SSMU Councillors Express Concern Over Proposed AVEQ Affiliation Referendum

Photo: David Diao

On October 12, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for the third time this semester. Much of the meeting was spent discussing the proposed referendum to join the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a Quebec student federation.

After the collapse of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) in Spring 2015, SSMU was left without a student federation to represent its constituents at the provincial level. Two student federations were created in the wake of FEUQ’s collapse: The Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ) and AVEQ.

Emily Boytinck, the SSMU VP External from 2015 to 2016, was given a mandate to observe AVEQ and UEQ meetings and to deliver reports back to Legislative Council, in order for council to decide which association would be on the ballot for a referendum. In March 2016, Legislative Council chose AVEQ as the sole student association to be placed on the ballot. The referendum, however, failed decisively, with 1726 “No” votes (62%), 1054 “Yes” votes, (38%) and 900 abstentions (24.5%).

In wake of the referendum, the 2015-2016 Legislative Council mandated the incoming VP External to continue observing AVEQ, with the ultimate goal of joining it at a later date. Legislative Council voted last year to maintain its observer status at AVEQ and to hold a second referendum on affiliation in Fall 2017.

During October 12’s Legislative Council meeting, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer forwarded a motion to send the AVEQ affiliation vote to referendum, a move which evoked a lengthy debate.

Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer raised the issue of AVEQ’s lack of transparency, and explained that the organization has not updated its meeting minutes on its website for the past twenty months. “[AVEQ] had twenty months to be transparent and they haven’t done that,” he said.

Education representative Josephine Wright O’Manique expressed doubt that AVEQ could effectively lobby the provincial government, given that it has attracted only three student associations so far. “UEQ already has the affiliation of eight other student associations,” she remarked. “How can we truly expect AVEQ to lobby the provincial government effectively with this board of three student unions, when there is already an association with double the amount of members?”

André Lametti, the Medicine representative, argued that holding a new referendum would be contrary to the councillors’ wishes to “respect students’ voices” and “let them make decisions themselves.” He insisted that “this was done eighteen months ago,” and maintained that a new referendum would serve to undermine the voices of McGill students. In response, Spencer maintained that the reason why SSMU brings back referendum questions is because “opinions change.” “A lot has changed in AVEQ throughout the last two years,” she noted.

Some councillors argued that SSMU should revisit the option of joining UEQ. “If we’re going to have students decide, they should know that there is more than one student advocacy organization to join,” Arts Senator Isabella Anderson said.

The debate concluded with Engineering Representative Vivian Cambell suggesting a motion to postpone the resolution until UEQ was given an opportunity to address the council. The motion passed with near unanimity; VP Clubs and Services Jemark Earle was the only councillor to oppose.

The next SSMU Legislative Council meeting is scheduled for October 19, where UEQ will be giving a presentation. During this meeting, council will vote on whether AVEQ or UEQ appears on the ballot for the Fall 2017 Referendum.

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