OTTAWA (CUP) &- After a marathon closing plenary session, the Canadian Federation of Students’ four-day general meeting wrapped up late in the evening of Nov. 28.
Hundreds of delegates from campuses across the country met just in Gatineau, Que. to participate in panel discussions, attend seminars by notable speakers such as Canadian writer John Ralston Saul and suspended Afghan MP Malalai Joya, and ultimately discuss and debate several major and highly contentious changes to the organization.
The sixth motion on the meeting’s original agenda &- proposed by Carleton University’s Graduate Students’ Association – brought forward the greatest debate at the meeting.
The motion to bring reforms to the membership referendum process included extending the minimum time period between referendums to leave the federation on a university campus from two years to five years (three years for colleges); limiting the number of such referendums in any three-month period to two for the entire organization; and increasing the number of required referendum petition signatures from 10 per cent of a member union’s student population to 20 per cent.
The vote on the motion, toward the end of the final plenary of the meeting, was stalled as the hotel’s fire alarm went off in the middle of debate and all present in the room filtered out into the hotel parking lot. After a delay of over 20 minutes, delegates were allowed back into the large room to continue the debate and vote on the motion, which passed 44 to 19.
Kimalee Phillip, president of Carleton’s GSA indicated she and fellow delegates were expecting some opposition to their proposals.
“Well definitely, we knew it would be a contentious motion … we’ve been getting a lot of backlash from the moment we served this motion to be discussed at plenary,” she said. “We were just really happy that it passed, and I think it showed that CFS is stronger than most people assume, and that we are here for the students.”
Matt Musson, director of campaigns for the GSA of the University of Calgary, was one of two students behind an open letter against the motion, sent to numerous campuses and student newspapers last week.
The GSA for U of C voted against the motion.
“I would have to say that [the end vote was] more than slightly disappointing. My feeling, based on what went down at the meeting, was that no one really wanted to discuss this rationally and think about the consequences for future members and even current members,” he offered.
“I really feel like this was restricting the individual rights of the current members by limiting discussion about their membership to once every five years.”
The motion required two-thirds support to be adopted. However, CFS-Quebec treasurer Andrew Haig contended that there was not a proper two-thirds majority in the vote, due to a large number of abstentions.
“The decision of the chair to accept the motion as passed was clearly wrong. The CFS bylaws set out that it requires the votes of [two thirds] of member locals present to pass a bylaw amendment,” he said. “Of 69 members present, only 44 supported it. That’s less than [two-thirds], and the question really isn’t more complicated than that.”
According to CFS bylaws, “local student associations representing individual members are called voting members.” Additionally, “the Constitution and Bylaws of the Federation may only be repealed or amended by the vote of at least two-thirds of the voting members present at a general meeting.”
At closing plenary, the chair maintained her belief that the “two-thirds” was in reference to the total number of members who voted, not the total present.
When asked whether the national executive will be looking into the issue or would continue to stand by the chair’s decision to consider the motion adopted, National Chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard was unclear.
“The national executive actually hasn’t met following the meeting; our next meeting will be in January, so if there [are] any concerns, [they] would be brought up at that meeting,” she said.
While he declined to go into further detail in an interview, Haig did announce the possibility of pursuing legal action shortly before he and several other delegates walked out of the meeting after the vote on Nov. 28.
Working with Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the media
Two motions dealing with media access to CFS meetings were submitted for consideration prior to the meeting. The first, written by Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University, dealt with the media as a whole, but was withdrawn from consideration at opening plenary by the delegates themselves.
The other motion, proposed by the Kwantlen Student Association, suggested the CFS open meetings to all campus and Canadian University Press media. It ultimately failed as the committee charged with examining the motion suggested it contravened the existing media policy of the CFS.
Under the existing policy, CFS meetings are closed to media unless special permissions are extended by a majority vote of the organization’s national executive. In recent history, special permission has been granted to one Canadian University Press bureau chief to attend to provide coverage that is national in scope for distribution on its newswire.
Another motion proposed by Kwantlen that garnered some attention was the motion to further consultations and discussion with Canada’s other national student lobbying group, the CASA. After its defeat was also recommended by the subcommittee, the motion failed to pass.
Several campaigns were also successfully adopted, surrounding support for reforms to Employment Insurance, work against the privatization of water, and the fight against the implementation of tuition fees at CEGEPs in Quebec.
Three positions for the 2009&-10 national executive were also elected at closing plenary: Dave Molenhuis, current national treasurer, will be next year’s national chairperson; current CFS-Ontario chairperson Shelley Melanson was elected national deputy chairperson; and Roxanne Dubois, current francophone students’ representative, will be taking over the position of national treasurer in May 2010.