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SSMU Legislative Council in deadlock over AVEQ membership

On Oct. 12, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council held its third meeting of the Fall semester. The majority of the evening was consumed by an extensive debate on SSMU’s potential referendum to join the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a body that represents university student unions around the province to the government.

In the Winter 2016 Referendum, the McGill student body voted against a non-opt-outable fee of $3.50 to become an AVEQ member. At the council meeting, VP External Connor Spencer brought forward a motion to reopen the issue for the Fall 2017 Referendum, prompting intense debate.

A major concern raised in the discussion is AVEQ’s one-school-one-vote principle. McGill’s large population means that it would be contributing more in student fees than other AVEQ members. However, McGill could still be outvoted by the other members. Education Representative Josephine Wright O’Manique, U4 Education, demonstrated strong opposition to joining for this reason.

“AVEQ has had years to attract membership, and has only gathered support from three schools,” O’Manique said. “Asking McGill undergraduates who already pay enough student fees and tuition to pay more to fund an organization with no value for them is unfair to the students we represent.”

Spencer, in turn, highlighted that the one-school-one-vote policy is based on principles of equality for all members. She cited the collapse of the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), which broke down in 2015 because its members with smaller student bodies had fewer representatives.

“AVEQ tried to address [representation] by enacting the one-school-one-vote policy,” Spencer said. “Even though McGill will be paying more money, it is eventually for the better to allow provincial representation.”

Medicine Representative Andre Lametti brought up the concern that a new referendum disregards the opinions of students, given that a majority of voters were against affiliating with AVEQ in the Winter 2016 Referendum. However, Spencer argued that only 18 per cent of SSMU’s membership voted in the earlier referendum, of which 25 per cent abstained. Further, she cited turnover of students in the past two years as justification for a new referendum.

Councillors also questioned the fact that AVEQ is the only association SSMU has considered joining when alternatives exist, such as the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSE), the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), and Union étudiante du Québec (UÉQ). Spencer clarified that the decision to observe AVEQ is based on reports passed down from the 2015-2016 SSMU VP External Emily Boytinck.

“Following the collapse of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) in 2015, two groups were created, AVEQ and the UÉQ,” Spencer said. “Emily observed both groups and reported back to the Council [….] The Council subsequently decided to put only AVEQ on the ballot for the Winter 2016 Referendum [….] Following the Referendum result, the Council mandated the VP External to keep observing AVEQ.’’

A member from the gallery, Joshua Chin, who served as Medicine Representative from 2014 to 2016 and Senate representative from 2016 to 2017, questioned the legitimacy of Boytinck’s reports and of AVEQ itself. First, he claimed that La Fédération Étudiante de L’Université de Sherbrooke (FÉUS) ceased affiliation with AVEQ due to ethics concerns and a lack of transparency. Second, he mentioned that on Sept. 26, 2015 the Assembly for National Student Association, now known as AVEQ, allegedly voted to appoint Boytinck to the future Board of Directors of the AVEQ, thus creating a potential conflict of interest.

Science Representative Mana Moshkforoush, who was mandated by the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) to support holding a new referenda, questioned whether Spencer is also biased toward AVEQ when holding information sessions.

“The decision of the (SUS) to vote ‘yes’ was based on a presentation by AVEQ, and the VP External,” Moshkforoush said. “However, students have never heard of the concern [on representation] raised right now by the councillors [before voting].”

Chief Electoral Officer Alex Nehrbass later confirmed that Spencer’s actions are in accordance with SSMU’s  bylaws and that she has not engaged in an active AVEQ campaign. However, due to the remaining concerns regarding AVEQ, Council postponed the vote to its next meeting on Oct. 19 to consider alternative student associations’ presentations before making a final decision.

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