I write in reply to Natalie Brunet’s letter on SAC council changes in the March 14 issue.
Brunet claims to be “appalled that council approved this new by-law without formally consulting students on this subject.” I take issue with the claim that Council approved this without consulting students for a few reasons.
First, during the debate on this amendment, residence councillors iterated that they felt there was a benefit to having a councillor for each individual residence because of the ability to directly consult their constituents. Further, the MASU bylaws describe two of the responsibilities of both residence and off-campus councillors as “be[ing] an informed advocate of student concerns and issues” and “be[ing] responsible for accurate and regular communication of MASU policies and decisions to her/his constituents.” The responsibility of consultation lies with councillors. If Brunet – or any student – takes issue with a lack of consultation, the issue is with their councillor(s).
With that said, I am doubtful that there was any lack of consultation done by councillors. The vast majority of the councillors who spoke in Council on the night this amendment was passed, both in support and in opposition, indicated that they had consulted constituents. The problem with Brunet’s characterization of consultation is that it assumes homogeneity among a constituency. Being consulted is not the same as getting what you want, because what you want may not be the same as what others in your constituency want. You elect your councillors to make decisions for you. If they consult you and actively seek your opinion, good on them. But it doesn’t mean they need to agree with you when they vote. After all, they got elected to represent the interests of their constituents; you didn’t.
Brunet goes on to make numerous misleading factual errors. Brunet claims that “[s]tudents have already proven their ability to think critically in regards to the SAC when they voted down the proposal to lower the quorum for a SAC meeting in the last elections.” First, this referendum question was not on quorum for SAC meetings, it was on quorum for meetings of the Membership, i.e. all students. Second, students did not “vote down” this proposal; 53.9% of students voted in favour of the proposal and only 20.2% voted against, but 25.8% abstained. The proposal was in no way “voted down,” it simply failed to pass because too many voters abstained – in other words, voted neither for nor against the question.
My final point is on accountability. In 2011, the MASU drafted a new Constitution. This new Constitution saw Council structure removed from the Constitution and moved into the Bylaws, where it would become the discretion of Council itself and no longer subject to a referendum. The MASU consulted extensively with students on its new Constitution, which passed with eighty-one per cent support of students in a student-wide referendum. As a councillor, Natalie Brunet voted in favour of this new Constitution. She also voted in favour of the wording of the referendum question put forth to all students, which, I repeat, passed with an overwhelming majority.
As recently as two years ago, students made it abundantly clear that Council should have jurisdiction over its structure without requiring a referendum. Council had two weeks to consult its members on the change to Council structure and councillors clearly and publicly stated that they did. Council is elected to make decisions it feels are in the best interests of the MASU; in amending the structure of Council, we did just that.