Carleton should keep the Canadian Federation of Students -

Carleton should keep the Canadian Federation of Students

It’s imperfect, but successfully fights oppression and tuition


CFS supporters protest in Toronto in 2012

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the best! By that I mean the CFS is the best thing students have on a national level. The CFS is the largest student association in Canada, representing more than 500,000 students in more than 80 colleges and universities.

The CFS isn’t perfect, but it more than deserves the membership fees our Carleton University Students’ Association currently provides. As students, it would be unwise to leave this nationwide organization, as could happen after a referendum that has been proposed. Here’s why I think we should remain united with the CFS.

After reading this argument, check out our piece from a student in favour of leaving the CFS.

In the early 1990s, the average undergraduate tuition in Canada was $1,464. In 2012, the average was $5,138. What’s my source? It’s an easy-to-read and informative publication from the CFS. Such accessible research and publications are one of the benefits of a dedicated national group.

More importantly, the CFS opposes rising tuition. And, yes, the CFS has actually slowed down the rise of tuition. There have been quite a few victories at the provincial level. In Newfoundland and Labrador, thanks to CFS lobbying, tuition has not risen since 1999. In fact, it has decreased. It was an average of $2,649 in the fall of 2011—the second lowest in Canada, after Quebec.

But what about Ontario, you might ask? Isn’t tuition there an average of $7,100 per year? There are many considerable examples of CFS efforts and successes in Ontario, but let’s just look at three of them. First, we got a freeze in tuition rates from 2004 to 2006. Second, there was $6.2-billion of new investment in post-secondary education under the McGuinty Liberal government. And finally, there was a successful campaign to stop the very same Liberal government from cutting post-secondary funding in response to the 2009 recession. Meanwhile, other programs got cut.

Despite what you may have heard about CFS and its “Drop Fees” campaigns, the CFS is actually pragmatic. The ideal goal is no tuition fees, but until then every dollar counts.

The CFS has also made student loans more accessible, student grants more available, and got more affordable public transportation for students. Read more about that here.

The CFS is not the Pope. It’s far from infallible. One of the biggest complaints levied at it is that, on occasion, it sues student unions. Sometimes it’s because an individual student union didn’t pay its fees, and other times it’s because the CFS doesn’t want the student union to leave its grasp. I see this as sometimes being a problem, as it wastes money that could better serve students.

But is the alternative any better? Back in 2007, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a much smaller national student group, sued the University of Manitoba Students’ Union and the Students’ Society of McGill University over unpaid fees. CFS nay-sayers often cite the unnecessary litigation as one of its biggest flaws, but almost nobody brings up that CASA has done the very same. What’s with the double-standard?

It’s also worth noting that the CFS is democratic. Each member student union has a vote.

Even if the CFS has done things that seem undemocratic, it has changed for the better in the past, and nothing stops it from changing now. The fact that CUSA skipped the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the Ontario branch of the CFS makes me even less sympathetic to them. Democracy is decided by those who show up. When you play hooky instead, your arguments are less valid.

Another complaint is that the CFS creates campaign material “unrelated to student issues.” I find this sentiment absurd. Let’s look at some of the campaigns they created: anti-sexism (including the anti-rape No Means No campaign), anti-homophobia/transphobia and anti-Islamophobia.

Sexual assaults still happen on campuses across Canada, so this is absolutely a student issue. Just in 2012, there was at least four reported cases of sexual assaults at Carleton University.

Homophobia absolutely still prevails. In a survey of 3,700 students between 2007 and 2009, 64 per cent of LGBTQ students said they felt unsafe at school at various points—-and worse, 21 per cent said they had been harassed or even physically assaulted.

Sames goes for Islamophobia. Every year there are incidents of anti-Muslim graffiti on campus.

How are these issues not relevant to students? They all are, in fact, and it’s more than reasonable for our national association to combat these problems.

In order to fight for student issues effectively, we need to do it together. If we want lower tuition, more accessible education and a more equitable learning environments, we need as much support as possible. The Canadian Federation of Students is the best apparatus we have at the moment. It has, by far, the most student associations and students behind it. As students, our ability to demand cheaper education and a better learning environment is elevated when we stand together.

The government can ignore one voice, but it can’t ignore half-a-million voices, and that is the purpose of the CFS. To fragment is to falter, and I’d rather we thrive.

Adam Carroll is a first-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.


Carleton should keep the Canadian Federation of Students

  1. The CFS has never succeeded at lowering tuition since its creation, but it has succeeded at increasing tuition by having overpaid executives of student unions

  2. Adam,

    You forgot to mention the CFS is very good at winning student elections on campus. The CFS operates on a ‘no-holds-barred’ policy. They make sure they win whether it’s by stuffing ballots, getting people disqualified after winning an election (refer to Bruce Kyerreh-Addo a la 2009 elections) and who knows. While David Valentin, CEO of RRRA this year is undoubtedly a supporter of our beloved CUSA PAPM Councillor and his team, the facts are simple. Rez-Solution was disqualified unfairly the first time and once they made it to the ballot and won, they were disqualified after the elections to allow the CFS team ‘United’ to win. *After* A New RRRA won.

    Continue on your journey young padawan Carroll and some day you may be as famous as your mentor, Mr. Arun Smith!

    • I think it’s telling that you hold the first disqualification valid while the second invalid and claim that as part of a CFS conspiracy.

      David Valentin was completely unbiased, and tried to run a fair election. That was overturned in favor of a new election, and the result has also been the same really, with the same team disqualified.

      Sorry, but I don’t see that as a CFS conspiracy.

  3. Two counter-arguments:

    1. There are around 3 legal cases involving CASA and at least 12 to 15 involving the CFS. Significantly, the CFS cases have also lasted much longer and cost much more. The only CASA case I am familiar with is McGill and they settled out of court by agreeing to pay half a year of CASA fees. You can only provide one other example. CASA has never point-blank tried to stop a school from leaving, they have sometimes disagreed about the disaffiliation period but the dispute has not been over more than a year’s fees. By contrast the CFS and member schools have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and gone to court multiple times, and they are still claiming annual fees reaching into the millions of dollars, from the 1990s to the present, from a whole slew of schools which long ago voted to disaffiliate, including the PEI Student Union, Cape Breton Student Association, Concordia Student Union, etc etc. Not to mention rigging the vote on CFS membership at the University of Regina by allowing students to vote who were not eligible under the CFS OWN bylaws.

    2. It costs the CFS significantly more to do everything than it costs CASA for the same expense items. The CFS is simply not efficient at controlling costs, because unlike CASA they can raise their fees without the consent of their member student unions, and without their student unions being able to leave (because the disaffiliation process has become nearly impossible.) The CFS also causes member locals to spend significant amounts of their own budgets on their silly campaigns and conferences (which cost more than CASA conferences because of the CFS’ penchant for bringing in over paid “celebrity” left wing speakers.) See the chart at the end of this analysis that I did in 2010:

  4. Hello David,

    I just want to address the first counter-point you draw. The CFS is a much larger organization – both in terms of membership, and institutional size (as you point out). In the post you link, you note that – around the time you posted it – the CFS had 80 student union members whereas CASA only has around 26. To translate, the CFS has nearly four times (4x) the student union members in contrast to CASA.

    As you also note, CASA has been in about three lawsuits with individual student unions. Let’s multiply three times four (3×4) and we get fifteen (=15). Again, CASA is about one fourth (1/4th) the size of the CFS and it makes sense that they would have about one fourth (1/4th) the amount of lawsuits. In other words, as CASA has about one fourth (1/4th) the membership its reasonable to expect it would have one fourth (1/4th) the amounnt of lawsuits – which it indeed does.

    The point I was trying to make by bringing up the CFS lawsuits is that they’re not at /all/ exceptional to the CFS. Proportionally speaking, the CFS is about on-par with CASA when it comes to this type of litigation! Also, it shows some hypocrisy.

    One last point I will make on this subject: CASA is newer than the CFS, and it has had less time to sue student unions. I think it’s fair to say that CASA – if given the time, money and size – would be even more similar to the CFS.

  5. This debate is quite on-topic and important. Great defense of the CFS and how it’s superior to the alternatives. OUSA (the much smaller Ontario association – affiliated with CASA) versus the CFS: