McGill, News

Post-referendum debate erupts among LSA members over lack of clarity and implications of constitutional amendments

After a brief campaign and voting period, the McGill Law Students Association (LSA) announced on March 14 that a change requiring a supermajority—two-thirds of voters—to pass a strike was rejected. Despite the referendum question’s failure to pass, many students are still confused about the implications of the constitutional amendment and are calling for increased transparency from the LSA. 

The question that sparked the most debate among students asked whether voters “agreed to amend the LSA Constitution and Bylaws,” but provided no other details about the amendment and instead directed students to an edited version of the LSA constitution included in a past email. The proposed change to the constitution was that a vote to strike would require a two-thirds majority to pass—ultimately making it harder for students to strike.

Chloe Rourke, a 3L student, found the lack of reference documents linked in the referendum ballot to be particularly odd, considering the referendum questions were extremely brief.

“I’ve never seen a referendum question that referenced a document in an email,” Rourke told The McGill Tribune. “As much as possible, you try and indicate what the substantive changes are in the question [….] I think it’s really important that those are properly contextualized and that that decision be made transparently, that everyone would know what they’re voting for.”

According to an email obtained by the Tribune sent by the LSA Chief Reporting Officer and Deputy Returning Officer to all LSA members, the platform used for voting, SimplyVoting, did not allow the LSA to link to more information on the ballot itself. Emma Linzmayer, the Arts Undergraduate Society Chief Electoral Officer, explained that linking in a referendum question is an uncommon practice, if even possible, that she has not had to deal with. 

“With the pen sketches, each candidate gets 100 words […] it’s about keeping the attention of the voters,” Linzmayer wrote. “So [with] referendum questions […] we just input the question and ask voters yes/no [….] With links, it’s not very explicit in [some] electoral bylaws, but since the word count is so strict, it would be unfair to give some [questions] more persuasion power while others wouldn’t even consider it.”

The move to increase the number of students needed to pass a strike vote stemmed from the LSA strike in early 2022 in protest of the lack of accommodations for students during the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students were unhappy that a strike was initiated with only a small majority of students—56.6 per cent—supporting the action.

“Over the course of the strike […] and in its aftermath, the LSA conducted substantial consultations [in 2022]—not only among the general student body, but also specifically with students in classes affected by the targeted strike,” LSA President Charlotte Sullivan wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We received a significant number of messages from students advising us that they were upset and defeated by the small margin by which the strike vote had passed.”

Sullivan also disclosed that many students in the classes affected by the strike decided to cross the picket line because they felt that there was not enough support from law students personally affected by the strike to warrant one.

Law students were also taken aback by the short timeframe of this semester’s referendum. On the evening of March 1, students received an email stating that the campaign period would open on March 6 and close on March 9. Anyone wishing to form an official “No” committee—an official group campaigning for a no vote—had to notify the LSA CRO by March 5. 

The LSA was supposed to run this referendum question about the supermajority amendment in 2022, but scheduling issues led to it being postponed. Sullivan noted that because consultations occurred last year, the LSA did not explicitly publish about the changes because nothing was altered from what was to be presented in 2022.

“I don’t think the process was deliberatel non-transparent at all, and we remained available between the publication of the constitutional amendments package and the beginning of voting to answer any questions about it,” Sullivan wrote. “With that being said, if I could change things now, I would have publicized the content of these amendments prior to the beginning of the campaign period.”

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