Is OUSA right for Queen’s?

Julia Mitchell
Julia Mitchell
Chris Horkins
Chris Horkins

Yes: ‘member-driven’ OUSA will serve our best interests, not CFS

By Julia Mitchell, ArtSci ’08

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is a coalition, co-founded by Queen’s, of 125,000 students from seven Ontario universities that lobbies the provincial government on student issues—tuition, financial aid and teaching quality, to name a few.

Some have presented the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) as an alternative to OUSA, but it’s not. Their fee is about $14.00 per year, whereas OUSA charges around $2.00. The CFS is designed to work with small student governments, such as graduate and college student governments, who require additional control from their external union and who don’t provide the vast array of services the AMS already provides. We don’t need the CFS to spoon-feed us.

The CFS and OUSA employ quite different strategies to effect change. The CFS uses shock tactics in order to attract media attention, often simplifying a complex issue into an easily communicable sound bite. Their tactics have lost them a great deal of credibility in the eyes of both voters and decision-makers. Their messages are about flashy taglines, not implementable ideas.

OUSA’s strategy places emphasis on in-depth research and credible policy alternatives. Using a more conciliatory approach, OUSA has a strong record of fostering constructive relationships with government officials, staff and bureaucrats. That being said, OUSA is not opposed to public demonstrations if its members choose to do so. In 2005, OUSA protested outside Queen’s Park due to concerns over the new tuition framework. With OUSA, if we want to do it, we can and we will.

Unlike the CFS, OUSA is entirely member-driven. It was at the request of its member schools that the 2005 protest took place. OUSA’s issues, research, policy and lobbying efforts are dictated by the students themselves. Conversely, the CFS employs a top-down approach. If the CFS adopts a stance, its members have no choice but to follow suit. In the recent Ontario election and referendum, the CFS endorsed the NDP, speaking for its membership without any prior consultation. It also has a history of taking advocacy positions on a wide range of controversial moral issues without consulting with its membership.

OUSA believes in member school autonomy. It doesn’t interfere with the internal affairs of its member schools. Though we are currently members of OUSA, Queen’s undergrads still have the right to be concurrent members of any other organization—which should be our right. CFS bylaws outlaw member schools from joining other organizations. In fact, these bylaws would supersede our own constitution, thus compromising our own autonomy. The reason we’re having this debate is because the OUSA fee is up for triennial review—a process that is unique to this university. If we were members of the CFS instead of OUSA, their bylaws would trump our triennial review process and render it meaningless. This level of control is unnecessary and unwelcome; we should be telling our lobby group what to do, not vice versa.

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Julia Mitchell is the AMS vice-president of university affairs.

No: Higher-profile CFS will ‘roll up their sleeves and fight’ for students

By Chris Horkins, ArtSci ’08

As a student body, we need collective action with other student unions to effectively lobby for the issues that affect us most. However, unlike what the proponents of the Ontario University Students Association (OUSA) may suggest, OUSA is not the only option. I would argue that there is a much better option for Queen’s students in becoming a member of the Canadian Federation of Students.

The old saying goes, “strength in numbers.” While OUSA only represents seven student unions, including Queen’s, across Ontario, the CFS represents more than 80 student unions (including Queen’s SGPS) comprised of more than half a million students across the entire country. The federation can offer us a much larger and more powerful lobbying body through which to advance our collective goals as students. Moreover, post-secondary education is an area spanning both provincial and federal jurisdiction, with most of the funding coming from the federal government and the administration being executed by the provinces. If Queen’s were to leave OUSA, they would be even less significant than they are today, representing only schools in the southwestern Ontario region.

But it’s not just about numbers or scope. The big difference between OUSA and the federation is a difference in style. OUSA and the CFS operate very differently. This may be why you’ve never heard of OUSA and, if you’re lucky, you may have heard of the CFS. AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell, who is Queen’s official representative to OUSA, expressed in the Journal recently that OUSA’s more low-key style of producing reports and delivering position papers to government officials was more in line with “values, tactics and methods we like to use,” stating, “it’s better than standing outside Queen’s Park with a sign.” I must respectfully disagree.

What OUSA does can hardly be considered lobbying. They have virtually no stance to speak of on tuition freezes or reductions that students sorely need in this country. OUSA’s lack of presence during the recent election raises the question: what are they doing with our $90,000? A simple Google search will reveal that the CFS issues far more press releases and the media barely even knows what OUSA is. If you read a newspaper back in February this year, you’ll have noticed that the CFS organized a national day of action against rising tuition fees. Thousands of students marched on Queen’s Park, Parliament Hill and campuses across Canada. It was front-page news. Unfortunately Feb. 7 passed by at Queen’s without anyone so much as blinking. Some students were lucky enough to get on a bus to Ottawa, organized by the SGPS, to join the fun there. But here in Kingston, maybe a position paper was written, but who knows? The point is we, the average, everyday students of this school, never heard about it.

Exploring the website of the OUSA I came across a telling quote by Paulo Freire listed as a “favourite” of an OUSA staffer:

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

The problem is, in the struggle between three powers—governments unwilling to adequately fund post-secondary education; universities controlled by boards of trustees, such as ours at Queen’s, dominated by bank executives with a vested interest in our rising debt; and us, the students who are forced to pay more and more—we are the powerless. And it’s the CFS that’s really willing to roll up their sleeves and fight for us.

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Chris Horkins is the president of the Queen’s New Democrats Association.

Correction

The Canadian Federation of Students does not have a bylaw outlawing membership in other organizations. It did not endorse the NDP in the last provincial election.
Incorrect information appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of the Journal. The Journal regrets the errors.

Editor's note

The original version of this article contained incorrect information. A correction will be published in the first print edition in September, 2008 of the Journal

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