The Jury is Still Out

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) at the end of November became a forum for heated debate, following the release of a controversial reform package.

The Post-Graduate Society of McGill collaborated with the Kwantlen Student's Association, the Alberta College of Art and Design Students' Association, Graduate Students' Association (GSA) of the University of Calgary, University of Regina Students Union, the Concordia Students Union, and Graduate Students Association (GSA) of Concordia University to release this document,
which suggests forty-three motions they want the CFS to consider for reform.

It proposes motions telling the CFS to increase the transparency of the organization and maintain more accountability to its members, as well as several structural reforms related to creating a separate judicial board for the CFS and preventing conflicts of interest.

Erik Chevrier, Vice-President External of the GSA of Concordia, helped write the reform package.

He said one of the specific motions from the package he wanted passed, 
"[was] to separate the Board of Directors of the CFS and the CFS-Services."

"They share the same Board of Directors, which are the national executive," Chevrier said, "We felt that this should be a conflict of interest to have ... this board of directors for a service corporation that is for a group that is starting
to look at putting in anti-commercialization campaigns, and services are commercial ventures."

The CFS-Services branch
is a legally separate entity from the CFS, although still connected
as they use the same bylaws and have the same Board of Directors. CFS-Services
deals specifically with the services the CFS provides, like Travel CUTS,
the International Student Identity Card, and the Studentsaver Discount

Chevrier cites himself and Adrian Kaats, VP external for the Post-Graduate Student's Society of McGill University, as contributing influences in the call for CFS reform.
They have been involved with the organization for the past two years.

"It's coming out now because ... [we] have challenged these ideas, and did so formally when a lot of people kept quiet about it just because they didn't want to disrupt what they considered a student movement [to be]," says Chevrier. "We found it very problematic that this is taking place and we want to sort of stray from the student movement by putting in these reforms and trying to change the organization for the better."

Groups of students from different student societies across Canada have been circulating petitions asking their student bodies if they want to leave the CFS. We made efforts to contact the schools, to find out why there were thirteen schools looking to leave the CFS now.

In many situations, however, the student societies at the aforementioned schools are not officially trying to defederate from the CFS - a fact that wasn't always portrayed in previous media coverage.

"To assume that anyone who's signing a petition to the national executive ... is doing it solely because they would like to leave or because they would like to stay is a little presumptuous," said David Molenhuis, the National
Treasurer for the CFS. "So rather than seeing this as a defederation
movement, it looks to me more like there are students on some campuses
who would like to petition the national executive to hold a referendum
on continued membership."

Gavin Armstrong, Communications Commissioner for the Central Students’ Association (CSA) at Guelph University, clarified the situation at his school: "The CSA is actually not the group that filed for de-federation. It was organic, from a group of students."

He went on to say that the CSA understands that a large number of students signed the petition on continued membership.

"To respect the views of all students here at Guelph," Armstrong said, "we are going to facilitate the process in a fair, open, and safe way."

Although there are thirteen schools listed as looking to leave the Federation, some students' unions are hesitant to acknowledge the discontent existing within their student body.

Rick Telfer, president of the Society of Graduate Students at the University of Ontario (SOGS), stated that Western's student union "is not seeking to defederate. We have been proud and active members of the Federation since 1987."

However, he added in additional correspondence that "my understanding is that a small group of students within our students' union is seeking to defederate. I do not know who they are, and I have not seen their petition. Likewise, neither the SOGS Executive nor the SOGS Council has seen their petition."

Armstrong mentioned that the executives he spoke to, who were in attendance at the AGM, said there were "student groups on both sides of the debate who were very heated, and it seemed this took away from the purpose of the AGM."

Chevrier added: "I just think people were probably told ... false stories, a lot of people believe stuff that's not true. For example, they perceive the reform package coming from a right-wing conspiracy, which is not the case whatsoever."

"It seems that everybody was kind of lobbied beforehand so most of the people seemed to already have their minds made up no matter what was said at the AGM. And I think that's a little bit problematic."

There was additional controversy over the press representation at the AGM. Emma Godmere, Editor-in-Chief of the Fulcrum and Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Canadian University Press (CUP), was the only journalist with media credentials present at the meeting.

"Because of general regional and economic posterity between newspapers ... we felt that ... having a reporter at the meeting is important, but that reporter [should] speak on behalf of a number of associations, that that reporter [should] be a representative of the body ... that represents students across the country."

Molenhuis said that a single observer was superior to a small group representing various views, representing the "student body of only those newspapers that are closest to the meeting place," said Molenhuis. Once more, only two journalist applications were received by the CFS for coverage, and so the CFS approved the CUP application.

Ben West, past CSU Chair, CFS rep and Green Party candidate, presently with the Wilderness Committee, said that defederating from the CFS is actually a fairly daunting task, comparing their structure to that of a large, multinational corporation.
"There is no such thing as defederating," he stated.

He believes that overall, the CFS is of great use to students due to its values and powerful lobby and services, such as some of the packaged health programs it offers.

Still, he mentions that these services tend to "be more useful for small, rural student societies," rather than massive urban institutions like McGill
and UBC. The CFS can provide a complete package of support options to
a small school that might otherwise be unattainable with their limited
funding, if they embrace their style. Alternately, a larger institution
may find the services too limited to service their students' interests.

West believes the CFS has amazing potential, but is not surprised at news of reform and defederation.

"That was a really positive experience for me," said Molenhuis. "[It] reinforces the need for unity within the student movement in Canada, that we're far more effective as one united national student organization."

"There are a number of benefits [of retaining membership in the CFS], but very simply it is because of the feeling that in Canada ... we're far more effective as one united student movement ...  even the largest students"
union, acting on its own, can only accomplish so much in the way of
lobbying, research, services and campaign," said Molenhuis.

//Samantha Thompson

Assistant News Editor

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