Schools fed up with federal lobby group

AMS should join Canadian Federation of Students, SGPS says

Students at 13 schools across Canada have started petitions to discuss discontinuing membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The CFS, which represents more than 80 post-secondary student unions, lobbies provincially and federally on a variety of issues including tuition freezes and cuts, increasing student turnout in elections and Aboriginal and graduate student issues.

Queen’s Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is a member of the CFS. The AMS is part of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), a provincial lobby group, and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), for federal lobbying.

The CFS has an ongoing legal dispute with Simon Fraser University Students’ Society over their attempt to leave the organization.

“They actually engaged in litigation against the federation with respect to an internal plebiscite they had held in contravention to the federation’s bylaws,” CFS National Treasurer Dave Molenhuis said.

According to CFS policy, students at an institution must circulate a petition if they want to change their affiliation with the organization. If the petitions reach a 10 per cent quorum, the CFS has three months to acknowledge its legitimacy and another 60 to 90 days to set a referendum date.

The referendum needs to achieve a majority to either stay in or leave the CFS.

The University of Prince Edward Island Student Union is also in court with the CFS, Molenhuis said.

Both student societies said they couldn’t comment because the cases are under review.

Molenhuis said he’s heard one reason some student unions are reconsidering their membership in the group is because tuition fees have increased in the past decade and the CFS hasn’t been able to prevent it.

He said he thinks the CFS unites the student movement, which makes it more successful in campaigning and lobbying efforts.

“What I can guarantee is that if we aren’t working together, we’ll be defeated,” he said.

He said member schools in Newfoundland and Labrador successfully petitioned for the provincial government to freeze tuition more than four years ago.

“They’re able to put that much more pressure on the government with one united voice.”

Molenhuis said he’s heard a rumour the CFS doesn’t give its members full autonomy.

“It’s one that’s patently false,” he said. “Every member local is autonomous.”

SGPS Vice-President (Campaigns and Community Affairs) Steve Osterberg said he thinks the CFS’s priorities of equity, access to education and sustainability are a good fit for Queen’s.

“Ideologically we feel that they represent the desires of the graduate students of Queen’s and they’re the best choice,” he said.

Osterberg said he thinks the AMS should consider membership with the organization.

“Based on what I’ve read … the CFS stands for what the AMS membership stands for,” he said, adding that the SGPS invited the AMS to the CFS’s annual general meeting in late November.

The AMS may not send a representative to the meeting, AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Adam Zabrodski said.

“I don’t think we have the resources to be part of more than one external affiliation,” he said, adding that the AMS has one year left as a member of OUSA before its affiliation with the provincial lobby has to be renewed in a referendum.

“The conversation could be opened at a more appropriate time.”

Zabrodski said the AMS is a large organization that runs similar services to what the CFS offers. For example, the CFS has a health and dental plan and hands out agendas.

“We’re capable of running most of those services ourselves.”

Zabrodski said he thinks the AMS and the SGPS could benefit from partnering on issues but he doesn’t think they need to join the same lobby organizations.

The SGPS’s membership generally has more reason to lobby for better childcare options than undergraduate students do, he said.

“We would all benefit by having a larger voice, but we would have more difficulty in finding a unified front on certain issues.”

—With files from Rachel Kuper

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