This year’s MSU General Assembly proved the venue can be both effective and inefficient in providing a democratic forum for the student membership to “show up and speak out.”
Attendance at the Assembly peaked at 630, three members from quorum. Compared to last year’s peak attendance of 60 students and to a string of non-quorate assemblies from 1996 to 2011, this year’s turnout was impressive.
But even though seven motions were on the original agenda, none were voted on until the two-hour Assembly was slotted to end due to time restrictions for Burridge Gym. The gym is the only room on campus that can accommodate more than 600 students.
None of the motions were debated in a substantive way despite an engaged-and politically divided-student audience. Amendments to the agenda were discussed for more than an hour, with numerous motions to call the Assembly to question (where members vote on whether to vote).
At the beginning of the meeting, Salah Abdelrahman, who submitted the McMaster BDS motion, moved to have his placed ahead of the broader motion on the ‘MSU stance on international crises’. The former was approved before the latter, prompting some to feel the agenda should be re-ordered.
“Many of us are here to discuss the McMaster BDS motion. Let’s discuss this motion and proceed,” Abdelrahman said.
“I think the motions on the agenda should be ordered in the order they were submitted,” said Sarah Jama, who had submitted four motions on improved accessibility. “I put a lot of work into my motions and they were moved down, so I agree with him.”
A motion was then brought forward, though not by Jama, to have the motions regarding accessibility moved up.
“The two top motions are not student issues. We should focus on things that directly affect students,” one student argued.
After more discussion, Sarah Silverberg, who submitted the motion that the MSU not take a stance on international crises, moved to strike both hers and the McMaster BDS motion off the agenda.
“There are other forums and maybe the GA is not the assembly to be discussing such motions. I think it’s important for us to take a lot of time to think about these motions and having an on-the-spot vote at the GA is not the appropriate forum to be able to do that,” Silverberg said, adding that committees could be set up to discuss BDS and Israeli-Palestinian conflict over a longer period of time.
At around 6:30 p.m., just before the Assembly voted to adopt the agenda and attendance was announced to be 621, many students against BDS got up to leave the gym, ensuring that quorum would not be reached.
“The problem is that many students feel uncomfortable and should have the right to leave and not be counted in the vote,” said an anti-BDS student after a call to question was announced and the chair ordered the doors to be sealed for voting. The tension in the room was most palpable at that point.
By 6:40 p.m., the number of voting members in the gym was reduced to 520. About 20 minutes were spent on condensed reports from MSU president David Campbell and Engineering Without Borders President Kathryn Chan.
The motion for the MSU to endorse BDS against Israel and commit to ethical purchasing policies was up for discussion 10 minutes before adjournment was scheduled. It was passed by a simple majority (360 in favour, 23 opposed and 135 abstentions) and is not binding on the MSU because quorum was not reached.
However, the Student Representative Assembly will consider the McMaster BDS motion and any motions brought to the SRA that were not discussed at the General Assembly.
A policy has also recently been passed by the SRA to strike a committee to discuss how the General Assembly should be run and promoted. The policy will be enacted in 2014-15.
The full video of the General Assembly is available here.