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SSMU considering new provincial student federations, AVEQ and UÉQ

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been involved in the early formation of two new provincial student associations. A formal presentation by each of the organizations, L’Union Étudiante du Quebec (UÉQ) and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), will be given at the Jan. 28 SSMU Council meeting, after which one will be chosen to be presented to the student body and voted on during the regular Winter Referendum period.

There is only one main student federation, the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ) that exists in Quebec. The Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Quebec (FÉUQ) fell apart in the spring of 2015. McGill was one of the founding members of the FÉUQ, but has since joined and left three times. As a result, McGill has not been affiliated with a student federation since 2006 and is looking to join either UÉQ or AVEQ. Both federations are relatively new, and SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck has been involved in their formation. 

“UÉQ has mainly focused this semester on the associations who are affiliating,” Boytinck said. “They ran a couple of affiliation campaigns, some of them passed, some of them didn’t. UÉQ […] wanted to essentially focus more on getting people affiliated first and then [work] towards developing policies whereas AVEQ has taken the opposite approach, so I’ve been really active with AVEQ this semester.”

Problems with the FÉUQ stemmed from the proportional voting system, which allowed for larger organizations to easily dominate the council. Despite SSMU being the fourth largest association in Quebec,  membership was not ideal, according to Boytinck.

“As an anglophone association, you just don’t have nearly as much power within these organizations,” Boytinck said. “[This] is why, when I was helping with the formation [of the other federations], I really pushed for an equalization of power at the congresses among sizes […] so that every association was able to have their voice heard.”

Boytinck noted that the FÉUQ and ASSÉ have different approaches to student representation.

“The ASSÉ is notably the most radical [federation]; it does a lot of grassroots mobilization, and was super active in the 2012 strike,” Boytinck said. “[And] then you have the FÉUQ which was very government-oriented and very focused on the more corporatist channels. Those two are such fundamentally different approaches to advocating on behalf of students that they did conflict a whole lot.”

Boytinck stated that UÉQ and AVEQ are a good middle-ground between the FÉUQ and ASSÉ. 

“[At] SSMU […] we do a lot of mobilization, but we also want something legitimate and representable to the government,” Boytinck said. “[SSMU] was so in between it didn’t make a lot of sense [to join FÉUQ or ASSÉ….] I think it will benefit the whole student movement if there is a good mobilizer—something in between, and something that focuses a lot on the more corporatist lobbying aspect.”

UÉQ and AVEQ differ in their voting schemes, with UÉQ adopting a double-majority system and AVEQ following a one-association-one-vote scheme.

“The UÉQ has pushed for what they call a ‘double majority system,’ so it goes through a semi-proportional vote first and then it goes through a one association, one vote,” Boytinck said. “So it has to go through both to pass. The only problem I saw [with that] is that is still gives big associations the power to combine their voices and act as sort of gatekeepers.”

UÉQ and AVEQ also have different fee levies. UÉQ will cost students $4.50 per student per semester, and AVEQ will cost $3.50 per student per semester.

In order to inform the various student societies at McGill about the two federations prior to the referendum period, Boytinck has presented both the UÉQ and AVEQ at faculty association council meetings across campus.

Arts Senator Erin Sobat explained that Boytinck outlined the importance of affiliating with a provincial student federation at the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Council last semester.

Sobat additionally noted that affiliating with a provincial federation would have helped SSMU in November when submitting a question regarding international student tuition deregulation to the McGill Senate.

“[McGill is] actually lobbying the government for deregulation and so if we are concerned about our students and how that will impact them, it’s difficult for us to lobby McGill on that,” Sobat said. “Currently we are missing that voice for the provincial government to be able to have an impact or an influence on policy.”

Nicolas Lavallée, secretary-general of the Fédération des Associations Étudiantes du Campus de L’Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM), commented on the organization’s role in creating UÉQ. 

“First of all, we were looking for a credible organization to carry students’ voices to government officials,” Lavallée said. “We were looking for a goal-oriented organization that prioritizes education, research and students’ living standards. UÉQ represents for us an association that advocates with research-based arguments.”

Although Boytinck will continue to work with the UÉQ and AVEQ this semester, SSMU has not financially endorsed or fully committed to either federation as of yet. 

“SSMU notably has not put any money towards either association, which meant that for UÉQ, we didn’t actually have a vote or a seat on the board right away,” Boytinck said. “I’m going […] to one of the first big [UÉQ] meetings in Quebec City this weekend. It’ll be the first time I get an update back, and I think that then […] we’ll get to start working on some policies […] which is good because I do think that SSMU members want to know what we’re affiliating to.”

Last spring, UÉQ hired full-time coordinators for their federation. AVEQ had not hired any full-time staff until recently. 

“AVEQ, just last weekend actually, hired [staff]. They had some money inflowing because they had their first affiliation with the Concordia Student Union,” Boytinck said. 

After hearing from both federations on Jan. 28, SSMU Council will take an informal vote on which federation will be presented to students on the Winter Referendum. The federation may be selected by Feb. 11, and one question will be submitted for approval. 

“[When Council votes on [the federations] they’re going to be voting on whether or not it’s a fair question to pose to students in the referendum—not whether or not we support it as a Council.” Sobat said.

Sobat commented on the likelihood of selecting one federation over the other.

“I would say that given the trends between anglophone and francophone schools, and smaller and larger associations, […]the AVEQ looks more like an association […] that the SSMU would move to join,” Sobat said. “But the first [vote] is the SSMU Council’s, and that’s a unique decision; it’s never really happened that there’s been two [federations] at the same time.”

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