Quorum reached: Mac students turn out to General Assembly for the first time in 17 years, leave after passing one motion
Assistant News Editor
It was brief, but it happened.
Reports from the back of the room gave a count of the flow of students into and out of Burridge Gym – 40 more to go, it said. Then 30. Then four, and then three. Finally, attendance at the McMaster Students Union’s General Assembly broke well over 600. The event had reached quorum for the first time in 17 years.
“I feel like, apart from winning the presidency, this was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” said the MSU’s president Matthew Dillon-Leitch following the event.
‘601’ had been plastered around the McMaster campus on walls, bulletins and t-shirts for weeks in advance. The number represented a mere three per cent of the McMaster undergraduate population, which was required for votes at GA to matter. Attendance hadn’t reached that level since 1995.
A total of eight motions were brought forward at the March 28 Assembly, though numbers only stayed up long enough for one vote to be binding.
The proposal, which was moved by Dillon-Leitch, was to enforce a compulsory $110 fee to incoming first-year student in place of MacPass sales. The goal was to attract greater Welcome Week participation while having the funds to support a bigger week.
It was for this vote that quorum was sustained. The outcome was not obvious from a count of pink pieces of card, held up by each student voting either for or against the motion. MSU speaker Jeff Wyngaarden asked voters to get up and stand at either side of the gym so that he and the elections committee could eyeball the crowds and determine a winner.
While the vote was a slim but evident “yes,” at its conclusion, many opted to exit the gym rather than return to their seats, and quorum was lost after the vote was conducted.
“That’s just the unfortunate nature of General Assembly, is that you can lose and regain quorum at different times. I think you have to pick issues that students actually know about. If you don’t know what students want, that’s a problem,” said Dillon-Leitch.
The original motion suggested a fee of $120, but Dillon-Leitch amended it at the Assembly to read $110 due to extra cost cutting.
Prior to the Welcome Week fee vote was a motion from the McMaster Marching Band, which was asking for a one-dollar-per-student levy. The motion had been moved to the top of the agenda at the outset of the meeting. Though the vote was in favour, quorum wasn’t reached until after the vote.
After attendance dipped back below 601 – having peaked close to 670 – the Assembly pressed on with the agenda.
Next up was a $5 campus events fee that would fund a concert to be held at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium and would accommodate more than 5,000 students. There would be no charge for the concert, and students would be able to vote on which genres of music they would like to see.
The third motion proposed a push for an on-campus grocery store to replace Travel Cuts in the Student Centre. There was some debate over who would own the store and how it would be run, and the motion was ultimately re-written to call for a cooperative store, though not one that was run by the MSU.
The vote was in support, but was not binding due to the decreased attendence.
Other motions were for a $0.35 fee in support of McMaster Musical Theatre, one for the MSU to officially recognize a Greek Life Council and one for the MSU to avoid investing in organizations that are involved in illegal military occupations.
Another motion suggested that the MSU president write a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Glen Murray to lower tuition fees and gift some money from each student loan as a grant.
The motions were generally successful, but the energy had left the room along with quorum.
Student leaders, though, were satisfied with breaking a trend of poorly attended General Assemblies.
“It was amazing. I didn’t think we were going to hit quorum, to be honest,” said Dillon-Leitch. “When we did make it, I don’t have much to say other than it was amazing.
“We marketed like crazy for this, and for the most part I think people were passionate about this. For the first time in 17 years, other than voting for a president, we actually got people to make a decision, which I think is pretty cool,” he said following the GA.