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SSMU Midterm Reviews

With the creation of a seventh executive position at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive team has been able to focus more on their portfolios than their counterparts of the previous year. However, many executives have also had to adjust to brand new components to their portfolios, as responsibilities were redistributed. They have also had to cope with the perennial challenge of effecting meaningful change despite a recalcitrant administration, while negotiating new obstacles such as omnipresent construction and its attendent accessibility challenges, and a series of upheavals and reforms within McGill’s Mental Health Services.

After checking in with the executives periodically throughout the Fall semester, The Daily has compiled mid-year reviews of their performances.

President Ben Ger

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As SSMU President, Ger is required to supervise the other executives’ portfolios to a certain degree, as well as represent the undergraduate community on McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG). So far, Ger has made the most of his position on the BoG, releasing a report entitled “A Seat at the Table,” which analysed problems of representation, consultation, and communication that have left McGill students feeling frustrated and alienated from the Board. The report also made a series of recommendations regarding how to address these issues.

Moreover, at the last Board meeting of the Fall semester, Ger attempted to initiate an official review of the BoG’s best practices by the Nominating, Governance, and Ethics (NGE) Committee. His resolution was tabled, but given the administration’s general reluctance to implement significant student-led reform, it is to Ger’s credit that the proposal was raised at all.

By contrast, the Fall 2016 General Assembly (GA), for which Ger was largely responsible, was incredibly underwhelming. Falling well below quorum, the GA clearly failed to represent the collective will of the undergraduate student body, and to engage people in the democratic process. Part of the reason seems to have been a distinct lack of publicity.

In an interview following the GA, Ger partly attributed this to restrictions on printing, yet a problem with print advertising would not have precluded a social media campaign. This aspect of organizing the GA is explicitly the President’s responsibility; The Daily expects better for the Winter GA.

VP Operations Sacha Magder

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When Magder ran for the position, his campaign focused heavily on consultation, but included few concrete proposals. In the new position of VP Operations, Magder is responsible for operations in the SSMU building, such as Gerts and the Student Run Cafe (SRC), as well as sustainability initiatives.

In the Fall semester, both Gerts and SRC have seen increased sales, which is a valuable first step in addressing SSMU’s deficits as the SRC has been the single largest contributor. In late November, the SRC was posting half the deficit it posted last year around the same time. Magder pointed to attempts to reduce food waste and increased catering as reasons for this improvement.

This is particularly noteworthy, given that SSMU’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) forbids the SRC from advertising anywhere outside the Shatner building. Madger further told The Daily that he is in early talks with Deputy Provost Ollivier Dyens (Student Life and Learning) and other administrators to make the MoA more favorable to SSMU operations.

Construction around McGill’s downtown campus has caused major accessibility problems. Magder’s efforts to improve the situation seem largely to have been stymied by the City’s lack of accountability and failure to respond proactively to student needs.

With regard to sustainability initiatives, Magder told The Daily that he has spoken with Associate VP (University Services) Robert Couvrette about McGill’s waste management provider, which deals with both regular garbage and recycling. This is a serious potential conflict of interests, considering that landfills get paid by the square meter, meaning McGill could be getting fewer rebates for recycling initiatives. Madger has also spoken with McGill administrators about putting more composting bins in the Shatner building. Both initiatives have yet to be seen on campus, but both were conceived in the Fall semester.

However, the VP Operations office did secure a $10,000 grant to build a garden behind the Shatner building, which could contribute towards the SRC’s operations, but as of yet, little has been seen of concrete sustainability initiatives.

Magder’s campaign promise to institute a “Crash Pad” in the Shatner Building has for the most part not seen great progress outside of Frosh, with sustainability and operations taking up a majority of his time.

VP Student Life Elaine Patterson

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As VP Student Life, Patterson has a mandate to carry out mental health initiatives, as well as oversee clubs and services. In the Fall semester, she extended Activities Night to three nights rather than two, allowing for a more pleasant atmosphere, with more clubs and students allowed to participate, despite some accessibility issues due to the construction on McTavish. That being said, some might criticize her choice (in coordination with SSMU’s Sponsorship Coordinator, Security Manager, and Communications and Publications Coordinator) not to subject the company Tangerine, which brought an excessively large tent to the event, to repercussions for their breach of contract, which contributed to crowding at the event.

With the current club moratorium in place, which prevents the creation of new clubs under SSMU, Patterson has been limited in her Clubs and Services mandate. Nonetheless, Patterson has contributed towards giving certain SSMU services, like the Peer Support Centre, more permanent spaces in the Shatner building.

As one of the movers behind the newly adopted free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy, a commendable effort on Patterson’s part, students will have to see how she executes the policy and assure that funding is used effectively toward the policy’s objectives.
Back in August, Patterson told The Daily that she was working with SSMU President Ben Ger to implement a gender discrimination policy in the Fall semester that will go beyond current provisions. Part of the policy included what is now the free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy, but little has been heard of this overarching initiative in the months since.

With regards to mental health initiatives, Patterson has worked towards implementing “Mental Health 101” training sessions for new faculty and staff, and hosted “mental health roundtable” discussions amongst the University’s Mental Health Services. But despite her wishes to harmonize said services, restructuring of McGill’s Counselling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) and changes to the medical notes policy (done without consulting SSMU) has left many on campus disappointed.

VP Finance Niall Carolan

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Carolan came into his position exceptionally qualified with regard to financial experience. His electoral platform called for reorganizing club funding and better balancing of SSMU’s budget; so far, he seems to have been largely successful in both areas.

With regards to club funding, he has removed mandatory second installment reports, to make the funding process “as easy as possible for student clubs,” in his words. Previously when clubs applied for funding, half would be given up front, and the rest would be given after a report was submitted; this process was inconvenient for both clubs and SSMU administrators, he said.

Moreover, Carolan has worked with the Student Run Café (SRC) to cut its deficit in half in comparison to last year. Specifically, “whereas last year the deficit was around $44,000 by August 31, this year it was only $20 [thousand].” He further told The Daily that SSMU’s expenditures as a whole have been reduced as well.

Carolan has also been working towards the implementation of a Socially Responsible Investment Fund (SRIF), working with Vadim di Pietro, Chief Investment Officer at Desautels Capital Management and a team of Desautels students in the Honours Investment Program. This is a commendable initiative as, in his words, “if we can invest our money in a place that both provides financial returns and a positive social impact, that’s an amazing opportunity.”

However, Carolan has faced criticism for what many have perceived as being an increased corporatization of SSMU. In response to the criticism, he said he would like to arrange student consultation through the Financial Ethics Review Committee, and that he would like to see active participation from students in decision-making. He further noted that the decision to seek sponsorships was made by the previous VP Finance and Operations, although during his campaign he did in fact speak of a desire to seek corporate sponsorship.

VP Internal Daniel Lawrie

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When Lawrie ran unopposed last year, his platform focused on three main tenets: communication, organization, and trust. With regard to the first objective, Lawrie worked on improving communication between his office and the student body this past semester. More specifically, he focused on redesigning the listerv, an initiative that seems to have been largely successful. He told The Daily that as a result, 44 per cent of students now read the listserv.

During his campaign, he also proposed using the official McGill and MyMartlet apps to further disseminate the listserv and sell tickets to SSMU events. Unfortunately, this proposal has so far not come to fruition, as Lawrie claims the company that runs the apps, Ooh La La, has been largely unresponsive. Lawrie said he will continue to reach out to the company in the next semester.

More concretely, Lawrie took the initiative to begin planning for 4Floors earlier than previous VP Internals, and saw this work pay off with the sale of close to 900 tickets, which generated a small profit. In comparison, last year’s 4Floors ran a deficit.

While this is commendable, Lawrie acknowledged that “one of the things I’ve been most frustrated with is my time management,” as he prioritized 4Floors and thereby neglected other aspects of his portfolio. Now that 4Floors is over, he says he will focus on other initiatives, such as the rebranding of McGill Red and White, now known as Life After Your Degree (LifeAYD).

Additionally, Lawrie has restructured the First-year Undergraduate Network (FUN), unifying it with First Year Council (FYC). Most recently, he has helped FYC create their first draft of a new constitution.

While Lawrie told The Daily at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year that he planned to diversify the events portfolio and focus more on non-drinking events, The Daily has not yet seen much progress in this regard.

VP External David Aird

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The position of VP External requires Aird to support student-led campaigns on campus, to observe meetings of the Association pour la Voix Étudiante au Québec (AVEQ), and to oversee francophone affairs at McGill.

During his campaign Aird placed significant emphasis on this last point, promising to strengthen relations between McGill students and the Milton-Parc community. Aird told The Daily of plans to reinstate French conversation circles between students and the neighbourhood’s permanent residents, and even to organize student lectures for the community. These ideas have not materialized. Aird said that he will focus more on these objectives in the Winter semester.

A supporter of last year’s unsuccessful campaign to have SSMU join AVEQ, Aird has been attending AVEQ meetings in an observational capacity. He has also participated in a number of AVEQ subcommittees, and says he has been working to ensure that the federation aligns with SSMU’s values and priorities. Aird has reported on his work with AVEQ to SSMU’s Legislative Council, but disavows any intention of mounting another campaign to affiliate SSMU with AVEQ. While his involvement with AVEQ is important, he needs to more actively promote AVEQ’s activities on campus, and keep the McGill community abreast of his work.

The VP External portfolio is also mandated to student initiatives and campaigns. In this respect, Aird’s performance has been uneven. Throughout the Fall semester he remained involved in McGill Against Austerity, consulted with Divest McGill, and collaborated with VP University Affairs Erin Sobat in hiring a researcher to support Demilitarize McGill. He helped organize a small demonstration against tuition hikes on November 2, as well as McGill contingents to one or two other anti-austerity actions. However, Aird did not organize a contingent to the massive demonstration against rape culture which occurred in Montreal a few days earlier, nor did his office promote the event. This is emblematic of a broader problem with Aird’s performance: his work with McGill Against Austerity is commendable, but he must engage McGill students in a wider variety of movements in the community.

VP University Affairs Erin Sobat

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The VP University Affairs must act as a liaison between McGill’s administration and its undergraduate student body, advocating for student priorities whenever possible. As such, the position can be a frustrating one; indeed, Sobat’s attempts to improve accommodations procedures – particularly where mental health issues are concerned – have to some extent been stymied by lack of consultation and general disorganization on the part of McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (CMHS). Despite this, he and VP Student Life Elaine Patterson seem to have been working with the heads of these services to the best of their ability to ensure that no student is left behind by the new ‘stepped care’ model.

Sobat also organized a campaign early in the year to collect testimony from students regarding their experiences seeking accommodations from McGill. He also spearheaded a “Know Your Student Rights” campaign which ran at the start of both the Fall and Winter semesters, and included a website and robust social media presence.

During the Fall semester, in consultation with the McGill community, Sobat devoted much of his time to improving the Sexual Violence Policy (SVP). While far from perfect, the policy is a crucial first step toward combatting sexual violence at McGill, and supporting those who have experienced it. Thanks in part to Sobat’s valuable work, the policy was fully approved by the administration toward the end of the Fall semester, and implementation is now underway.