Legislative Council Grapples with Financial Transparency

Photo: David Diao

On February 8, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for the third time this semester. The agenda contained motions regarding approval of the Educational Community Living Environment (ECOLE) Project Fee Levy Renewal, de-gendering the language of the SSMU, and a motion pertaining to Consultation on Systemic Racism in Montreal. A tense discussion amongst council members dealt with financial transparency in dealings with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ).

Financial Transparency and AVEQ

During the announcements period, recently elected VP Finance, Esteban Herpin, raised an issue of suspicious expenses that had come to his attention. The problem surrounded a SSMU  expenditure of $4,000 for hotel rooms and food for AVEQ conference participants. Herpin addressed the council and stated that “In January, SSMU hosted a conference for AVEQ with the purpose of promoting AVEQ to other observing members. The SSMU VP External and the VP University Affairs have paid for [the conference] using their SSMU credit cards for nearly $4,000 in expenses.”

Herpin stressed that the problematic nature of the transaction laid within the expense never having been discussed. Additionally, Herpin stated that he believes “that this [financial transaction] is a severe transgression of the financial responsibility that these [Executives] owe to the Society, and, further, this presents a serious financial conflict of interest between the society and AVEQ.” When questioned by a member of the gallery over whether or not Herpin had reached out to any of his fellow executives prior to his announcement to the Council, he responded, “Every single time an expense has come up, I have confronted the [Executive] that has incurred the expense, and every single time, I was met with certain responses such as, ‘This is part of the observation process’, and I just wasn’t satisfied with the response.” He further explained that none of the other Executives could confirm that the expenses, which did not appear within the SSMU budget, had been approved at either the  Legislative or Executive level.

As VP External, Connor Spencer, was not present for the council meeting, VP University Affairs, Isabelle Oke, responded to questions of financial transparency and conflicts of interest. Addressing the VP Finance, Oke stated, “In terms of using SSMU credit cards – first, the way that other student associations host AVEQ is in a similar fashion, by covering the costs and then invoicing the other associations. [Second] this was not done with any [malicious] intent.” In regards to a conflict of interest due to AVEQ currently attempting to affiliate with SSMU, Oke stated that she “think[s] it’s a valid point, it’s not something I would have thought of immediately, so I am going to motion for council not to entertain any motions to put AVEQ on a ballot until all debts are paid, so that we can avoid a conflict of interest.”

Some members of the council disapproved of the VP Finance’s announcement, with Proxy Science Councillor Joseph Decunha claiming, “I am disappointed with what the VP Finance has said tonight. I can’t help but feel that the introduction of this controversy was a calculated political move to prevent the SSMU from affiliating with AVEQ.” Decunha accused the VP Finance of “leveling accusations of impropriety, fiscal mismanagement, and conflicts of interest” to “discredit SSMU in the eyes of its members.”

Defending himself against the allegations made by Decunha, Herpin said, “I ran on a platform to bring financial transparency to SSMU. I do not appreciate the fact that I am attacked for smearing the [Executives], when the [Executives] themselves were wrong, and I brought this to Council’s attention. As to your speculation as to whether this is politically motivated or not, I would like to ask you to keep your speculations to yourselves, and not bring it up to council.”

Other Business

Council also unanimously passed a motion to include personal pronouns on councillors’ placards, unless a member specifically requests otherwise, and to send a representative to the launch of a Center for Research-Action on Race Relations petition, as well as to “provide a one-time discretionary contribution of up to $1,000 to help cover the cost of the event for the launch.” It further moved to endorse the ECOLE Project Fee Levy Renewal.

The next Legislative Council meeting is set for February 22nd at 6:00 p.m.

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