Editorial: Why you probably shouldn’t go to the MSU General Assembly

Sam Colbert
March 21, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

The buzz around the MSU’s General Assembly is noticeably quieter this year.

In 2012, then-MSU President Matthew Dillon-Leitch orchestrated a major marketing campaign. The posters were well designed, the event had its own website, the Facebook page exploded, and it was hard to walk around campus without learning that 601 students would make quorum.

The day of the event was like New Year’s Eve. There were counts coming from the back of the room: forty to go. And then thirty. Four, three, two, one, and we had it. For the first time in 17 years, votes made at General Assembly were binding on the Students Union.

It was exciting. So why no big campaign this year? Where is “The 606” (or whatever the number will be) this time around?

It might be absent because, for the brief period when there were enough students in the room to make motions binding on the MSU, no one seemed to know how to handle it.

The question was whether or not students wanted to charge incoming first-years an automatic $110 for Welcome Week fees, rather than offering an optional MacPass. In what looked like a pretty even split, the more than 601 people in the Burridge Gym ran to one side or the other to show their vote. Someone looked over the crowd, shot a picture, and it was decided. In about half an hour, it was determined that the Welcome Week fee would be applied.

With the announcement, two things became apparent.

First, 601 is not a big number. Least year, it was three per cent of the full-time, undergraduate student population. It takes 10 per cent of the MSU’s membership to vote on binding changes to the Union during a referendum. But at general assembly, 601 students were able to make a decision on behalf of the other (roughly) 19,400.

Second, the decision was largely made on impulse. Visibly undecided until they saw friends run in one direction or the other, it was apparent that many hadn’t given the issue much thought in advance.

And so, agreements between the MSU and University were re-written to make the new fee work. The MSU, Student Success Centre and faculty societies each received a piece of the pie. The money was spent, and expenses were badly reported. But an optional Welcome Week payment is likely a thing of the past.

It’s still true that a general assembly is a fine idea. It’s direct democracy. It’s a lot of people getting together to talk about realizing ideas that the SRA can’t (or won’t) and that wouldn’t be done justice by a referendum question on an MSU presidential election ballot.

But it doesn’t tend to work out like it's supposed to. In that rare quorate Welcome Week fee vote, it wasn’t the will of the masses that drove the decision. The MSU president ran a campaign to get 601 people in a room. And then he introduced a motion. He spoke to it, and it passed. And then a lot of people left.

There might come a time when McMaster needs General Assembly. During the peak of the Quebec student protests, masses of students were assembling to talk and to vote together as often as a couple of times a week.

But that time doesn’t seem to be now.

And given the toned-down General Assembly promotional campaign this year, the MSU appears to know it.

So, before Tuesday, have a look at the agenda. If you care about one of the motions, go to GA.

But if you’re only headed there to run with your friends across the Burridge Gym floor, stretching your legs after a 15-minute presentation, you’re probably better off staying at home.

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