On October 22, 2020, the SSMU Legislative Council met virtually to discuss sustainability, the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, news from Athletics, and a Senate meeting with Principal Suzanne Fortier. Shona Watt, a Sustainability Officer at McGill, discussed the Sustainability Projects Fund, the largest university sustainability fund in North America. Funded half by students and half by the university, Watt stated that the SPF has granted $9 million in the last decade to over 250 projects, each proposed by a McGill student to improve an aspect of the university’s sustainability effort. The SPF has been responsible for the October 2019 Free House Plant Giveaway, and Watt said that the fund is now focused on expanding green labs and giving students more hands-on opportunities to improve their knowledge of sustainability.
Mackenzy Metcalf, and Kristen Smith, Chair and Vice Chair of Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU) respectively, discussed UCRU, an advocacy group for Canadian students that represents about 250,000 students at 10 schools. UCRU advocates for student rights by meeting with MPs and staffers in Parliament and seeks to accomplish five main goals: improving the rights of Indigenous students, negotiating student financial aid, representing international students, work opportunities, and advocating for expanding undergraduate research opportunities. Metcalf highlighted what UCRU has done for students in response to COVID-19, including fighting for a two year grace period on student loan payments, improving the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, seeking increased student work opportunities, and trying to establish universal Internet access, especially for rural and Indigenous students. While UCRU is operating completely free across Canada, relying on donations from student unions and individuals within UCRU, the organization plans on levying a fee in the next few years.
Next, Senator Sebastien Duckett presented the Investigation into the SSMU’s Student Fee Policies to address some problems associated with the $45 milion of fees that SSMU levies on students each year. He outlined that the investigation will seek to redistribute the money that clubs do not use back to students, instead of rolling it over to the next year.
Councillors also debated a SSMU Facebook post on the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, shared from the McGill Armenian Students’ Association, which stated that “The last time the international community was silent in the face of Armenian struggle, 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide. Armenians are currently facing severe threats of ethnic cleansing once again in the 21st century.” Engineering Representative Jake Reed voiced his concern that “speculating that an ethnic cleansing could happen is an extremely strong statement to make and requires a larger degree of fact-checking than is shown.” Yet, Vice-President University Affairs Brooklyn Frizzle argued that SSMU was not presented with sufficient evidence suggesting that any aspect of the post’s information was false and said that the post would remain up.
Athletics Representative James Mulvaney gave an update on the state of Athletics, stating that due to the fee moratorium, the Athletics Improvement Fee being cancelled, the fall athletic fee cut in half, and the absence of a CFL team at Percival Molson Stadium, the finances of Athletics are “in a state of stagnation.” As such, planned improvements like upgrades to Molson Stadium, Athletics office repairs, and new Zambonis for the ice rink have been cancelled. Mulvaney said that the Name Change Committee has come up with a final recommendation, but the committee must recommend it to the Principal for ratification, likely before the Winter Referendum. Frizzle stated that while the University would normally contribute funding for the Athletics Improvement Fee, this money is now being redirected to balance the University’s deficit.
SSMU President Jemark Earle delivered his report, discussing McGill’s plan on anti-Black racism and his meetings with the Black Students’ Network (BSN). He also discussed his collaboration with Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau, who had previously indicated that there were no mental health initiatives for first year students in residence. Earle maintained that “the answer wasn’t good enough,” and said that he plans on engaging with residences to develop mental health programs.
Frizzle discussed the October 6 Senate Steering Committee meeting which centred on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism. At the meeting, speaking rights for BSN were denied, because in the opinion of the Steering Committee, the BSN did not constitute an “expert group” in the subject. Frizzle also noted that Principal Fortier expressed openness to changing some names of campus buildings.