News | SSMU Council discusses budget

Student-Run Cafe’s deficit poses concern

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met for the second time this academic year on Thursday, September 29. Council members heard committee reports, executive reports, two presentations, and one notice of motion.

Amendment of the Internal Regulations of Governance

Council discussed a notice of motion regarding the amendment of the internal regulations of governance and the electoral timeline. The timeline originally called for the approval of referendum questions on October 27, however, there is no Council meeting that day. An additional meeting was scheduled for October 20 to accommodate the two readings required for referendum questions.

2016-2017 SSMU Budget

VP Finance Niall Carolan gave an extended presentation on SSMU’s 2016-2017 budget to SSMU council members. The presentation focused on SSMU’s sources of revenue, with an emphasis on SSMU’s operations.

Carolan didn’t go into the details of SSMU’s investment portfolio, which he himself described as “extremely boring.” He did detail SSMU operations, however, like the Student Run Cafe (SRC), Gerts, and Mini Courses. For each of SSMU’s operations, Carolan highlighted its respective profitabilities, challenges, risks, and opportunities.

SSMU’s Corporatization

During a discussion of corporate sponsorship, Carolan acknowledged the contentious nature of the topic, as SSMU’s corporatization of student spaces has faced widespread criticism from the McGill community. Despite this, he explained that the revenue from advertising contracts has helped fund SSMU’s operations.

“The revenue generated from that sponsorship goes directly into offsetting the costs of running this building,” explained Carolan.

He argued that SSMU must strike a productive balance which would allow them to limit the negative impact that corporatization might have on the student body while securing the revenues necessary to hold events and reduce the Society’s overall deficit. Carolan also expressed a desire to make the sponsorship more student-centered.

The Student-Run Cafe

Several questions about Carolan’s presentation centered around the Student-Run Cafe (SRC) in the Shatner building. Carolan explained that total revenue from commercial tenants dropped from approximately $214,000 in the 2015 fiscal year to $154,000 in the 2016 fiscal year, mainly as a result of losing two commercial tenants in the Shatner building with the opening of the SRC. This was a step toward putting a larger focus on student-run initiatives within SSMU, said Carolan, albeit “at a financial cost, which is lost commercial revenue.”

“The revenue generated from that sponsorship goes directly into offsetting the costs of running this building.”

Concerns were raised regarding the SRC’s deficit, which was nearly $70,000 in 2015. In 2016, it was near $120,000. According to Carolan, this was primarily because, while the number of daily transactions has risen substantially over the past year, the amount of labour and food required to run the cafe has, as a result, also increased. Furthermore, the SRC is required to use locally sourced and produced ingredients, while also assuring that the sources of food have fair labour practices. “These are good mandates, but it does restrict our ability to be profitable,” said Carolan.

Carolan also addressed the fact that SSMU’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) prevents the SRC from advertising anywhere on campus except inside the Shatner building, which limits its profitability even more. Overall, he said, SRC now stands as the single biggest contributor to past SSMU deficits. However, he assured councillors that the cafe has been investigating new streams of revenue. This includes expanded catering services.

“These are good mandates, but it does restrict our ability to be profitable.”

In light of this discussion, Senate Caucus representative Joshua Chin asked at what point one should start asking “existential questions” about the SRC, since it appears that the SRC has little alternative but to run a deficit.

A previous version of this article stated, “The notice mentioned a Legislative Council meeting on October 20, but as there is no scheduled meeting that day, Council will have to meet earlier to approve the amendment motion.” In fact, Council added another meeting on October 20 to approve referendum questions, as the original electoral timeline called for approval on October 27, but there is no Council meeting that day. The Daily regrets the error.