Illustration by Lila Huang
The Constitution of the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institution Student Activity Council (hereinafter referred to as “the Constitution”) forms the foundation of the school’s governing body, SAC. This document outlines how SAC is elected, how its meetings must be run, its election procedure, and other matters. The Constitution is the collaborative work of SAC presidents over the years, meaning that it shouldn’t be held to the same standard of quality as a federal constitution. However, given SAC’s considerable status at MGCI, it is fair to have some basic expectations. Unfortunately, as it stands, many of the Constitution’s clauses outline rules that seem neither reasonable nor justifiable.
Historically, SAC has placed great weight on the wording of its rules. This was seen in the most recent election, where a Grade 9 student won the position of Clubs Convenor, but was later stripped of her title because she had not been an executive of a club for two semesters. SAC clearly cares about these minor details, and yet failed to realize that according to their Constitution, a Grade 9 cannot even be a candidate. Article 5 Section 1(2) states, “Candidates for any position must have been at MGCI for one school year.” Consequently, Grade 9 students, who have only been at the school for nine months at the time of the elections, are all ineligible to run. The fact that that an entire grade is barred from running for council is unacceptable, and SAC must make amends accordingly.
An issue that may be of greater concern to readers is the President’s automatic membership in every school club. As the Constitution reads, “The President shall be a non-voting member of all committees and clubs of MGCI” (Art. 3, s. 2(A)(5)). Apart from the absurdity of declaring that the President receives an unconditional membership to all clubs, there is no reasonable ground for the inclusion of this clause in SAC’s Constitution. The President doesn’t gain any power as s/he isn’t a voting member, nor does s/he contribute to regular club activities.
The aforementioned sections of the Constitution may have raised a few eyebrows, but the most questionable are, without question, articles 3 Section 1(B)(11)(b) and 3 Section 1(B)(12). The first of these two clauses states, “In the event that the President or Vice-President position is removed or vacated, the following shall be done: … The Vice President shall be succeeded by a member of the Executive in good standing with Council.” This sentence is vague at best. For instance, what does “in good standing with the Council” even mean? One would hope that more than one person in the Executive is in good standing with the Council, so who gets promoted? How does SAC decide on said person? Additionally, would the person who gets promoted be someone the student body thinks is the most suitable to be Vice President, or would it be the President’s closest friend? In the case the Vice President needs to be replaced, the student body should be made aware of the vacancy, and have input in the replacement process. Furthermore, to protect a fair democratic process, all Executive members who wish to be promoted should have the opportunity to apply.
The second clause states that “In the event that any Council member is removed or vacates a position, a new member will be appointed by the Executive” (Art. 3 s. 1(B)(12)), This leads to an even greater risk of democratic misconduct. Rather than promoting an elected SAC member, the Executive has the power to award a Council position to a regular student. Because these coveted Student Council positions are awarded through election, they should not be arbitrarily given away by SAC.
During the 2015-2016 school year at MGCI, SAC used this clause to replace the Spirit Convenor after she resigned. The replacement that they found fulfilled the duties of the position, but was she the best replacement out there? Rather than advertising the vacancy and hosting applications, the Council awarded the Spirit Convenor position as a consolation prize to a student who ran for Grade 10 Representative. Although the student running for the Grade 10 Representative position showed an interest in SAC, she wasn’t the only student interested in being Spirit Convenor. There was undoubtedly more than one student in the school who wanted the position: three students ran for the position during the election period in June 2016. The fact that the SAC-appointed Spirit Convenor ran for re-election and lost indicates that in replacing the Spirit Convenor, SAC did not represent the views of the student body. This serves as more evidence that the replacement procedure should be changed to better integrate the views of the entire school.
A number of amendments to the Constitution have been suggested, all of which SAC may adopt. However, as honoured as The Reckoner would be if these amendments were adopted, this cannot be—as it stands, the SAC Constitution does not outline a procedure for introducing amendments. Instead, changes can be made at the whim of the President. Given the importance of this document, and its role as the foundation for SAC, changes to its content should be reviewed and voted upon by the Council. A document that can be changed freely by one member has no democratic value, which is why the first amendment to the Constitution must be to introduce a procedure for amendments.
The copy of SAC’s Constitution used in this article was obtained from SAC’s current President upon request. However, in the future, rather than responding to requests, SAC should publish the document online. Both its Facebook page and the MGCI website are reasonable options. The inaccessibility of SAC by-laws does not support the transparency the Council boasts of, but is not only an issue of principle; it offers practical consequences as well. While candidates may be familiar with the duties outlined in their position-specific campaign packages, they may not be aware of the time commitment or academic requirements that accompany all membership on the Council. Additionally, candidates will have read neither the mission statement nor the objectives of SAC until after they are elected. It is scary to think that the majority of SAC members only learn of the organization’s goals after they win the responsibility of fulfilling said goals. In order to ensure both transparency and reliable SAC candidates, SAC must publish their Constitution online.
Writing an effective piece of legislation is difficult. SAC must maintain its Constitution’s purpose, convert ideas into words, and form a coherent legal structure, all while avoiding the creation of loopholes. Though the majority of the Constitution was written adequately, there are multiple areas that demand re-examination. The exclusion of an entire grade from candidacy, questionable procedures in the event of resignation, and a non-existent amending formula are just some of the many issues to be addressed. It will take a serious and concerted effort by all of SAC to transform their constitution into a document worthy of the students of Marc Garneau.
“Op-eds are opinion articles that reflect the views of the author, but not necessarily those of the Editorial Board or of The Reckoner as a whole. Please note this important distinction when reading this article.”