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PGSS, SSMU host joint summit on anti-austerity measures

Members of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council gathered for a joint meeting against austerity on Feb. 23. The joint council was the first of its kind, and through it, the two student unions produced a joint statement opposing provincial austerity measures. The two Councils approved two motions—one concerning the creation of a joint anti-austerity mobilization working group, and another on student priorities in McGill’s upcoming budget planning. 

Joint statement against austerity

The Councils passed a joint statement laying out how PGSS and SSMU would stand against the Quebec government’s stance on austerity. The joint statement also authorized the creation of a joint mobilization working group.

“SSMU and PGSS jointly reaffirm the following: Complete and definitive opposition to the austerity measures in their actual form; commitment to support other Quebec student associations in their efforts against such measures,” the statement reads. 

SSMU Medicine representative Joshua Chin expressed his reservations, questioning whether supporting other student unions in their measures against austerity would commit SSMU and PGSS if the other unions decided to strike.

“Will we be committing to supporting their strikes, and will it extend to SSMU and PGSS or even their constituent schools, faculties, or others?” Chin asked, proposing to remove the clause.

Other councillors spoke against removing this clause from the motion, stating that it did not necessitate SSMU and PGSS protesting with other student unions, and that stating support would help the overall movement against austerity.

“History in Quebec student movements show that when Quebec students are united, they have a much stronger voice and they are much more credible,” Frédérick Armstrong of the Post-graduate Philosophy Student Association said. “I would strongly disagree with striking that point, because internal debates should not hinder our efforts against such measures.”

Motion on student priorities in budget planning

The joint council also approved a motion regarding student priorities in upcoming budget planning. The motion identified nine areas of the McGill budget as priorities for students: Research opportunities and funding, diversity of course offerings, experiential learning opportunities, student space on campus, scholarships and financial aid resources, library services, and maintenance of staffing numbers. Councillors also proposed two additional amendments, covering areas of funding transparency and increased funding for student health and mental health services.

PGSS Health Commissioner Elizabeth Cawley brought forth an amendment calling for increased transparency from McGill on funding for services such as the Office of Student Disabilities (OSD). 

“Be it resolved that the SSMU and PGSS express their discontent with the current lack of transparency in funding transfers from the government of Quebec through the central administration earmarked for student services, and call on McGill to increase the transparency of these transfers,” the amendment reads. 

Cawley explained that despite repeated requests from the Student Services committee, McGill has not disclosed details regarding the specific allocation of the earmarked provincial funds. 

“When we made a formal request last year, we were simply told that ‘the university’s finances are audited both internally and externally on a regular basis’,” Cawley said. “Most recently […] there have been issues at UQÀM  [University of Quebec à Montreal] with transfers regarding students with disabilities [….] We want more transparency regarding these transfers and we’re not getting it.”

An amendment proposed by SSMU Medicine Senator David Benrimoh asking that SSMU and PGSS lobby McGill to provide student health, student mental health counselling services, and the OSD with sufficient funding was also passed.

Motion on the anti-austerity working group

A motion discussing the logistics behind the working group mandated by the joint statement was unable to pass before the joint council lost quorum. Discussion on the motion only served as a consultative measure and the motion will need to be passed by SSMU and PGSS in their respective Councils to take effect. 

PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet presented the motion, stating that it would be a necessary step towards mobilizing the McGill community.

“To have an impact, we need to be able to mobilize,” Ouellet said. “To have a joint mobilization committee, which other associations within McGill could join, would help us raise awareness on issues such as austerity and to get people more riled up about decisions that will ultimately affect them on a very, very personal level.”

SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette cited concerns regarding the statement that the working group should only use “non-violent and non-defamatory strategies to reach its goal.” She was echoed by SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan. 

“Tactically, it is essential to have disruptive practices of some kind, [but] even civil disobedience and things of that kind can be classified as violent in their creation of disruption to [the] regular functioning of things,” Stewart-Kanigan said. “By saying ‘non-violent,’ it’s giving into the idea you should be using the same word for punching someone in the face that you use for marching down the street and blocking cars, and that’s not something we should be endorsing in our formation of the committee.”

Ouellet maintained that the inclusion of ‘non-violent’ and ‘non-defamatory’ would increase the legitimacy of the working group. 

“Within McGill. we would have a better chance of attracting other accredited unions if we made [it] clear [that] we’re going to be mindful of [the] law,” he said. 

An amendment was passed changing the wording to read “without the express intent to cause physical or psychological harm to people.”

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