Seven student unions across the country have collaborated to submit an extensive reform proposal to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which will be tabled at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in late November.
The document – written by executives from McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), the Concordia Student Union (CSU), the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, the University of Regina Student’s Union, the Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Calgary, and the Alberta College of Art and Design Students’ Association – consists of 43 separate motions. The Kwantlen Student Association helped write and endorsed 26 of the motions.
A list of grievances is also included on the first page of the omnibus motion, moved by PGSS, which explains the logic of the motion: the authors accuse the CFS of being tyrannical, anti-democratic, litigious, overly corporate and bureaucratic, and run by “out-of-touch ex-student politicos.”
Though PGSS has submitted a petition to defederate from CFS, PGSS VP External Ladan Mahabadi still felt taking part in the reform package was necessary.
“Defederation is an open dialogue about the issues and our continued membership. This package is to serve as a memo to CFS executive and members to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing, regardless of defederation,” said Mahabadi. “The idea behind it is to be as constructive as possible – just to let [CFS] know the reasons we are not satisfied. The reform package does a fantastic job.”
The reform proposal itself is divided into four sections: motions addressing accountability and transparency, structural reform, the membership of specific student unions, and the impeachment of two CFS and CFS-Services executives. Specific motions include calls for CFS executive salary disclosure, a conflict of interest policy, individual fee opt-out, and opening all CFS meetings to the press, which are currently restricted.
CFS-Quebec (CFS-Q) branch also provided assistance drafting the proposal after it was mandated by members to help with the process.
“Officially the CFS-Q did endorse the proposal in its entirety…because of the current state of affairs. It isn’t a positive one, and it could be better,” said CFS-Q President Greg Johannson. “I think generally our relations [with the CFS] are perceived as an ‘us versus them’ dynamic, whereas the reality is that we’re all just trying to work together to make the organization better for its members.”
CSU VP External Auob Muntasar said Concordia undergraduates have had problems with the CFS in the past, notably the interference of CFS executives in CSU elections. Muntasar also mentioned a perception that CFS lobbying campaigns were too weak and felt some of the reforms could rectify these problems.
“The fact that it’s an omnibus is a lot to handle, but a lot of motions are dependent on each other. One small thing is not going to push the CFS in the right direction,” Muntasar said.
Some of the motions call for CFS to cease its litigations with certain student unions like the Simon Fraser Student Society. Others demand that CFS recognize the right of student unions – like the Dalhousie Graduate Student Association and the University of Prince Edward Island Students’ Association – to defederate from CFS in accordance with student referendums.
In response to the reform proposal, CFS National Chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard has issued a letter to CFS members, criticizing aspects of the reform proposal that was distributed en masse by email.
“Contained within these motions is a series of false and malicious claims about our Federation….While the National Executive of the Canadian Federation of Students welcomes debate, I felt it necessary to respond to this attempt to undermine the ability of the Federation,” Giroux-Bougard wrote, later referring to the reform proposal as an “internal matter.”
Her letter singled out the the PGSS for having led the initiative to bring the proposal to the CFS AGM.
“The package is a thinly veiled attempt, by a member, to undermine the progressive work that the Federation undertakes, through a campaign aimed at discrediting the elected national leadership, humiliating the unionized staff, and undermining the organisation and its work.”
The proposal elicited a similar reaction from the Vancouver Island University Student Union (VIUSU). In a mass email to the recipients of an intitial email written by the PGSS to distribute the proposal, VIUSU’s executive criticized Mahabadi and the PGSS for emailing “a very select group of member local unions, non-member students’ unions, and other organisations.”
“It is…disingenuous to claim that you wish the best for this organisation while presenting a series of untruths as fact, attacking our elected leadership and unionised staff, and generally undermining the organisation as a whole by sending this ‘package’ to various administrators – the very people we lobby and work with every day in an effort to improve the lives of our members,” the VIUSU executive wrote. “Our idea of ‘reform’ includes a process that is based on respectful, honest dialogue and debate. Perhaps the ‘reform’ needed in the student movement is a mechanism to prevent ideologically motivated ad hominem attacks wasting students’ time and resources,” the email stated.