Saturday, January 20, 2018

Motions to separate from national Canadian Federation of Students organization pass at Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia meeting

February 3, 2016 by Pascale Archibald, student editor

Three motions were passed during the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia (CFS-BC)’s 34th annual general meeting that indicate the beginnings of separation from the national Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) organization.

The relationship between BC member groups and the national CFS organization has been strained due to allegations of corruption in the national organization as well as issues surrounding communication, transparency, and services delivered from the national organization, which have been covered in previous Nexus stories.

“Three motions of consequence were passed,” says Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) executive director Michel Turcotte about the CFS-BC meeting, which was held from January 14 to 17. “One to change the name to BC Federation of Students; another motion to end the duality of membership [so Camosun students would not be required to be members of both national and provincial organizations, as they are now]; and the third motion that was passed actually related to developing a strategy to separate the organizations.”

The strategy of how to separate was not decided on but will be discussed at the next executive committee meeting, which CFS-BC, which is a separate legal entity from CFS, hopes to hold by March.

The agenda for the recent Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia annual general meeting (photo by Greg Pratt/Nexus).

The agenda for the recent Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia annual general meeting (photo by Greg Pratt/Nexus).

“If you follow the bylaws of the organizations, the only way to get out of the Canadian Federation of Students is to have a referendum, and there can only be two referendums a year,” says Turcotte. “The unusual thing in our case is that it is not very common to have a whole component who wishes to leave.” (In the past, individual schools have fought to leave the CFS; this time, it’s an entire province.)

A referendum would take a very long time as an exit strategy, according to CCSS external executive Andrea Eggenberger.

“There are 14 schools in BC that are federated [with the national CFS organization]; generally, if you are going to leave the federation, you would file a special referendum,” says Eggenberger. “Only two can leave at a time per [CFS national] meeting, but we have 14 schools, so that would leave some schools waiting for seven years.”

Turcotte says that BC members attempted to mend relations with CFS during the summer, but says that the letter that was sent was not responded to. (CFS did not return our request to comment on this by deadline.)

“In August, there was a motion outlining the grievances that CFS-BC had with CFS national,” says Turcotte. “A letter was sent out, outlining those grievances and, essentially, requirements for BC’s full participation in the Canadian Federation of Students, and that was not responded to.”

CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte declined a phone interview to discuss specific details but did provide Nexus with a statement via email.

“Students at member locals in British Columbia continue to be members of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services),” says Arte, “and the national organization remains committed to serving its members through effective campaigns, services, and lobbying efforts. Our movement relies on democratic principles of decision-making, from referendums on membership in the federation to the floor of national meetings. This spirit of member-driven decision-making and our governing documents remains a standard that we expect to be respected by organizers in British Columbia.

“I look forward to Camosun students expressing their voice through national campaigns and lobbying efforts to reduce tuition fees,” Arte continues, adding that students can attend an upcoming CFS Indigenous student experience summit to “see how they can continue to benefit from and contribute to Canada’s student movement.”

CFS-BC chairperson Simka Marshall attributes the divide between the organizations to a difference in focus. (Marshall clarifies that the organization is still operating under the CFS-BC name but are in the process of changing it.)

“I think the discussions that we are having seem to be pretty clear to members here that both organizations are kind of going in different directions and with different priorities,” says Marshall. “So folks in BC felt that this was just the next step of action to take to ensure we keep doing the positive campaign work here in BC.”

CFS-BC also claims that they pay fees to CFS for services that are no longer used, such as the national help line for students, the handbook project, the bulk-buying consortium, and web services.

“Most locals in British Columbia have moved away from the national service model,” says Turcotte. “In addition, locals in British Columbia haven’t been part of any national campaign or anything of that nature since this conflict began in October of 2014. So I wouldn’t say we are getting any national support.”

There’s also concern that CFS hasn’t been consistent in their financial transparency, says Eggenberger.

“All these financial documents and state balances are supposed to be available to provincial representatives so that they can disseminate that information to any locals who are curious,” says Eggenberger. “But there hasn’t been proper communication, so requests from the BC representative for information are met with delayed responses or just no response at all. This has been going on for almost a year.” (CFS did not return our request to comment on this before deadline.)

Turcotte says that the student fees for one provincial organization would remain as they are now for membership in both provincial and national organizations.

“The idea of the motion is to essentially transition people into only having that single British Columbia fee, which would be the amount that local members currently pay for both parts of the CFS,” says Turcotte. “That would probably enlarge the infrastructure of the BC organization because you’d have more financial resources and you’d be taking over some of those functions currently done by national.”

Marshall admits it will be a lot of work but says the provincial organization hopes to improve on services they already provide students.

“We will be able to really focus our campaign work for BC students and continue providing high-quality services to students here as well,” she says.

Eggenberger says that the most important thing students in this country have is solidarity.

“All we have is our numbers, which is our power,” says Eggenberger. “We have a strength in numbers, and standing together we make a very loud voice; that is a very powerful thing that can effect change in the country. But if we let small disagreements divide us, the CFS crumbles as an organization. That’s what we’ve been seeing; that’s what we’ve experienced. There have been attempts to heal this breach, but nothing has been fixed at this point so we are looking at separation.”

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One Response to “Motions to separate from national Canadian Federation of Students organization pass at Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia meeting”
  1. k says:

    This is just a money grab by the old CFS-BC guard who were loyal to Lucy Watson.

    Turcotte is not even a student, why is he commenting and leading all of this. That should tell you everything about how screwed up the CFS-BC is.

    Camosun should follow UVic’s lead and turf both.

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