a, Opinion

Fool me twice, shame on SSMU

SSMU has made its fair share of mistakes this year. We messed up frosh. We messed up on the Farnan apology. We certainly messed up on the building referendum. But all these mistakes would pale in comparison to the mistake President Larson seems to be planning on making. A re-referendum would be a slap in the faces of students and an affront to democracy.

I study democracy—both from the political science and the theory side. It is really complicated, and rarely cut and dry. For example, should President-elect Khan have to advance to a run-off against  runner-up Ayukawa? He only received 78 more votes than her—less than 30 per cent of the total votes—and that’s before we count the abstentions so beloved by McGill Memes (which pointed out that more voters abstained than actually voted for Khan). According to SSMU bylaws, Khan is a democratically elected president. But if this were France, he wouldn’t be, and many theorists would argue he is not. Again: democracy is almost never cut and dry.

There are, however, some pretty basic principles. One of them is that under no circumstances do you re-run referendums. Doing so is a wildly abusive act because it allows for the institution that controls referendums—in this case SSMU—to run referendums ad nauseum until it gets the result it wants. If that’s the plan, we should really just stop kidding ourselves, ignore the constitution (because we’re probably about to abuse it anyways), and just hike student fees unilaterally.

Actually, that would have been a preferable option. As insulting as it would have been to charge students without asking them, it’s far more damaging to ask them and then ignore their answer. Compounding matters and showing that we really just don’t get why students see us as disconnected, apparently the line from the executives is that students just didn’t pay enough attention, so they are going to get another try at making the ‘right’ choice. Even North Korea is generous enough to provide just one option on the ballot in the first place and save everybody some time.

The reality is that we don’t want to accept responsibility for our own mistakes. SSMU ignored the recommendations of a couple of councillors and chose political correctness over principle and common sense when they censured Farnan. There was a profound willingness to listen when students en masse protested against the apology. It actually took the Black Students’ Network coming to Council and pleading with us to reverse the apology and to stop making a mockery of the equity process.

We weren’t done. Organic Campus came to Council asking for a 20-cent fee levy. We asked them why, and they told us that it was because they will otherwise have to raise costs next year in order to operate. We asked them how much and they hadn’t run the numbers. Because its easier to get Council to vote in a fee levy (which then gets passed because Organic Campus campaigned for it and nobody campaigns against 20-cent fee levies) than it is to actually do math. But at Council, again, we didn’t feel offended enough by that assertion to scrap the referendum on the levy.

Concerns from myself and Councillor Élie Lubendo that perhaps the plethora of fee increases might lead to a backlash were politely ignored.

Finally, we showed the same disdain we have for students—those pesky, apolitical students—by not even campaigning for our fee. So if you’re keeping score at home, SSMU has now embarrassed itself with Farnangate, ignored the reaction of student body entirely,  put to shame by the Black Students Network, shown zero respect for students’ wallets (frosh and Organic Campus), and a lack of respect for their ability to say enough by running nine fee increases at the same time and not campaigning for our own.

The line from SSMU is that those students just didn’t know what they were doing: “Gerts is going to be gone!’” “SACOMSS as well!”

(Wrong: Gerts is highly profitable and not going anywhere,  and SACOMSS is separately funded.)

The problem isn’t the students. The problem is SSMU. If this vote doesn’t make us realize that, nothing will.

Ben Reedijk is an Arts Representative to SSMU, and sits on SSMU Council. The views represented here are his alone. 

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  1. Keep up the good work

    This is an exceptionally well-argued piece atop the already exemplary quality in journalism that the Tribune has displayed this year.

  2. While this article is themeatically correct, I can’t stand when somebody paints themselves as an ignored hero. You’ve were in the room for (I’m assuming, from this article) almost every major decision SSMU made this year. If you were so concerned about the building fee, you could have talked to the execs about campaigning harder for it. If you were so concerned about the flaws in the Organic Campus fee, you could have brought back the motion and fought against it. If you knew that the amount of fee increase referendums was going to be a problem, you could have talked to other members of council and approached the execs with your concerns or, again, formed a motion in regards to it.

    There were many steps you could have taken to combat these problems if you had truly cared about them. Instead, after it backfires, you claim you knew it would happen all along and blame others for not listening to your wise words of advice.

    Try be preemptive next time, instead of complaining about the aftermath.

    • ElieLubendo

      Fair points. It does seem like Ben’s concerns don’t hold as much ground given that they are expressed in hindsight. However, as a councillor that also warned Council multiple times this year on things that I thought we shouldn’t have approved, or at least questioned, I do agree on the fact that we were ignored. It’s not that we didn’t work hard enough. It’s just that we are a few amount of councillors in a room of 33, that can’t make decisions when half of the members are constantly abstaining (out of fear of making the wrong decision) and the other majority not willing to listen for various reasons that I personally still don’t understand.

      I was in the room during the apology. I spoke out against it. After it went through, I wrote a motion on February 6th to rescind the decision. Council refused to rescind the apology. I then motioned to have the confidential minutes be released publicly so that I could write an article on it. It miraculously passed. I then had to write another motion to rescind and to mandate the Equity Commissioner to write a report explaining his decision. This whole process of fighting against Council took three months. All this for a decision, that should have taken less than three hours to make. I shouldn’t–no one should–have to go through all that work to drive their opinions. We are also full-time students, and our governance structure cannot properly function if its dependent on a few students going the extra mile every single time. Councillors need to do their job.

      Regarding the referendum, I told Council, with the help of Ben Reedijk, that we were heading into the largest referendum in recent history and that it was likely that a question would fail. I warned council that as a remedy we shouldn’t allow the referendum questions that came in late, and to push them to next semester (originally there were only going to be four questions and not eleven). Council ignored us and passed it. At another council, during the report given by the VP FOPS, I asked him if there was a contingency plan for either the Legal Clinic question (since they pay rent to SSMU) or the building fee. He said that he hadn’t thought of it and that he’d prepare one. (I admit that I didn’t follow up on that question).

      To give another example. When Midnight Kitchen ran their fee levy, they hadn’t prepared a budget to Council and had not notified neither the VP C&S or the VP FOPS. Additionally, a lot of the costs in their budget where large estimates that ignored that various expenses were either covered by SSMU or through funds (equally up to even $10,000). The motion passed and now Midnight Kitchen has $120,000 budget–which is roughly 7% of the entire budget of SSMU.

      This isn’t even taking into account that some councillors have been spreading lies about the building shutting down, Gerts closing down, or SSMU Services being discontinued. Ben is right. The problem lies within Council; that our student representatives are not representing us.

    • Ben Reedijk

      I am on record opposing the organic campus fee and I did fight against it. I have one vote of many. I repeatedly talked to other members of council about other fee increases. Much of this happened in council, so its on record. The relevant council sessions are maybe 4-6 sessions ago (early January). My opposition to Farnangate is well stated and also on the minutes.

      It’s true that I didn’t campaign for the building fee. Mea culpa. It is one of many (MANY) reasons why I don’t consider myself a hero, and I certainly don’t claim to be.

  3. Political science students are boring and bad at math also.

    Can I place my dick on your conservative lips?

  4. broareyouserious

    Hi Ben,

    The fact is that you are just flat wrong on multiple points here. Even though you sit on council and have immediate access to information on budgets (Gert’s profitability HA DO YOU EVEN MATH BRO), council motions ahead of time, and a contact list of all councillors (unless something has changed), you clearly took no advantage of these tools. In the future I would suggest doing your own due dilligence before meetings, whether meeting with your constituents or fellow councillors to prepare, rather than complaining about why your ill-prepared comments may have been overruled by a majority vote during the actual meeting. Additionally, perhaps think about the implications of writing something like this, because as far as I’m concerned you’ve just shat where you eat and have lost all credibility with your colleagues.

    No Thanks,
    One of your constituents who is not impressed, not impressed at all

    • Ben Reedijk

      Members of legislative bodies can criticize the decisions of those bodies. I don’t control those decisions, and I voted against them. So I’m not a hypocrite. I have tools, they are far from perfect. I am not (sadly) all-powerful.

      RE: Gerts. Gerts runs a small profit, but it only does so because it forgoes huge profits it could achieve by raising prices. That’s effectively a subsidy for students. From a business standpoint, it is highly profitable. Since the discussion is whether Gerts will shut down, that’s what matters.

      • Is there anything (e.g. history, market research) that suggests that Gerts could become highly profitable if prices were raised? How do we know that if prices were raised enough to make Gerts “highly profitable” (assuming the current quantity of drinks it sells) that the quantity demanded would not fall significantly, thus negatively impacting the profitability? In my personal experience, the prices are one of the most attractive features of Gerts.

        • Ben Reedijk

          There is in fact. I haven’t the slightest idea how to link them though – but in council minutes you can find references to Gerts in the Operations reports that comes from the VP FOPS.

          Obviously, raising prices will decrease quantity demanded (I, too, have taken econ 208). But Gerts prices are set to break the bar even.

    • I bet this “broareyouserious” was none other than Katie Larson. Is this the best place to lecture your Councillors, come on now.. 🙂 You guys had one serious thing to do this year, not considering all the non-issues such as Farnangate apology/non-apology, and you screwed it up. How about not just using students as money machine (wink to your Trib statement) and actually just doing something properly for once? You’re not children to just find excuses, do the job students elected you for and, despite all, I’m sure you still have your supporters.
      As for Gerts, it’s probably something to do with some of those huge renovation costs being written towards Gerts’ budget, and that’s why it would look bad on the books. Otherwise, it’s obvious to anyone who’s passed through this lively place that they have volume, and quite successful volume at such. Important thing is, people are going there “en masse”, so no matter how their financial books are run, things will look up for Gerts in the long term.

      • The funds that paid for the Gerts renovations came from the Capital Expenditures Reserve Fund (CERF) that is partially used for the improvement of student space (i.e., leasehold improvements to the student building). This money was reserved for it years ago because the bar had not been properly renovated in over 20 years. The CERF was, at the time, accumulating so much money and was never redirected back into the building where it really mattered. This was the impetus to pledge CERF funds to the Gerts bar. Furthermore, the Gerts budget does not absorb any of these renovation costs nor would any other operation or service that sits in the building. Its all paid out of the CERF.

  5. “One of them is that under no circumstances do you re-run referendums. Doing so is a wildly abusive act because it allows for the institution that controls referendums—in this case SSMU—to run referendums ad nauseum until it gets the result it wants.”

    I’m going to assume hyperbole for effect here: there are many, many circumstances under which it is perfectly acceptable to re-run referendums – changing circumstances, changing polity, indications of fraud, inconclusive results and yes, I would argue that a general sense that one side or another of the question being voted on was not fully explicated to the electorate. It can, of course, be abusive, but a governing system so inflexible that it can NEVER reconsider an issue will very quickly lose its ability to represent the governed.
    Ireland and the Lisbon Treaty is a good recent example – people made the same complaints you did – no one thinks the results of the second treaty are anything less than legitimate, nor could the circumstances really be called abusive: the Yes campaign was generally agreed to have failed in explaining to voters the issues who did, in fact, change their minds in large numbers a year later – with nary a Gert’s being closed.

  6. Keep paying those lazy execs more and more salaries.

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