AMS ‘procedural error’ costs plebiscite question

Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change potential referendum question struck down illegally

AMS Internal Affairs Commissioner Lucas Anderson says Assembly didn’t follow procedure when it voted down part of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change’s plebiscite question.
AMS Internal Affairs Commissioner Lucas Anderson says Assembly didn’t follow procedure when it voted down part of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change’s plebiscite question.

AMS Assembly breached its own policy when striking down a potential plebiscite question for the fall referendum, AMS Internal Affairs Commissioner Lucas Anderson said.

Plebiscite questions have to be approved by AMS Assembly before they appear on the ballot.

On Oct. 15, environmental activist group Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) introduced a potential referendum question at AMS Assembly asking, “That Queen’s University take immediate and profound action to reduce our impact on climate change, including signing a comprehensive treaty that will commit Queen’s to science-based greenhouse gas reduction, and divesting from any company invested in the Albertan tar sands.”

After some discussion, Assembly voted to strike QBACC’s original question and create two separate ones, Anderson said.

The first question, which appeared on the ballot in this week’s referendum, asked students if they think Queen’s University should take meaningful action on climate change.

It was called to question and passed, Anderson said.

The second question asked, “That Queen’s University take immediate action to reduce our global impact on climate change by divesting the Queen’s University endowment funds from any companies financing or contracting in the Alberta Oil Sands.”

Anderson said after more heated discussion, Commerce Society Vice-President (External) Brooke Harvey motioned to strike the question from the agenda.

Assembly voted 18-13 in favour of the motion.

According to the AMS constitution, Assembly can vote to keep a plebiscite question off the ballot for a number of reasons, including if it’s deemed to “pose a significant threat to the best interests of the Society or be injurious to the welfare of the Queen’s undergraduate student body.” Such a rejection requires a two-thirds majority vote.

AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Adam Zabrodski said AMS policy doesn’t allow questions to be struck without opening the agenda.

“We come into difficulties in that the motion to strike doesn’t exist procedurally,” Zabrodski said.

Assembly can vote to call to question, he said. That’s a procedural motion, which means QBACC would have received a closing statement and Assembly would have voted on the question.

It’s Assembly’s job to ensure a potential question is worded neutrally, Anderson said, adding that some Assembly members took issue with the tar sands issue itself, not the question at hand.

“Because Assembly was in and out of order, there were some procedural errors,” he said.

Anderson said the nature of the debate strayed from Assembly procedure.

“Assembly was informed that its duty in this respect was to debate the clarity of the question and the merits of the question itself,” he said. “The debate did get heated and we were in and out of order with various comments.”

Members of the Commerce Society’s executive declined to comment to the Journal.

The illegitimate motion to strike the question was perceived as procedural, Anderson said, meaning it went straight to a vote without debate.

“The way in which it was procedurally out of context actually made it difficult to challenge it.”

A group must collect at least 675 signatures to qualify to put a plebiscite on the referendum. QBACC collected more than 675 signatures.

Anderson said he’ll be working on changing the AMS’s policy regarding plebiscite questions to avoid having the situation occur again.

He said he thinks part of the problem was that QBACC didn’t bring the question to him to review before bringing it to Assembly, adding that Assembly was the first time he heard the wording of QBACC’s question.

“It’s not procedure, but essentially it’s good to bring it in and talk about what you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “QBACC had a responsibility to make sure this was clear before bringing it to Assembly.”

AMS Speaker Chris Bimm said he wasn’t at Assembly because he was out of town. Deputy Speaker Lara Therrien Boulos chaired the meeting.

“Deputy speaker doesn’t chair Assembly as often as I do and may not be as familiar, but nobody anticipated that Assembly being that contentious,” Bimm said. “I think the deputy speaker did a great job.”

Daniel Myran, QBACC’s co-director, said he felt Assembly wasn’t democratic.

“The whole evening it felt like we were at this gigantic disadvantage because we were being attacked,” he said. “QBACC wasn’t given the opportunity to defend itself numerous times. … It felt very one-sided.”

Myran said he thinks everyone at Assembly was surprised at the debate’s heatedness.

“People weren’t expecting how much opposition certain Assembly members would bring to it and how willing those members were to sideline the issue at hand,” he said.

“To me it felt patronizing to the student body that Assembly was deciding what they should vote on and what they should be discussing.”

Myran said he met with Anderson last week.

He said Anderson told him QBACC has the right to call a special assembly where the plebiscite question would be voted on, but it was too late to put it on the fall referendum.

“They were very apologetic about it,” Myran said, adding that QBACC aims to have a plebiscite question regarding oil sands divestment on the winter referendum ballot.

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