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Grad students vote overwhelmingly to leave CFS

Legal dispute over membership dues to continue into 2017

Updated January 19, 2015 with comments from the PGSS External Affairs Officer.

Members of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) voted to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) on January 16 after a disaffiliation referendum five years in the making.

Over 2,000 graduate students cast ballots, more than doubling the 10 per cent turnout required for quorum, with 2014 students voting “no” to continued membership and 56 voting “yes.” The vote must now be ratified at a general meeting of CFS member unions, as mandated by CFS bylaws, after which PGSS will be officially decertified from CFS starting June 30.

“We understand that our members have a lot of work on their plate and often don’t have a lot of time to devote to student politics. We were therefore extremely happy to see that they genuinely cared,” wrote PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet in an email to The Daily.

In 2010, PGSS held a disaffiliation referendum, in which 86 per cent of members voted “no”; however, CFS did not recognize the results of the referendum. This prompted PGSS to sue CFS, asking that the federation acknowledge the validity of the referendum.

This year’s referendum was ordered by the Quebec Superior Court last September after PGSS Internal Affairs Officer Gesa successfully sued CFS for the right to hold a disaffiliation referendum. Gesa filed his case after CFS failed to acknowledge a petition, submitted earlier in 2014 with over 20 per cent of PGSS member signatures, requesting that CFS permit PGSS to hold a disaffiliation referendum.

According to CFS bylaws, PGSS had to pay all its outstanding membership dues to hold the referendum, which amount to over $300,000 since 2010. Thus, despite the result of the vote, the case over the 2010 vote is still ongoing, as PGSS seeks to recover the fees for the period since the last referendum.

Jonathan Mooney, chair of the “no” committee and former PGSS Secretary-General, told The Daily in an email, “Now the case about the 2010 vote is mainly just about the question of these dues.”

A court hearing is expected for 2017.

Asked about potential alternatives to CFS for representation at the national level, Ouellet said, “It might be worthwhile to create a formal research [study] on the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations to weigh the pros and cons of affiliating with them.”

In an email to The Daily, CFS National Chairperson Jessica McCormick commented on the results. “The Federation respects the right of individual members to vote on the question of continued membership through the democratic processes set out in the Bylaws. The outcome of the vote will be put before the voting member local students’ unions at the next national general meeting pursuant to the Bylaws.”