Commentary | Vote no – just no – only no

* In the original editorial, The Daily suggested that Steven Rosenhein was a CFS employee, and that allegations of extortion surrounding him were a matter of fact. However, Rosenhein was not a CFS employee and he has challenged the allegations in court. They remain unproven. The Daily regrets the errors. Correction appended 03/04/2014

This week, the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) will hold a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) after 17 years being a part of the organization. Every year, PGSS shells out $68,000 to CFS.

Students should vote no to CFS. PGSS should defederate.

CFS is Canada’s largest student lobby group. In the past it has taken progressive stances – supporting a variety of issues, from organizing “days of action” for tuition freezes to fighting for aboriginal students’ access to postsecondary education. CFS has also provincial branches to provide support to student unions in less populous provinces so that they can organize strikes and protests.

In the past few years, CFS has become an organization that seems to be more committed to its own prosperity than fighting for student rights. As it has moved from student advocacy to seeking profit, CFS has become increasingly opaque. Their refusal to open their annual general meeting to more than one hand-picked member of the press and their rejection of a motion offered by PGSS to allow more reporters demonstrate their lack of transparency.

Meanwhile, as the provincial government has begun to tax post-docs, CFS has done nothing to advocate for grad students at McGill. According to PGSS president Daniel Simeone, the recent CFS Education Action Plan argues for taxing scholarships and fellowship income – a stance that directly harms McGill students’ interests.

The national office of CFS spends less than a tenth of their annual budget lobbying, while their legal budget has crept up to roughly the same as its lobbying budget. Its own members often find themselves in legal difficulties with CFS: student societies at Simon Fraser, Concordia, the University of Regina, the University of Calgary, Guelph, Kwantlen College, McGill, and Cape Breton University have all tangled with CFS’s lawyers.

Many of PGSS’s aims do not necessarily require membership in a national lobby group and can be well served by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, which PGSS joined in September. Tuition caps and post-grad access to grants and loans are all provincial issues and are lobbied with the provincial government.

The federation has begun to focus increasingly on selling merchandise like day planners and discount cards through its CFS-Services branch and TravelCUTS, in which it owns a majority stake. Rather than providing the Canadian student movement with a powerful voice in Ottawa, CFS has co-opted admirable political goals like accessible education into a brand to sell products and make money.

As a lobby group, CFS has a track record of ineptitude and harmfulness across the country and especially in Quebec.

Last year, the CFS deputy chairperson Noah Stewart-Ornstein was caught on security tape at Concordia ripping down election posters for candidates on an anti-CFS slate. Also, at the University of Toronto, CFS’s staff was accused of interference in multiple student elections last year.

CFS has also recently made it more difficult to defederate – by retroactively applying bylaws that raise quorum and change the dates of referenda. This year, the national organization rendered CFS-Quebec all but defunct when it refused to recognize its elected board. This fall, infighting between CFS national and CFS-Quebec led to paralysis during protests against proposed provincial bills on university governance. While the protests were happening, CFS-Quebec’s three executives, fed up with CFS, were leading the defederation campaigns at McGill and Concordia.

Maintaining a unified national student movement is one of the principal arguments for remaining in CFS, and while this would certainly be valuable, CFS is in no way fulfilling this role. We need a student movement that can actively advocate for students at the federal level and coordinate lobbying across provinces, not simply stamp its logo on any merchandise it can get its hands on.

Vote starting Monday, March 29 at ovs.pgss.mcgill.ca.


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