On March 29, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council gathered to discuss several motions, including the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt, which was brought forth at SSMU’s Winter 2018 General Assembly on March 26. Legislative Council also voted on several other motions, including a motion regarding the adoption of a sustainability policy, a motion to amend the standing rules of Legislative Council, a motion to pay the 2017-2018 Executive for completed work, motions to amend the internal regulations of the Society’s finances to improve funding efficiency and improve funding for small events, and a motion to amend the internal regulations to improve the accessibility, impartiality, and stability of the Board of Directors (BoD).
As SSMU’s previous sustainability policy will expire on April 11, SSMU’s Sustainability Commissioners amended the policy and moved to have a new version adopted by Council. This new policy includes amendments passed in October 2017 that ban the sale and distribution of plastic water bottles and take-out containers. Sustainability Commissioners also included more details for the different Executive portfolios regarding their involvement in sustainability initiatives, and added that the policy encourages an improved working relationship between the executives and Sustainability Commissioners. Commissioners will look at how to tailor sustainability to each SSMU Executive’s portfolio, and will work with Executives throughout the year to achieve their sustainability goals. Council ultimately carried this motion.
Free Education and Student Debt
As last week’s General Assembly (GA) was unable to reach quorum, it therefore held as a consultative forum. While the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt was voted on and passed at the Consultative Forum, it was presented once again at Legislative Council for debate and a final vote. This motion was brought to the GA by Socialist Fightback at Concordia and McGill and would require SSMU to support the movement for free education and the cancellation of student debt across Canada, to mobilize for a student strike in Fall 2018, and to hold democratic assemblies that allow students to voice their perspectives on the movement. Representatives of Socialist Fightback were present at Legislative Council to answer questions regarding the motion and encourage Councillors to vote in favor of their proposal.
Councillor André Lametti opened a question period by asking for context in regard to how a student strike would work; this context includes the mechanisms in place at McGill for organizing a student strike, how a strike is called, and the legalities involved in student strikes in Quebec. VP External Connor Spencer answered this question by responding that, while SSMU cannot call a strike, SSMU can organize the initiative for the strike through bodies such as Legislative Council to pass on to McGill Faculties. The strike would have to be called during General Assemblies at the departmental association or Faculty level, with SSMU assisting in distributing information about the strike and writing motions to be presented to various departments.
Next, Council discussed student engagement in regard to the fight for free education. Social Work Councillor Matthew Savage asked the movers whether students would be reprimanded if they disagreed with the movement or chose not to participate, even if their student association decided to partake in the strike. He also questioned whether the student body would realistically feel compelled to participate in this protest, referencing past strikes that failed to garner sufficient student interest. One of the Socialist Fightback representatives cited democratic assemblies that would take place if the motion were to pass, which would hopefully engage students and empower them to participate. She added, “If your department goes to strike, it is your duty as a member of that department, or of that group or organization, to participate in the strike.”
In addition, Lametti addressed the legal problems that have arisen in the wake of previous strikes, particularly the Quebec student protests in 2012, and noted that the right of students to strike in Quebec falls into a “legal gray area.” When asked how SSMU would deal with similar issues, a representative of Socialist Fightback maintained that “at the end of the day, a legal gray area can be surpassed by mass mobilization and solidarity.” Spencer also commented on the legal concerns surrounding student strikes, noting that there are still students dealing with legal battles with the government from the 2012 student protests. Spencer stated that the best avenue to take to mitigate legal action is through EUQ and AVEQ, both of which are currently discussing issues pertaining to the legal rights of students to strike, which they will bring to the provincial government. One Socialist Fightback representative concluded: “As long as we mobilize effectively, and make sure everyone is on board, nothing can stop us.”
Another issue that Council tackled in regard to the motion was the idea of putting McGill at the “forefront” of this movement, when francophone universities have already been fighting for free education and the cancellation of debts for some time. Savage argued that, “McGill is never going to be at the forefront – it’s an anglophone university. These motions are started by francophone universities. They were started by francophone people in the Silent Revolution of the sixties… this is a movement that has been and will continue to be based in Quebec… Now to associate with, and to help our fellow universities in our city and in our province and empower them… that I could absolutely get behind.” A representative of Socialist Fightback acknowledged the validity of this concern, but ultimately emphasized the importance of solidarity among all students, regardless of whether they are anglophone or Québécois.
In a final vote, Legislative Council achieved the simple majority needed to adopt the motion – albeit with a divide of thirteen Councillors in favor, nine opposed, and two abstaining. The full Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt can be found on SSMU’s website in the Winter 2018 General Assembly section.
Council carried a motion to amend the standing rules of Legislative Council, a motion to pay the 2017-2018 Executive for work completed, and motions to amend the internal regulations of the Society’s finances to improve both funding efficiency and funding for small events. In addition, after some modifications, Council also carried a motion to amend the internal regulations to improve the accessibility, impartiality, and stability of the SSMU Board of Directors.