Last week the Regroupement des étudiants de maîtrise, diplôme et doctorat (REMDUS), the postgraduate student association of the Université de Sherbrooke, took the initial step towards leaving the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ), a provincial federation of student associations of which the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is currently also a member.
SSMU has had a turbulent relationship with the organization for most of TaCEQ’s five-year existence, and there have been questions as to whether the organization is worth the $17,000 our student association is paying this year to the federation—questions that have intensified in the wake of a Tribune investigation into the organization this past October. In an editorial at the time (See Oct. 29: “TaCEQ a waste of SSMU funds”), we expressed some uncertainty as to the course of action that should be taken; recent events have brought clarity to the situation.
Our issues with TaCEQ have been previously documented, but there is value in summarizing them here. Since its founding in 2009, TaCEQ has been only a marginal player in just about every student-related political issue in the province. A big part of this irrelevance has been the federation’s inability to achieve official provincial recognition, which requires having four different associations on four different campuses (two of TaCEQ’s organizations are from the University of Laval).
This lack of official status deprives TaCEQ of additional government subsidies and influence compared to other federations of student associations. Additionally, its highly decentralized structure—each member can veto initiatives—makes it harder for the federation to work towards common goals. Lastly, linguistic tensions—the other three student unions in TaCEQ are from francophone universities—have hampered the efficiency of the federation. REMDUS, according to accounts from current and former SSMU VPs External Sam Harris and Robin Reid-Fraser, respectively, was the association with which SSMU had the most productive relationship. With its departure, SSMU risks being left in the lurch of a fast-sinking, expensive ship.
So what should SSMU do now? As a first step, and in light of the ongoing issues with TaCEQ, SSMU Council should take the time to reflect on the implications of leaving TaCEQ; while the organization right now adds little value, being completely unaffiliated may present its own set of problems. The clearest path would be to initiate a referendum to withdraw from the federation. These referenda can be either student or Council initiated; student initiated referenda require 500 signatures to get on the ballot.
One of the many reasons why SSMU has had trouble staying in a single federation is because of the unique position McGill is in—that of an English-speaking university that draws a very high proportion of out-of-province students. This position places it at a disadvantage in allying with other student groups; McGill has notably different needs and resources from its provincial brethren, and often has been ill-served by the other federations. In the past, SSMU has been an ‘on and off’ member of the larger Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). One of its more high-profile departures from the organization stemmed from a dispute over its stance on the 1995 referendum for Quebec to separate from Canada; SSMU abstained from supporting FEUQ’s resolution in support of separation, but was listed on FEUQ’s resolution anyway. However, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) is currently part of the FEUQ, and seems to have had fewer issues.
The question of TaCEQ is one that demands immediate action from the SSMU executive. While some evaluation needs to go into looking at alternative avenues for advocacy at the provincial and national level, it is clear that the status quo with TaCEQ is now untenable. SSMU’s membership is no longer to its own benefit, or to that of the student body it serves.
SSMU should join ASSÉ in a strategic masterstroke of student unionism.