MONTREAL (CUP) — Turbulence from an email mix-up that sent campaign documents from the British Columbia branch of the Canadian Federation of Students across that province, has reached Quebec.
On Feb. 4, student union representatives at Kwantlen University College went public with a CFS-BC document they received accidentally. It detailed the CFS-BC campaign strategy for a spring referendum at Simon Fraser University.
SFU, Kwantlen and graduate students at the University of Victoria are all holding referenda this spring to decide whether to disaffiliate from the country’s largest student lobby group or stay.
“It’s really about – this doc really bears this out – how focused the CFS is on organizational stability; making sure they keep members, and have people in place at every member local that are loyal,” said Laura Anderson, director of external relations for the Kwantlen students’ union.
She says it’s the “most complex, methodical document” she’s ever seen from the federation at either the regional or national level. “And it’s about membership. It’s not about grants or tuition fees,” said Anderson.
The document outlines campaign details, from obtaining campus maps and printing flyers to finding polling clerks and, of particular concern to Anderson, training them. Although the document was specifically about the referendum at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Anderson said, she’s worried the federation has similar plans of attack for Kwantlen.
Fresh out of internal legal struggles of their own, Kwantlen’s students’ union hoped to bring in the court-appointed electoral officer who ran their last election. “He’s got his own poll clerks. It’s removed from both the KSA and CFS-BC,” said Anderson.
The Student Society of McGill University shares many of Anderson’s concerns. “Fundamentally the CFS’ only goal is fighting for CFS’ own self-interest rather for students interest,” said Max Silverman, vice-president external of McGill’s students’ union.
“It looks like a winning strategy and it certainly is a professional strategy. I wish this much effort was put into strategy to fight tuition increases.”
McGill holds a tenuous relationship with the CFS. Member universities voted to revoke SSMU’s membership in the federation at its fall conference. At the provincial level, the CFS-Quebec remains closed because of a court injunction.
“It’s important because we have clear evidence the extraordinary length they’ll go through to stop three Student Unions from leaving the Federation,” said KSA policy analyst Titus Gregory, who also runs the blog studentunion.ca.
The campaign document lists hundreds of potential volunteers who could be brought to B.C. for the campaign, including students currently working at unions across the country and members of the NDP.
Noah Stewart, an executive at Concordia University’s students’ union, was named in the document, but said that he was not aware the document existed until approached by campus media.
“I’m definitely here for March,” Stewart said, explaining the B.C. referenda coincide with Concordia’s own elections. “I’m not running for anything, but I won’t be going to BC.” Stewart says he contacted the national CFS office to find out more about the document. “They say its not a CFS doc, it’s CFS-BC,” he said. “Beyond that I don’t know what to say.”
According to Gregory, the possibility of flying people in for the referenda raises serious questions about where the funding will come from, be it from some level of CFS, its regional bodies or from member student unions.
Both CFS National Chairperson Amanda Aziz and BC chairperson Shamus Reid refused to speculate on whether or not students would be flown in to campaign for the CFS. “We can’t say one way or the other at this point,” Aziz said in a Feb. 5 interview.
Another concern is the autonomy of member student unions. Silverman said a similar referendum situation couldn’t happen at McGill because of SSMU’s strict election rules. Non-students are not allowed to campaign on the McGill campus. The CFS, however, requires that any referenda follow its bylaws rather than those of the local union.
Though not directly related to the SFU referendum, a section of the document labeled “Hiring” includes a list of suggested national staff people, including Stewart, for a BC staff position.
“I think they are correct in their assertion that the national and provincial bodies of CFS are different. They are different legal entities,” said Anderson. “But they work closely together. Even if this is just a wish-list, it shows there’s a lot of cross-pollination between two offices.”
Stewart says the high level of organization for the BC referenda is a good thing. “The CFS seems to be working really well and has a plan for a united student voice in Canada,” said Stewart. “I don’t necessarily see a problem going to campuses and talk about what the CFS does.”
Stewart said that he’s concerned the student unions in question will have their own aggressive campaigns and won’t provide real information about the Federation.
“What students want to hear is what organization will do for their lives,” said Stewart.
-with files from