2016 SSMU Referendum: What This Year’s Results Mean for McGill Students

SSMU election and referendum results were released late Friday evening, amidst a 17.8% voter turnout. Referendum outcomes have broad implications for funding and policy stances that the Society takes and impacts the entire McGill community. Read ahead to find out what the changes are and how they will affect students going into the 2016-2017 school year.

Motion Re: Constitutional Amendment, General (Appendix A, Appendix B)

Result: Yes 72.7% (No 27.3%)

This motion proposes to make a wide range of changes to the SSMU Constitution, though most are cosmetic and do not fundamentally alter the nature of the Constitution. For example, instances of “SSMU” would edit to “The Society”, and “law” to “Internal Regulations”. The general amendments will also clean up complicated wording to increase readability (ex. Section 9.1, 10.11).  Also, the process of removing a council member from office would shift from a ⅔ General Assembly vote to a vote within the Legislative Council with the approval of the Board of Directors. A ‘yes’ vote also revises the makeup of the Council appointments (Section 8.2). VP Clubs & Services will be renamed VP Student Life, and the criteria for appointing Judicial Board Members (15.2) will be eased. Section 14, which includes information on referendums, has also been added. According to SSMU, the “Constitution in its current form does not reflect the needs of the Society,” and making changes of this nature are important “from time to time to maintain the consistency in language and syntax among the governing documents”.

Motion Re: Constitutional Amendments to Articles 13.2 & 13.3 (Appendix C)

Result: No 52.6% (Yes 47.4%)

Amendments to Sections 13.2 and 13.3 looked to alter the agenda setting mechanism for the SSMU General Assembly. The General Assembly Steering Committee, chaired by the Speaker, would retain the right to set the agenda for the GA. If the committee determined that an issue is “external and divisive,” a two-thirds vote by the GA would be required to overcome the decision to disregard a vote. The ‘No’ Committee argued that by voting no, students can ensure that the general assembly “remains a place for free speech, transparency and direct democracy”, where students decide what motions are placed on the agenda, not a “small, unelected body of SSMU”. On the other hand, the ‘Yes’ Committee made the case that “this motion does NOT silence debate” and “only changes how many votes are needed for a motion to pass,” as a way to ensure that SSMU positions are “representative of the views of a significant majority of its constituents.” The students have spoken, and they narrowly agreed to keep the current General Assembly system in place.

Motion Re: AVEQ

Result: No 62.1%, (Yes 37.9)

The AVEQ motion asked students to decide on whether or not SSMU should affiliate itself with the newly formed Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), and the resounding answer was “No.” AVEQ seeks to “bring together students from across Quebec in order to defend our rights in the provincial government”. A ‘Yes’ vote would have required students to pay a non-opt-outable fee of 3.50 per semester starting in Fall of 2016 (adjusted annually for inflation), and would, arguably, “result in a better representation of the voices of McGill students at the provincial level”. The ‘No’ Committee complained that AVEQ is “an organization so weak, it might collapse within a few years,” and that joining would “give SSMU’s 23,000 members the same voting power as a 100 member association”. Students overwhelmingly decided that they would like for SSMU to remain an independent organization – for now.

Bicycle Facility Plebiscite Question

Result: Yes 83.1%, (No 16.9%)

This question proposed the creation of an on-campus Bicycle facility. The facility would include indoor parking, showers, and lockers for bike commuters as a response to the shortage of bicycle parking on campus. The facility would be located in the basement of the University Centre and could be accessed with the purchase of a per semester membership. No fee increases are associated with this motion and would only be implemented if it were “financially feasible” for the SSMU. The motion does not include information on how many spaces the facility would include or how much it could potentially cost.

Motion Regarding the Creation of a Club Fund Fee

Result: Yes 57.4%, (No 42.6%)

The SSMU’s current budget allocates $25,000 to the Club Fund each semester, which the SMMU argues is insufficient to support the 240+ clubs it recognizes. The question asked students to vote on the creation of an opt-outable Club Fund fee of $2.75 per semester. During the Fall 2015 semester, a total of $117,369.48 was requested from the Club Fund, well above the amount available. “Support for clubs and services has consistently been identified as the highest priority of the SSMU,” reads the first line of the motion; a Club Fund Fee is the first of its kind, and will be a “secure source of funding to support student groups and double the available funding for clubs to foster student life on campus”.  A ‘No’ Committee had not been formed to oppose this motion.

Motion Regarding the Creation of a Mental Health Fee

Result: Yes 81.6%, (No 18.4%)

Students overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’ to create a Mental Health Fee, identifying an increasingly-discussed issue on campus. The opt-outable fee of $0.40 will fund student-run mental health initiatives and the staff of McGill students to coordinate those initiatives. One-third of the total revenue from the fees will be allocated towards the Mental Health Fund, which supports “mental-health related initiatives, projects, and events run by students and student groups”. The SSMU Mental Health Committee organizes the “Happy Lights” lending program to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, and coordinated Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental Health was considered a top priority for what the SSMU should focus on according to results from the 2014-2015 Student Experience Survey.

Increase of the SSMU Health Plan Fee for the Addition of Mental Health Coverage

Result: Yes 73.6%, (No 26.4%)

In line with the addition of a Mental Health Fee students also voted yes to increase the opt-outable SSMU Health Plan Fee by $25, which will be allocated to the addition of psychological services to the Health Plan coverage. The ‘Yes’ Committee believes that “it is crucial that professional services be available to students when they need them the most,” and that current services provide an unacceptable level of coverage. Wait times for McGill Mental Health Services range anywhere from 2 weeks to 3-4 months, which is shocking considering data from a Student Health at McGill University Report (2013) revealing that 89% of students reported feeling overwhelmed in the last year, 38% of students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function, 53% reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, and 7% of undergraduates seriously considered suicide while at McGill.

Renewal of the SSMU Access Bursary Fee

Result: Yes 67.9%, (No 32.1%)

The SSMU Access Bursary fee was put into place in 1999 and was approved by students during the Winter 2016 referendum. The opt-outable per semester fee of $8.50 for full time students and $4.25 for part time students will maintain the SSMU Access Bursary Fund, which has provided over 2,000 bursaries since its creation. The University and its Alumni “have committed themselves to matching the SSMU Access Bursary Fund contributions dollar for dollar.” If students had voted ‘no’, it would have been the end of the fund as we know it.

Renewal of the SSMU Equity Fee

Result: Yes 65.8%, (No 34.2%)

A large majority of the students who voted agreed to confirm the renewal of the opt-outable SSMU Equity fee of $0.50. Funds from the fee are allocated towards “initiatives that foster leadership, encourage civic engagement, and make observable and/or measurable differences in the representation or experiences of individuals who are members of historically and currently disadvantaged groups, support projects, research and policies that aim to end discrimination and promote accessibility and inclusiveness in the McGill community”. The Funding Committee, which allocates the funds received from the fee, distributes $10,000 per semester, and received almost $50,000 in applications for projects and initiatives in Fall of 2015. McGill students agreed that equity should remain an important component of the projects funded by the Society.

Renewal and Increase of the TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee

Result Renewal: Yes 54.9%, (No 45.1 %)

Result Increase: No 61.9%, (Yes 38.1%)

TVM is a student-run video production service, and asked for students to vote ‘yes’ to renew and increase its student fee so that it can continue to provide “a creative outlet for all SSMU members who wish to express themselves and explore the medium of video production”. The two-part vote renewed the per semester opt-outable fee, but failed to increase it from $1.50 to $2.25 for full time students, and $0.90 to $1.65 for part time students. Fee increases would have begun in the fall of 2016 and ended in the winter of 2021. Over the past five years, TVM’s membership has doubled but its fee has not increased since 2011. In order to continue providing and expanding its services, TVM argued that a fee increase is necessary. A ‘No’ Committee had not been formed to oppose the increase, but students still decided to vote against it.

Motion Regarding the Plebiscite Question on Moving Towards a Smoke Free Campus at McGill

Result: Yes 73.6%, (No 27%)

Students voted by a wide margin to support a shift towards a smoke-free campus at McGill during the Winter 2016 referendum. Citing a recent survey of 500 McGill students, the Motion stated that a majority of respondents supported a smoke-free campus. Students expressed concern at being “forced to encounter second hand smoke in order to access study space,” and the “environmental impact of cigarette butt littering.” The new policies are based on harm reduction and decreasing secondhand smoke exposure, which may include smoking shelters as a “transitional step.” The motion is clear that policy change will not “engage in the shaming or blaming of smokers but rather to explore the complex social, environmental, personal, and biological factors that lead to smoking and nicotine addiction.”

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