While much of the focus of Concordia Student Union elections circles around the slate executives, this year there is another hot issue on the bill.
When students vote, they will also be asked whether they support the union’s continued membership with the Canadian Federation of Students, the nations largest student lobby group, to which Concordia students pay $200,000 a year in membership fees. Despite all the attention this vote is receiving, Concordia may not even be “allowed” to leave no matter what the outcome is.
At issue is the fact that the CFS is currently holding the CSU liable for over $1 million it claims is owed in membership fees. Also, the lobby group has prevented many student unions across the country from holding referendums, based on a bylaw that was instated after most of those unions already handed in petitions calling for a referendum 8212; the first step required to take before voting on continued membership.
These are only two of many reasons the push to get out of the CFS has been so heavily campaigned.
The relationship between the CSU and CFS is a long and storied one, with many former CSU executives going on to work for the lobby group.
Noah Stewart-Ornstein a former CSU vice-president, now works as the national deputy chairperson of the CFS. He was involved in election controversy last year after being caught on tape tearing down campaign posters for the ASFA election in which he was not running; Steven Rosenshein, also a former VP, was an employee of the Quebec component of the CFS; Mathieu Murphy-Perron, who used to sit on the board of directors for CFS, was a CSU vp and councillor; Brent Farrington, once president of the CSU, did double-duty last year when he served at council chair and national deputy chairperson for CFS.
Despite any ties, the CFS has yet to recognize the CSU’s referendum as valid, making it unclear whether the union will actually be able to leave the organization, even if students vote to.
The federation has done nothing with our money: NO
The chairperson of the campaign to vote “no” on continued membership, Alejandro Lobo-Guerrero, has a long list of why Concordia should leave the CFS. On that list is his claim that the organization has failed in their primary objective.
“The CFS is supposed to be a lobby group that advocates for students’ rights and interests,” he said. “However, tuition across the country has tripled, student unemployment and student debt is at the highest rates ever recorded and the government is looking into ways to further reduce student assistance.”
Lobo-Guerrero also spoke about the lack of accountability and transparency of the organization, and pointed to a health plan controversy last year in which the CFS tried to influence Concordia to switch to their student health plan 8212; a move that would cost students less to subscribe to, but which some councillors said was “too risky” and could end up costing students more in the long run.
The federation offers valuable services: YES
While most discussion on campus has centred on the “no” side of the issue, the other side does have some representation. A small “vote yes to the CFS” campaign is led by Audrey Peek, who ran with the Change slate last year.
Peek claims no affiliation with the CFS, and says she is taking part in the campaign to “stop my student union from making the mistake of breaking ties with hundreds of thousands of students across the country and the only student organization that can speak effectively on post-secondary education.”
While the referendum’s validity is still in question, Peek said she feels the need to campaign in order to “make sure that students were aware of all of the benefits we receive through membership in the CFS, benefits which the CSU has chosen to hide from their members.”
Peek also claimed that the CSU “wants the referendum to end up in court,” which she said would result in an “astronomical amount of student money being wasted on legal fees by Amine Dabchy and his executive.”
A debate between the two slates was supposed to take place in the Hall building on Monday, but Peek backed out of the debate last minute, stating in a Facebook message that she had not recieved a guarantee from the “no” campaign that what she called “personal intimidation tactics” would not be used in the debate. “Rumours are even circulating that some especially aggressive CSU politicians are planning to attend in an effort to derail the discussion,” Peek wrote, adding that she felt average students would not even get to participate in the event.
Slates see eye-to-eye
Both Fusion and Community, the slates running in the current CSU election, have openly supported Concordia’s removal from the CFS. While the slates clearly disagree on other issues, Community presidential candidate Mike Xenakis said there is some solace to be found in their consensus on the CFS question.
“At least we know no matter what happens, the CFS will be out.”
While both slates participated in a “vote no” rally last week, Xenakis added that Community wasn’t even campaigning on the CFS question because they felt “it’s a no-brainer.”
Peek says the slate support for the “no” side was the result of a year-long campaign by the current CSU to spread misinformation about the CFS.
“When dissenting voices are silenced or drowned out it’s not surprising that candidates are afraid to take an opposing point of view.”
The CFS referendum question will be on the ballot during the official election period, beginning March 23 and ending on March 25.
This article has been corrected. It originally stated that Mathieu Murphy-Perron was currently a member of the CFS board of directors; he is actually a former member.