Op-Ed: Vote “NO” to the QPIRG Opt-Out Fee

By Andrew Figueiredo

Throughout the year, a number of SSMU referenda come up for a vote. Many of them are relatively inconsequential, or at least quite uncontroversial. However, the referendum currently up for a vote is not like most. Today, I am writing to urge you to vote “NO” on the QPIRG referendum. QPIRG (Quebec Public Interest Research Group) currently receives funding through an opt-out fee levied on all students. However, its activities and programming call into question the deservedness of this funding mechanism. SSMU should not be directing automatic student fees towards this radical, divisive group.

As a preface, some of QPIRG’s activities are positive contributions to McGill. Many of their speakers provide important perspectives on disadvantaged communities and oppressed groups. Moreover, QPIRG occasionally raises funds for objectively positive causes, like human rights abroad. These activities provide a positive interface between McGill and the global community. As such, I am of the opinion that QPIRG should continue to exist, but solely supported by its own efforts. Its operations ought to be self-sufficient. If the student body truly values QPIRG, it should end its automatic funding scheme and instead move to either a donation-based or opt-in fee. Some have raised concerns over the impact of a NO-vote on McGill’s open environment. However, voting NO on this referendum will not harm equality on campus, as the SSMU Equity Fund and other reasonable justice groups will go untouched. In fact, it will improve equality on campus.

Through the current funding mechanism system, QPIRG receives a large amount of financial favouritism over other political clubs. No other political advocacy group on campus receives the amount of money that QPIRG does, much of which comes from students who don’t know what they are funding. The status quo effectively disadvantages McGill’s other political groups while QPIRG maintains an edge, justified by a humorously false guise of ‘non-partisanship.’ How is it fair that a radical-leftist organization with explicitly political goals receives favouritism over other more mainstream political clubs? Why aren’t centre-left, centrist, and conservative student groups getting the same kind of material support as QPIRG?

No other political advocacy group on campus receives the amount of money that QPIRG does, much of which comes from students who don’t know what they are funding.

That runs contrary to the purpose of open dialogue, which is the bedrock of a university climate conducive to open-minded learning. Blatant disregard for the free exchange of ideas dismantles McGill’s standing as a top-tier institution. Already, SSMU’s policies and practices receive F and D grades respectively on the Campus Freedom Index. We shouldn’t stand for this disgraceful affront to liberty. Student government ought to promote a level playing field by ensuring that their funding mechanisms do not favour any specific political ideology. Continued favouritism towards QPIRG will turn McGill into a left-wing echo chamber, which even for those of us on the left is an unwanted reality. I want to attend a university where all reasonable perspectives are expressed on an equal playing field.

Furthermore, the continuing devolution of this campus into radicalism has led to worrisome rhetoric from some. A few weeks ago, somebody tried to convince me that China’s Cultural Revolution was an example of anti-capitalist ideology improving living standards. Really? The systemic genocide of 45 million people improved quality of life simply because it wasn’t capitalism? The clear bias demonstrated toward extreme anti-capitalist views on campus is leading some to reject facts and advocate preposterous claims. This is the kind of absurd rhetoric QPIRG’s current favourable treatment feeds.

Aside from the points on fairness and freedom, QPIRG’s agenda is so radical and divisive that it does not merit opt-out fee funding. The radical ideas are on display for all to see. Just take a look at the Rad Frosh programming. Rad Frosh, provided as an alternative to faculty orientation activities, receives funding from undergrad fees. Some of this year’s more divisive activities include workshops closed off to people based on race, trainings on how to promote anarchy, glorification of sabotage against developers in emerging neighbourhoods, anti-capitalist propaganda, workshops on Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS), and support for abolishing the entire criminal justice system as we know it.

Moreover, QPIRG partners with radical activists who support removing Hezbollah, which frequently carries out attacks on unarmed civilians, from the list of known terrorist organizations. A look at their organizational report from 2014-2015 reveals that QPIRG supported Demilitarize McGill’s protesting of Remembrance Day, due to the “hyper-nationalism” of the ceremony. This group sickeningly disrespects human rights abroad as well as the veterans who bravely served Canada.

Its Facebook page promotes groups linked with open border policies, which I, as the grandson and son of immigrants, and an immigrant myself, recognize would do serious damage to Canada’s economy. I can’t be the only one who believes that student fees shouldn’t be funding the promotion of lawlessness, division, and economic ideas that run contrary to fostering an open and free academic environment.

Luckily, BDS activists have been shut down multiple times, most recently by a landslide 14-point margin. The Judicial Board found BDS unconstitutional based on SSMU’s guiding document. Additionally, a body of literature exists which shows that BDS policies unjustly isolate Israel, fail to promote the peace process, and fuel anti-Semitic attacks on campus. With continuing attacks on Jewish students, why is an organization so committed to ‘justice’ endorsing policies that fuel hatred? Any organization purportedly focused on equality should actively denounce policies like BDS. The fact that fees levied on every student fund this extremism tarnishes McGill’s social fabric and reputation, and insults those who these policies endanger. QPIRG’s support for BDS relates directly to another reason why I urge a vote against this referendum.

Annual Report 2014-2015Annual Report 2014-2015

A look at QPIRG’s finances shows a high degree of wasteful spending. First, some of the spending going towards programming is ludicrous. QPIRG works with other on campus groups to put on events like “Palestine is a Queer Issue,” despite the weak linkage between these issues. QPIRG also spent $100 on helping to create a colouring book, $50 on “herbal care packages,” and $175 on a book launch. Student funds are being misdirected to random projects that fail to promote productive discourse or positive change. In addition, QPIRG’s financial information reveals stunningly high overhead costs. One would expect that elections could be conducted relatively cheaply. However, QPIRG managed to blow $600 on elections. The organization’s top brass (two employees) earn nearly $35,000 each while positions as small as “Rad Frosh Coordinator” and “Intern” earn in excess of $10,000. McGill’s faculty frosh coordinators and student interns only wish they could earn that much! However, because QPIRG is given a funded mandate from the student body, they appropriate money towards wasteful ends. QPIRG spends over $125,000 yearly on staffing expenses, while they employ a relatively small number of students. This referendum is an opportunity to send a message about financial responsibility, and to hold QPIRG accountable for its waste.  Annual Report 2014-2015 Events

Leftist groups are an important part of the political dialogue meant to be fostered on university campuses. I fundamentally disagree with the far-left, but to deny them a voice would run contrary to the principles I cherish. The status quo, however, denies an equal voice to student groups promoting different, non-rad perspectives.

Why do we keep throwing students’ money at an organization that wastes it while promoting radical and divisive views? QPIRG does not deserve special treatment or favouritism from the student body. I vehemently oppose the idea of continuing the opt-out fee for QPIRG and hope you join me in voting NO on the upcoming referendum. It is imperative that we achieve an open exchange of ideas on campus by ending the unfair handout to QPIRG, who continue to promote the delusion that their activities have anything to do with the ‘Public Interest.’

 

 The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

5 Comments

  • Jonathan says:

    A well-balanced, measured and meticulously reasoned article that showcases the mismanagement, misappropriation of funds and malfeasance of QPIRG.
    Huge kudos to the writer for having the courage to express a seemingly unpopular view in such clear and unflinching terms.
    For far too long, QPIRG has gotten away with nefarious dealings and underhanded machinations without consequence. It’s about time they’re held accountable. They are a disgrace to the social justice community and they abuse the cause they claim to champion time and time again.

  • Matthew S says:

    For Rad Frosh Coordinator, that $10,000 isn’t going to just one person – this year QPIRG hired 3 coordinators and got some of the funding from government grants. The intern position is also another grant from Emploi Quebec. Actually the majority of part-time positions are hired through government grants.

    This is clearly stated in the revenue report and it is unfortunate that you are twisting facts. QPIRG helps provides much needed work-study jobs and functions very much like other non-profits. They get audited every year, run a very tight budget, and are held accountable to multiple other bodies (including McGill).

    Also the point about $600 dollars on their elections, this is just part of their election bylaws for referenda ($300 for each yes/no committee). SSMU’s bylaws are very similar: “Referendum committees shall be permitted to spend a maximum of two hundred dollars ($200)” which SSMU then reimburses.

    http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/Internal-Regulations-of-Elections-and-Referenda-2016-03-31.pdf

  • Julie says:

    “Already, SSMU’s policies and practices receive F and D grades respectively on the Campus Freedom Index”

    Wow I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of receiving an F:

    “The following student unions earned an ‘F’ grade in respect of their practices:

    The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) denied certification to the student group Men’s Issues
    Awareness Society in December of 2012, accusing the students of “perpetuating harassment towards
    women” in violation of UTSU’s Discrimination on Campus Policy and the Ontario Human Rights Code

    The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) told a student group (McGill Friends of Israel) that
    they had to change the name of their planned event “Israel-a-Party” because SSMU executives felt it made
    “a mockery and/or trivialization of various oppressions some people of the world are subject to on a day to-day
    basis”. ”

    And ->

    “Acadia Students Union (ASU) earned an ‘A’ for speaking and acting to support freedom of expression
    for unpopular opinions and beliefs on campus. In the spring of 2014, the ASU came to the defence of
    the campus newspaper, the Athaenium, when the paper’s printing contractor refused to print copies of its
    female sexuality issue, due to the depiction of a semi-nude woman on the cover. Regarding campus club
    certification, club funding, and allocation of resources to campus clubs, the ASU does not discriminate
    against any campus club on the basis of the club’s beliefs, opinions, or philosophy.”

    https://www.jccf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015_CampusFreedomIndex.pdf

    • Andrew Figueiredo says:

      The fact that you agree that it’s okay to target McGill’s Friends of Israel group backs up the sentiments expressed in the article.

  • Marc Cataford says:

    Can you detail further what defines a “reasonable justice group”? It seems to me like you would rather have such groups be as quiet (and non-divisive) as possible as to not be disturbed by ideas that might not align with your own. Moreover, you mentioned that other more mainstream groups do not get the same treatment: that is exactly the point. QPIRG isn’t a mainstream group with mainstream ideas and as such, doesn’t have the same exposure and resources as, say, Conservative McGill. Therefore, equity implies leveling the playing field and give those ideas space so that they can be heard despite starting with less than the other voices in the political conversation on campus.

    The very idea of an opt-outable fee implies that students should research what they pay for, and make up their mind on if they choose to pitch in or not. Voting against the existence of an organization that is funded by such a fee on the grounds that “Students don’t know what they pay for” is a flimsy position at best, since you can freely choose not to participate and leave it for those who want to and benefit from the services. Furthermore, if you do pay the fee, hence become a student member of QPIRG-McGill, and have concerns, you can reach out and talk to them.

    Voting against the existence of a group whose funding is opt-outable (optional) on the grounds that you don’t agree with their finances and/or politics is another way of saying that you don’t agree, don’t care about others who might, and can’t be bothered to work with what is in place. It’s the kind of mindset that forcefully keeps people in line by taking away resources that aren’t approved by the majority, and is not only selfish, but reeks of privilege.

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