Assembly accessibility atrophies apathy

Our panelists debate the values of AMS policies and the AGM as a way for students to get involved

Last Tuesday's AGM may have frustrated some newcomers.
Last Tuesday's AGM may have frustrated some newcomers.
Journal File Photo

Policy is key

Brendan Goodman, ArtSci ’16

For people who don’t regularly attend student government meetings, or are attending their first meeting, the rules and policies surrounding the AMS Annual General Meeting or AMS Assembly can be confusing.

However, when you start to get involved with a new sport or game, you’re never privy to the full extent of the rules.

When someone begins to play ice hockey, it may not be intuitive that you must drop a stick if you break it, instead of carrying it back to the bench. So, why does this non-intuitive rule exist? Because it helps to ensure the safety of the game. One doesn’t begin to play hockey and expect to know everything without reading the rules or being explicitly taught.

Why then, would it be expected that those new to AMS Assembly would know the rules as thoroughly as volunteers who have been working in this context for a year or more?

The rules may be confusing or non-intuitive to newcomers, but much like the rules of hockey, they maintain the integrity and safety of the meetings of the society as a whole. Being able to reconsider a motion, overturn the speaker, make sure the facts are correct or call for order are all incredibly important tools that create a stable assembly.

Last year, the ASUS special assembly devolved into chaos because order and rules weren’t kept by the speaker. Contrast that to the AMS special assembly, where the speaker maintained and kept the rules in play, and you can see the clear difference of outcome.

Unfortunately, AGM seems to bring out the worst uses of the rules that are typically seldom used. It’s the equivalent of putting 10 hockey players on the ice where only one knows the rules. Four hundred people in a room, many of whom don’t know the functions of the meetings, and who may have a vested interest in only one decision.

Many of these people have been asked to come to the meeting simply to throw a vote in one direction, as was clearly seen at this year’s AGM. It isn’t a surprise that they would be confused, despite the speaker clearly explaining many of the functions of Assembly at the outset of the AGM.

We use established rules, which are readily available in AMS policy, on placards at AGM or by word of mouth. They aren’t difficult rules to follow after one or two attendances. To cut these rules for the sake of a small amount of efficiency or intuitiveness would sacrifice the integrity of the meetings, and the ability of the people running the meetings to run them effectively.

Childish debate discouraging

Adrian Halucha, ArtSci ’14

When a student participates in AMS Assembly for the first time as an outsider, as I did at last Tuesday’s AGM, it’s equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s everything you would expect from a lecture hall jam-packed with students who are concerned not only with the politics or economics of the AMS, but the common good of our university.

My reasons for attending an AGM for the first time were two-fold. First, I had gone to support our school’s media services which were attempting to secure more funding. Second, I had been urged for three years by a veteran member-at-large to get involved with AMS politics. So I had gone (finally) not just to watch, but to potentially get involved as well.

When midnight rolled around, however, I hadn’t said a single word. What unfolded in front of me was not vibrant debate, but a political circus. I decided that getting my name on the speakers’ list wasn’t worth my time.

Overall, debate on each motion had been an orderly affair. The Journal motion, however, changed that, and the emotions in the room turned from spirited debate to what I sincerely believe was childishness. The downward spiral began at the one hour mark of debate, when voters had to decide whether to extend the debate another 30 minutes.

Do I believe that it would have been just to allow a further 30 minutes so those on the speakers list could get an opportunity to voice their opinions? Absolutely.

Was there a genuine concern that without a secret ballot people could get singled out and attacked? I’m not really in a position to answer that.

What I don’t agree with was what appeared to be a very deliberate attempt on the part of a select few to derail and stall the entire process out of nothing more than spite. These individuals weren’t doing themselves any favours, and in fact, delegitimized the “no” side, leaving those who genuinely disagreed out to dry.

I believe they ultimately turned the entire room, including myself, against them. It was very clear in the room that the sides were drawn at this point, with both sides no longer listening to the points of the other.

It took well over an hour and a half until we got through a procedural nightmare for the original motion to even be mentioned again. Why go through that entire process when all it caused was more harm than good? I’m told that this AGM was “tame” compared to past AMS/ASUS AGMs and Assemblies. I can’t wrap my head around why such disarray could be an almost common occurrence.

I was never a huge fan of student politics, and I definitely see no reason to become one now.

AGM not all good, man

Corey Schruder, ArtSci ’16

The AMS Annual General Meeting (AGM) isn’t undemocratic by nature, but it’s inaccessible to regular students.

Even though the AGM provides a valuable outlet for non-voting members of AMS Assembly, because they have an opportunity to vote, it’s not effective in achieving its democratic intents.

Media services are vital to the student experience at Queen’s. Although many students would question the efficacy of a fee increase for media services, the troubling fact of the recent fee increase for Queen’s Journal, Queen’s TV and CFRC is the method by which they received their fee increases.

I just couldn’t get over the fact that after each media services presentation a large chunk of students would get up and leave, even though I knew exactly why there were leaving — these people were employed by or volunteered at these services and brought their friends.

The AGM is an exercise in political organizing, not democracy. Each year when there is a proposed fee increase or politically contentious issue, the goal becomes getting as many friends, volunteers and employees out as possible. Regular students don’t know and in many cases don’t care what the AGM is, even though it’s important to the functioning of the Society.

The media services pulled a fast one on students. In bypassing a democratic referendum where there is more visibility, accountability and opportunities for students, the media services have shown they’re scared to face students. Therein lies the problem with AGMs — they are ruled by special interests who have more personal networks that are vital to win at Assembly.

In a referendum, groups seeking fee increases would have to explain why they need the extra money, what they are going to do with it and they have to have a viable plan for the future. Golden Words and the Tea Room both went to a democratic referendum, so why can’t the AMS media services?

There have also been complaints that orders, procedure and sometimes obscure policy make AGM inaccessible to the regular student. These complaints are valid and in plenty of cases totally correct.

It’s hard for a student who doesn’t know procedure to actually participate. However, rules and procedure play an important role in the facilitation of debate and professionalism. This only further exemplifies why special interests prefer AGM to democratic referendums — they know that students rarely want to take a few hours out of their busy schedules to come vote on issues pertinent to the Society.

Any group that would prefer to seek their fee increases through AGM instead of a democratic referendum are undeserving of student dollars.

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