Brian Decker and Sam Colbert
Executive Editor and Managing Editor
General Assembly (GA) has total control of the McMaster Students Union (MSU). It can recall presidents, change student fees and fundamentally repurpose the MSU and its services in whatever manner its attendees see fit.
That is, as long as 601 people show up.
That number represents three per cent of the more than 20,000 full-time undergraduates at McMaster, which is the required percentage to reach quorum – the level at which votes are binding on the MSU. Without sufficient attendance, the Assembly’s motions are powerless.
This year’s General Assembly will take place on March 28 and has a chance to break an unfortunate trend. Quorum hasn’t been reached since 1995, with attendance suffering since and bottoming out with a 25-person gathering in 2008.
“We’ve had some pretty substantial issues in the past couple of years that have gotten a lot of people out and we still haven’t reach quorum,” said MSU speaker, Jeff Wyngaarden, who will chair the event.
With a new marketing campaign and a few big-ticket motions already on the table, there’s a modicum of optimism around GA this year. The new campaign, which include signs advertising only “the601.ca,” has been part of a collaboration between Campus Events, Underground Media & Design, the MSU’s student life coordinator Michael Wooder and president Matthew Dillon-Leitch, among others.
“I think when you say ‘General Assembly’ – when the MSU throws its logo on different things – people sort of shut down and ignore it,” said Dillon-Leitch, who is hoping this year’s GA will be different than in the past 17 years.
“You have to make things a little different, a little more interesting, because the impact is really what’s important,” he said.
“It holds the Board and the SRA (Student Representative Assembly) accountable,” said Wyngaarden. “This is really the opportunity to
make sure they’re doing what you want them to be doing, and also to bring forward projects that aren’t on the table that you want to see happen.”
As of Wednesday night, Wyngaarden had received four motions for this year’s Assembly – the first two moved by Dillon-Leitch. The first would scrap the MacPass, putting in its place a flat $120 fee for all incoming first-year students whether they attend Welcome Week or not, subsequently increasing funding for the Week overall.
Second is a proposal for a five-dollar charge to all full-time undergraduate students for an annual, Roy Joyce Stadium-sized concert. With the additional funds, Campus Events could bring in a major act and accommodate more than 5,000 students for a free show.
The third and fourth motions are both for mandated MSU lobbying efforts, one for a grocery store in MUSC to replace Travel Cuts and the other for a reduction in tuition, along with additional grants for students and an increase in provincial funding for universities.
Motions passed at GA have the same power as those in referenda, which typically accompany the MSU’s presidential elections. Through GA, students can do things the SRA can’t do on its own – make fee changes, for example.
The MSU, which is distinct from the University and operates under a multi-million-dollar annual budget, charges four to five hundred dollars to each student yearly. With that money, it supports a governance structure, businesses and a number of services (including the Silhouette).
Wednesday’s event will run from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Burridge Gym. It is expected that more motions will come forward before the event.
Aware of the Students Union’s annual struggle to reach quorum for the Assembly, Dillon-Leitch kept his answer short when asked if he thought this year’s GA would draw enough people.
“I sure hope so,” he said.