While You Were Out
Notable news stories of Summer
Student Union elections, presidential loans, tunnels and bridges falling apart. A lot has happened since you left school in April, both on campus and off. Here’s what The Link thinks you should remember.
DISQUALIFICATION OF BOTH ACTION AND YOUR CONCORDIA SLATES
At midnight on April 13, two weeks after one of the most competitive elections in recent Concordia Student Union election history, former chief electoral officer Oliver Cohen disqualified both the Your Concordia and Action slates.
After Your Concordia won by a margin of nearly 400 votes, and after the victorious slate vowed to work together with Action candidates to reform the CSU electoral bylaws, the former CEO issued both parties notice—listing a wide variety of almost identical transgressions that totaled over a dozen broken rules on each side, as well as several directives from the CEO that were disregarded.
The candidates were informed that they had also broken the rules of fair play and that they would not be reimbursed for their electoral expenses.
News of the disqualifications tore through the #CSU2011 Twitter feed, and former CSU president Heather Lucas called the ruling “a huge shocker.”
In a statement read at a CSU Council meeting on April 13, Lucas said, “It is unfortunate that the CEO has made the decision to disqualify both slates, as it makes a mockery of the CSU, and ultimately does a disservice to the most important people at this university, the students.”
Your Concordia and Action filed appeals to the CSU Judicial Board April 17. Both teams cited Article 246, Section D of the CSU standing regulations, which states, “To disqualify a candidate, the [Chief Electoral Officer] and/or their agents must clearly demonstrate evidence both that a serious breach of electoral regulations has taken place, and that the party to be disqualified was responsible for the breach. Neither circumstantial evidence nor imputed interest shall be sufficient to justify disqualification.”
On April 27, the Judicial Board upheld Cohen’s decision not to reimburse both parties and not overturn Cohen’s ruling for team Action, but threw out Your Concordia’s disqualification.
As a result, the status of Action’s winning candidates—six councillors representing the John Molson School of Business—was thrown into question. They were later reinstated at a special Council meeting May 11, along with their election expenses.
—Laura Beeston and Adam Kovac
In early May, Le Journal de Montréal was the first to report that Concordia University provided an interest-free loan of $1.4 million to interim President Frederick Lowy.
When approached to serve his second term as president after the unexplained dismissal of former President Judith Woodsworth, Lowy had plans to leave Montreal and sell his condo on Doctor Penfield Ave. He had already purchased property outside the city.
“As a courtesy to Dr. Lowy, and rather than force him to have to move his stuff into storage or live somewhere else, the university said we would lend him the money,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota, explaining that Concordia also agreed to pay the interest—“an amount that was not prohibitive”—which, according to Le Journal, is expected to cost up to $35,250.
Lowy, who reportedly makes $350,000 a year, is projected to remain interim president until July or August of 2012—or until a new president is found—and was given the loan in good faith.
“Dr. Lowy had a situation, [but] the university felt that we wanted him to stay,” Mota continued. “We obviously did not want him to have to go through undue hardship […] and this seemed the best and most secure way of doing things.”
EXTERNAL GOVERNANCE REPORTS ON CONCORDIA’S LEADERSHIP CRISIS
Following an academic year of unprecedented administrative shakeup, Concordia University released a report that made recommendations for university governance on June 15. After the controversial and unexplained discharge of former president Judith Woodsworth Dec. 22, the report was initiated after nearly all student and faculty associations on campus demanded a drastic restructuring of the university’s Board of Governors—Concordia’s highest governing body.The Board also came under fire after it was discovered that its many members had stayed well past their term limits.
Created by an independent, three-person External Governance Review committee, the 39-page report listed 38 recommendations of the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Governors, the Senate and the President.
Advocating for a smaller Board, the report recommended a “reasonable balance” of members with experience in the business, non-profit and public sector. The committee also proposed the term limits be embedded in the university’s bylaws and be strictly enforced.
After the report was released, Concordia Interim President Frederick Lowy—who was appointed by the Board of Governors after their dismissal of Woodsworth—hosted an open discussion on the governance report June 28.
At the forum, students and faculty addressed Concordia’s “culture of contempt,” and many in attendance complained that their concerns were rarely replied to by Lowy. There are currently no plans from the administration for more open dialogue on the report.
“Later, the appropriate bodies of the university will make decisions as to the changes we will adopt that will help us improve our governance culture and facilitate the pursuit of success,” Lowy said in Concordia’s NOW Magazine.
As for plans for implementing the recommendations, there is no set procedure in place as of yet, according to University spokesperson Chris Mota, adding that once the recommendations have been reviewed and revised, there still remains the task of figuring out how to go about transitioning from plan to reality.
—Laura Beeston, with files from Adam Kovac
LE FAUBOURG (WHETHER WE WANT IT OR NOT)
Concordia’s controversial relationship with the Faubourg shopping centre is far from over.
Though 69 per cent of students voted against a series of fee levies that would go towards the purchase of a $43 million project last November after The Link revealed that the Faubourg was the forerunner in negotiations, the newly-elected CSU learned when they took office in June that they would have until September to decide if they want it anyways.
“[This] puts us in a really difficult and unfortunate situation,” CSU President Lex Gill told The Link. “Not only did we run on a campaign of meaningful [dialogue with students], but we mean to do it.”
The administration has given the CSU a September deadline in order to file the proper paperwork in time, as the university’s option on the building expires in April 2012. Gill said the CSU plans to release their decision during the last week of the month, if not sooner.
Following the November defeat, former CSU VP External & Projects Adrien Severyns said the next phase of the project would see more active student involvement in its planning, and that members for a “Student Space and Student Centre Committee” would be appointed at a CSU Council meeting by March 9. The committee was never realized.
During the November campaign, the undisclosed location of the Student Centre, the contract between the CSU and the administration, a detailed operating budget and the loss of existing student space on campus were among the concerns students raised about the project.
More recently, the current CSU has had to wait all summer to obtain a copy of the pro forma, detailing the financial activities of the retail site. Initially told they would see it at the end of July, the current executive was given the document last week.
“There is very little time between getting the numbers and needing to make this decision,” said CSU VP Clubs & Space Gonzo Nieto. Nieto also told The Link that he was recently informed the down payment of the building will not be paid proportionally and will fall under the CSU’s portion of the payment scheme.
“It doesn’t mean the students are paying more, just putting more up front. It seems, from what we’ve been told, that the university doesn’t have the money for a down payment [and] we will need to take out a loan on the building.”
The administration have allowed for “a lot of weird flexibility” in their negotiations, he continued. “Though the contract stipulates the CSU needs to have $10 million for the down payment by Sept. 2012, we won’t have $10 million by that time, and the response we got was, ‘That’s fine, we can do [it for] $9 million.’”
Concordia students now pay $2 per credit towards the purchase of a student centre, and have banked over $7 million towards the project since 2006. The $2 fee is set to expire in 2014, but the administration and CSU are still under contract for the joint purchase and operation of the project—an agreement that could last up to 70 years.
When running in last spring’s election, Gill’s Your Concordia slate promised students they would be consulted on any plans regarding the new centre, and ran on a “good deal or no deal” platform. They planned to put the student’s input to a vote in the November referendum.
“It’s a tricky spot [we’re in],” said Gill. “If we don’t make it a student centre, [the administration] plans to buy it anyways.”
—Laura Beeston with files from Julian Ward and Christopher Curtis
CONCORDIA’S ISRAELI INSTITUTE
Back in May, the Arts & Science Faculty Council voted to create a new institute at Concordia. Funded by a $5 million donation from the Azraeli Foundation—a Canadian organization that supports Jewish communities, educational institutions and opportunities—Concordia will now host its own Institute of Israel Studies.
According to the minutes from the Faculty Council meeting where it was created, the institute will incorporate professors from different faculties and programs, and funds from the $400,000 annual budget will go towards encouraging undergrad exchange programs, holding public symposiums, lectures and book launches. There will also be funding for post-doctoral fellowships, and Phd and MA scholarships. The institution also plans on bringing in guest academics, eventually creating an Israel Studies Minor at Concordia.
The administration have allowed for “a lot of weird flexibility” in their negotiations, he continued. “Though the contract stipulates the CSU needs to have $10 million for the down payment by Sept. 2012, we won’t have $10 million by that time, and the response we got was, ‘That’s fine, we can do [it for] $9 million.’” –Gonzo Nieto
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT ON THE SHUTTLE BUS
While Montreal has long been known for its less-than-perfect roads and disruptive construction seasons, this summer the city’s infrastructure managed to take its already deplorable reputation to a whole new level.
June 14 marked Transport Quebec’s impromptu closure of half of the Mercier Bridge. The Quebec-owned side of the bridge, used by commuters headed towards the South Shore, was quickly shut down after an inspection report declared ten of the bridge’s gusset plates to be unsafe. Quebec and Ottawa jointly own and maintain the bridge. While the federal government began repairs on the federally owned side in 2008, Transport Quebec neglected to do so.
On July 31 a concrete beam and section the roof of one of Montreal’s busiest tunnels collapsed. No one was injured, despite the fact that the Ville-Marie is used by up to 100,000 motorists daily. A week later, the tunnel reopened.
The Turcot Interchange, Louis-Hippolyte Tunnel, Lafontaine Tunnel and Champlain Bridge are also in need of major repairs.
Despite many of the city’s structural faux pas being visibly evident to the public, the inspection reports on the state of many of this summer’s crumbling structures, including the details surrounding the state of the Mercier Bridge and the constantly changing Ville-Marie reports, have been shrouded in secrecy.
All of the above led to Transport Minister Sam Hamad’s Aug. 25 announcement of a $110 million plan on to minimize the traffic congestion caused by the ongoing repairs throughout the city.
Components of the plan include increasing the number of available seats on buses and on the metro, adding express bus lines to and from the West Island, the creation of additional reserved bus lanes, the offering of free monthly train and bus passes and the speeding up or cancelling of unnecessary roadwork projects.
THE BIXI BAILOUT
The bike-sharing BIXI program came under fire early May after the City of Montreal agreed to give the non-profit company $108 million in loans. The program was given an immediate $37 million to cover existing deficits, to be followed by $71 million in loans to help the company expand in the future.
The City of Montreal’s auditor is currently looking into the finances of the program, with an investigation expected to last several weeks. According to The Gazette, the company is running a $31.7 million deficit, and is still 4,000 season passes short of reaching its goal of 32,000 Montrealers subscribing to the program to break even this season.
Despite the losses, BIXI continues to expand internationally, bringing the bike-share system to Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Chicago, London, Melbourne and Minneapolis.
—Laura Beeston, with files from The Gazette
RIP RUE FRONTENAC
On July 1, the editorial staff of Rue Frontenac collectively decided to shut down the news website, created as a result of a labour dispute with Le Journal de Montreal in 2009, in which the newspaper locked out its reporters.
Discussions on how to maintain the site, held between the staff and Marcel Boisvert, a Quebec businessman and shareholder of RueFrontenac.ca, failed partly over staff concerns about Boisvert’s consultant, Michel Strecko and his judicial history.
Rue Frontenac had been looking for new investors as a consequence of financial problems.
JAGGI AVOIDS JAILTIME
On June 21, longtime Concordia anti-globalization activist Jaggi Singh was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to counseling to commit mischief over $5,000 and urging people to tear down a security fence during last year’s G20 summit.
Singh was given a 69-day credit for the six days he spent in pre-trial custody and 11-and-a-half months spent under restrictive bail conditions, as well as 12 months of probation, reported the Toronto Star following the hearing. He was also given 75 hours of community service. The Crown had sought a six-month jail term and two years’ probation.
Earlier that month, the Concordia Student Union sent a letter openly supporting Singh to the Ontario Court of Justice.
At the G20 protests in Toronto, Singh urged onlookers to “take down those walls that separate us,” while gesturing to the fence behind him that was part of the $664 million security apparatus erected for the G8 and G20.
SPVM SHOOTING SCANDAL
Four Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal officers were involved in the fatal shooting of two people on June 7 in the heart of downtown Montréal. Mario Hamel, a 40-year-old homeless man, was allegedly wielding a knife and cutting through garbage bags when he was pursued and shot dead. An innocent bystander, 36-year-old Patrick Limoges, was also fatally wounded by a stray bullet to the neck on his way to work.
The following day, 200 of Limoges colleagues from St. Luc’s Hospital held a silent vigil on St. Denis St. where he was killed, laying flowers near the spot where his blood still stained the sidewalk. Later that night, nearly 300 demonstrators met to protest police brutality and impunity at the site both men were killed.
The investigation was then swiftly transferred to the Sûreté du Québec, a provincial police organization, which is the protocol when a Montreal police officer is involved in shooting a civilian.
It was reported that the SQ waited nearly a week before interviewing the officers involved in the altercation. Guy Lapointe, an SQ spokesman, told the CBC News “it was normal practice to wait a while before interviewing such witnesses.”
According to the National Post, Quebec’s National Assembly received a report last year from the Quebec Ombudsman recommending a change to the way police shootings are investigated—citing that the current system does not ensure impartiality of the investigations as well as a lack of public access to the results.
The report also concluded that “police solidarity” has been used to prejudice investigations in the police’s favour, recommending the creation of a Special Investigations Bureau to be chaired by civilians. Nearly three months later, the SQ has remained silent on the status of the investigation.
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 32, Issue 01, published August 30, 2011.