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CFS budget published but questions remain

Students rebuffed in request for details on wages, lawsuits


 

A CFS rally in Ottawa (handout)

Students got a rare peek this week at how the Canadian Federation of Students’ national organization spends their money after blogger Brandon Clim published the organization’s 2014 budget and audited financial statements.

However, the juicy details many have wondered about—how much individual staff members earn and how much is spent on lawsuits with local student unions—still haven’t been made public.

In fact, members of CFS’s own budget committee, at last week’s Annual General Meeting in Ottawa, say they were rebuffed in attempts to learn more.

And although the financial documents are now online, outgoing treasurer Michael Olson says they won’t show up on the CFS’s own website anytime soon, because members have rejected that idea.

Arzo Ansary, a student representative from Kwantlen University, is one of the students who pushed for more details on staff and legal costs. During a meeting on June 1st, her motion to compel the treasurer to create a spreadsheet of what staff members were paid (without names attached) failed.

Wages fall under several sections of the $3.4-million budget funded mostly by fees tacked onto tuition bills at campuses where students have opted join the national lobby group. Aside from the elected chairperson, deputy chairperson and treasurer (who are paid $43,995 plus benefits) there is no place in the budget that shows what individual employees earn, or even exactly how many employees there are. Ansary says she was told only that there are 30 to 35 employees.

After the meeting, Olson provided some further details. For example, in the budget section for Administration and Office, wages added up to $190,696 for 10 months year-to-date; $50,696 more than was budgeted for the entire year. On top of that, $29,134 listed was listed as “employer costs and benefits” over 10 months. He says that covers four full-time-equivalent employees.

Although the budget was overspent for that item, the numbers suggest wages that are in line with the median hourly wage for “administrative officers” in Ottawa—$25.13 according to federal statistics. Still, there is no way for Ansary to know whether some employees were paid more or less.

Ansary was also disheartened by the failure of a motion asking for a list of current litigation expenses. Olson, the treasurer, says “it’s not the mandate of the budget committee to review.”

An attempt to reduce the “legal” line item in the budget from $120,000 to $60,000, in light of the fact that only $40,352 was spent in the first 10 months of fiscal 2013, also failed. It’s notable that CFS did not spend a large percentage of its budget on lawyers’ fees in the first 10 months of fiscal 2013, despite involvement in recent years in multiple legal disputes, such as the case at the University of Guelph, where the CFS has not recognized a student referendum to leave the organization.

Brad Evoy, a veteran of the student movement and a commissioner of the Graduate Students’ Union at the University of Toronto, agrees that students should have budget transparency, but wasn’t surprised it was rejected. “These are the same questions that someone in the room asks every AGM,” he says.

Evoy faced defeat in his own attempt to reform the organization. He put forward a motion to bring the number student signatures required on a petition to initiate a referendum to exit the organization back down to 10 per cent of the student body after it was raised to 20 per cent.

Because he feels reform is unlikely, he quit his post as Ontario Students with Disabilities Constituency Commissioner.

The other big news was that Jane Lytvynekno, Ottawa Bureau Chief of the Canadian University Press and a Maclean’s On Campus contributor, was not allowed to attend the closing plenary meeting. The CFS only allows one journalist from the student newspaper wire service to attend each AGM and the person to whom they offered credentials called in sick on the day of the meeting.

According to Olson, Lytvynenko wasn’t allowed to replace him because “there’s a media protocol that she agreed to [while covering the last Annual General Meeting in November] and she signed and a lot of her actions were flagrant violations of that protocol.” When asked for a details of that protocol or how Lytvynenko violated the policy, Olson said he would not elaborate.

Lytvynenko wrote a commentary for On Campus criticizing the CFS after the last AGM.


 

CFS budget published but questions remain

  1. If you get a full copy of the budget with schedules, you can add up all the wages and salaries in the different categories and get a total figure. I did that in 2009 when my student union was still part of the CFS. The figure I got was I think around $448,499.

    http://eyeontheuvss.blogspot.ca/2010/06/budgeting-for-student-movement.html

    You have to do some digging in the financial statements to find all the wage/salary lines.

    One thing to bear in mind when comparing with other salaries is that most CFS staff are poorly qualified. Often they don’t even have bachelors’ degrees because they never finished school, focused on student politics and not classes, or their grades were too poor to graduate.

  2. just wanted to clarify a couple of things since I was at this meeting.

    Firstly, when asked how much employees get payed, the committee co-chair clarified (more than 3 times) that employees get payed a standard wage rate of 29$/hr (about 55000$/year). Some cttee members wanted to know the total amount spent on salary. Co-chairs specified that the salaries are split up in different schedules of the budget (and clearly identified) because this is what members at previous budget cttee’s had requested and adopted. Other members of the cttee quickly added up the amounts and shared the info with everyone.

    Second: The Federation clarified exactly how much it spent on legal cases and litigation in their 10 month YTD budget (approx 40000 of 120000). Some members of the cttee wanted to know exactly how much was spent on exact legal cases. Co-chairs answered that they did not have this information available and that this was not standard practice.

    When asked for a list of current litigation expenses: treasurer Olson answered that it is not the mandate of the budget committee to review exact costs of specific legal cases (he clarified that this would be like asking for a list of phone calls made when adopting the communications line) but that it is their mandate to adopt a total amount of money to be spent on litigation.

    In my honest opinion, members are attacking this from the wrong angle. Like it or not, these legal cases are happening and there’s nothing we can do until they are settled and we truly know who is at fault. We should not be asking how much is spent on specific legal cases, but asking why CFS is involved in these legal cases in the first place and how we can avoid getting into more legal disputes, so we can better address these problems and be able to redirect money towards things that will better benefit members of the CFS.

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