed ten motions, including the adoption of an Indigenous territory acknowledgement statement and the approval of two referendum questions asking for fee increases.
Other motions passed included bylaw changes, equity amendments to the Society Activities Manual, and the establishment of an intellectual property working group.
Motion for Indigenous territory acknowledgment
Council discussed two motions, both of which passed, regarding the acknowledgement of McGill’s location on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory. One of the motions mandated PGSS to support “the efforts of students and groups at McGill University seeking the adoption of a traditional territory acknowledgement by the university administration,” and the other concerned the adoption of such an acknowledgment by PGSS itself.
Explaining the motion, External Affairs Officer Bradley Por said, “For quite some time, Indigenous students on campus have been working to get the University to acknowledge that it is on traditional territories and [they] have received quite a bit of resistance.”
Por said that one of the reasons why the University was hesitant to adopt an acknowledgment was due to a fear of land claims. The acknowledgment has been edited over time to mitigate these concerns.
“There’s not a chance of that happening. There are two legal memos that the First Peoples’ House has got written saying that there isn’t a real fear of that,” Por said.
The two motions were adopted without debate.
Questions on the subject of fee increase referendum
Council passed a set of motions regarding two questions to be asked in the upcoming PGSS referendum, which will take place from October 19 to 23. One is to increase PGSS’s membership fee from $32.59 per term to $35.85 per term, and one is to increase the Special Projects Fund (SPF) fee from $4.60 per term to $6.60 per term.
According to Financial Affairs Officer Behrang Sharif, PGSS is facing a deficit of around $611,000.
He explained that in May 2012, PGSS decreased its membership fee by nearly $20 as part of an overall budget restructuring aimed at making the budget less complex. Speaking to The Daily, Sharif said, “I think that they [had] good intentions, and they did good for the Society in the long run. There [were] just [a] few miscalculations.”
However, a subsequent long-winded disaffiliation battle with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) led to substantial legal expenses and the payment of around $300,000 in membership fees to CFS under protest. PGSS is currently trying to reclaim these fees in court.
The SPF was created in 2013 as an additional funding source for special projects that could not otherwise get funding under the PGSS budget constraints.
Both referendum questions were approved by Council. If the referendum questions pass, Sharif expects the deficit to be recuperated in five or six years. If the questions fail, it could take PGSS approximately 15 years to overcome the deficit if the association’s expenditure rates stay the same.
Motion to fund bee housewarming rejected
One motion requested that “$600 be allocated from the Events category of the 2015-16 budget to be spent on providing food for Green Drinks events and a housewarming party for the Thomson House bees during the Fall 2015 academic term.” PGSS introduced a bee hive last year as part of its sustainability mandate.
Explaining the motion, PGSS Environment Commissioner Amir Nosrat said, “As you know, we’ve been having a lot of budget cutbacks. […] Discussing this with other commissioners and execs, I think there is a consensus that there is a problem with the way the budget is created, which does not reflect the mandate that is given to the commissioner.” Nosrat also pointed out the difficulties of maneuvering through the budget for people who may not be familiar with it.
In response, Sharif brought up the fact that commissioners have access to a fund for discretionary spending, and that the $600 could be procured from it.
“The discretionary fund is something less than $3,000 that, somehow, has to be jointly negotiated between the execs and commissioners – that’s a lot of people. Whereas, the events category, from what I can see, is about $115,000, and I don’t have a lot of [understanding] as to how that money gets allocated,” Nosrat responded.
Sharif, however, said that the funds mentioned in the budget had already been allocated, and procuring the $600 would mean re-allocating a portion of the budget. In the end, Council voted against the motion.