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CFS national conference yields surprises

by Archives November 27, 2007

Four days of meetings began on a sour note as members of the Canadian Federation of Students voted down the Student Society of McGill University’s bid to renew their prospective membership by a margin of roughly 60 to 40.
Leading the charge against them were delegates from the CSU, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) and the Dawson College Student Union (DSU).
CSU VP Communications Noah Stewart said the CSU was against renewing the Student Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) membership because it felt their members had “consistently stonewalled any attempt for accountability” and had wanted to “undermine the democracy of CFS [Quebec] and take control of it.”
Stewart was referring to the ongoing legal battle that has had the Quebec wing of the CFS tied up in court since September, funds frozen, until a judge decides who has signing authority over the organization.
The vote took place early in CFS’s annual general meeting last week in Ottawa. It is unclear whether the 80-member federation, which stands as Canada’s largest student lobby group, voted them out because it was thought that SSMU wasn’t advancing the lobby group’s mandate in Quebec, or because the student group was blamed for CFS-Q’s legal woes.
Max Silverman, VP External for SSMU, said his association had planned to hold a referendum in October on whether to join CFS, but they were stopped by the CFS executive, who said they couldn’t proceed with the referendum with CFS-Q in its current state.
“[The executive] insisted that they didn’t feel comfortable going ahead with the referendum while CFS-Q was paralyzed,” said Silverman.
He said SSMU had been virtually promised, though not in writing, that the CFS executive would see their prospective membership extended past the end of this month.
CFS president Amanda Aziz said her executive had committed to holding a referendum for SSMU at some point, or whenever the CFS-Q became functional, because the student union had threatened to hold one regardless. “The fact that we committed to it was because [SSMU] wanted some reassurance that they would have a referendum before the end of the year,” said Aziz.
But when the vote came down from CFS members, the executive couldn’t keep SSMU in the federation. Aziz said it’s up to the members to decide these matters: “If our membership says ‘no’, [there’s] no more prospective membership.”
Aziz said she had expected CFS members to vote to keep SSMU in the federation. “Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone expected that their membership wouldn’t be extended,” said Aziz. “We didn’t assume that they wouldn’t.”
This is the first sign that CFS member locals were prepared to cut ties with uncooperative student unions that fail to follow the federation’s mandate.
However, other student unions across the country have expressed their own displeasure with CFS. Three universities in British Columbia, Simon Fraser University (SFU), Kwantlen College and the University of Victoria will hold referendums sometime this year to decide whether they will stay in the CFS.
Joe Paling is the Member Services Officer for SFU’s Student Society. He said SFU will hold a referendum in March after a non-binding plebiscite the student union held last March returned a 78 per cent vote in favour of dropping out of CFS. He said 1,350 students voted.
“There have been concerns about the organizational structure of the CFS, especially at the provincial level,” said Paling. He said that students “don’t see any return on this investment” – that is, the money SFU pays in membership dues to CFS, which comes to just under half a million dollars yearly.
(Concordia’s undergraduates currently pay $0.42 per credit to CFS, which amounts to roughly $300,000 per year.)
“Their lobbying efforts provincially have not seen fruition [and] campaigns are not successful for university students as a whole,” said Paling.
Aziz said this union didn’t seem to understand what the federation was about. “When I hear them say, ‘There’s no return on investment,’ that’s a gross misunderstanding of what the federation is. It’s up to the union to put forward what sort of issues they want the federation to be working on.”
With SSMU gone, there are only four student groups left in CFS-Q: the CSU, PGSS and the Graduate Students Association (GSA) of Concordia. The GSA may also be on its way out in the spring if they follow through with a de-federation vote mandated by a petition early this fall. The Dawson College Student Union (DSU) is as yet only a prospective member of CFS-Q.
The former interim president of the GSA, Patrice Blais, who initiated the petition to leave the CFS, remains firmly against an association with the federal body.
“Because CFS does nothing for the GSA, it doesn’t use the services, all the money that is used [goes] to pay the lawyer’s fees [for the CFS-Q legal battle],” said Blais.
Aziz said the fact that this number of universities could leave the CFS in a year was “not totally normal . some years there’s more than others, but neither is it uncommon.”

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