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CFS opposes government economic update

Isn’t it the mandate of the CFS to lobby on behalf of students, not political parties?


 

At the CFS conference that was held this past weekend, the organization opposed the economic update presented by the government. Below is the text of the motion, that can also be found on La Rotunde’s Celine Basto’s blog.

Whereas the federal conservative government has tabled an economic update that ignores the need for investment in public infrastructures and furthers an ideological agenda through reckless tax cuts and wrongheaded limitation of union rights ; and

Whereas investment in accessible public post-secondary education is an important economic stimulus and a proactive measure for promoting economic stability in a knowledge-based society; and

Whereas in a minority parliament, opposition parties have the power to work together to oppose regressive policies and pass policies that reflect the priorities and interests of the majority of Canadians ; therefore

Be it resolved that the November federal economic update be strongly opposed ; and

Be it further resolved that the opposition parties be called upon to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure, including a dedicated provincial transfer for post-secondary education that promotes national standards in quality and affordability.

Normally, the CFS’ (or any lobby group for that matter) opposition or endorsement of government legislation would be rather mundane and routine. But the context surrounding this particular economic update is definitely not routine. The Liberals and NDP have been in widely reported talks aimed at toppling the Conservatives and installing a new coalition government over the update.

Is the endorsement of a new coalition government what is meant by calling on the opposition “to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure”? The phrasing is admittedly vague, but what else, given the context, could it mean?

The CFS is not simply calling for a specific action to be taken, as they do during election campaigns when they (appear) to lobby all parties to endorse particular policies. Here they are calling for specific action from specific political parties, the result of such action could be the installation of a new government. One wonders if the CFS has abandoned whatever veneer of non-partisanship they may have had.

One also wonders what regular students, those who fund the CFS, think of the organization offering an implicit endorsement of a change of government? Since when is that in the mandate students supposedly give the CFS when they vote to federate?

Is it not the mandate of the CFS to lobby on behalf of students, and not political parties? If the Tories survive the next few weeks, this makes it all that much more easy for the organization to be dismissed as an extension of the opposition.


 

CFS opposes government economic update

  1. While I would definitely agree that the CFS is partisan I wouldn’t fault them for commenting on an economic update. Any lobby group should be in the media anytime there is a budget or mini-budget which does not advance their cause. Just because the stakes are higher in this one does not mean they shouldn’t be responding. I don’t think their response will get a lot of attention (outside of spheres like this) or change anything, but this action alone doesn’t seem inappropriate.

  2. Oh, for crying out loud. LAME, Carson, lame. Spare us. Are your Conservative feelings hurt or something?

    Clearly, the CFS has not endorsed any political parties. Therefore, it is not being “partisan.”

    Rather, the CFS has rejected the GOVERNMENT’s (non-)plan for the economy and is endorsing the idea of a NEW government — i.e., one that has a (better) plan.

    That’s the same thing as an election context: “We don’t support these policies. We do support these ones.”

    The only difference is that the CFS is also saying, “And here’s how it can be done.” Is that partisan? No. It’s pragmatic. And smart.

    The CFS motion calls upon the opposition parties — all three of them — to implement a better plan.

    That’s called lobbying, not partisanship. And I, for one, am thankful.

    As a university student, and as a member of the CFS, I salute the hundreds of student leaders/representatives who took this stand.

    Speaking of veneers, you’re sounding a little weathered, yourself.

  3. Like you say Rick, they are “endorsing the idea of a NEW government.” They wouldn’t do that in an election, and I don’t see why you think it is appropriate in this context.

  4. So the CFS release doesn’t actually mention anything about a new government, just that the opposition be “called upon to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding”. The PSAC report actually endorses the forming of a new government and is thus easier to cast as partisan.

    Unless Rick is an official CFS spokesman (forgive me if he is), the CFS response is remarkably restrained for the organization.

  5. Ian, you are quite right. There is no explicit mention of a “new government,” just “working together.”

    And indeed, how could that be called “partisan”? What’s Carson’s rhetorical strategy, here? Mountains from mole-holes, as usual.

    Asking the opposition to “work together,” or supporting a coalition government, can only be understand as bi-/multi-partisan. And that sort of dilutes the very notion of being “partisan,” doesn’t it?

    Oh, wait, I get it. Being “partisan” is just another way of saying “opposing the Conservatives’ economic update.” And that’s a bad thing. Therefore, the CFS is “partisan.” Bad CFS.

    Thanks for clearing that up for everyone, Carson. You know, you shouldn’t even bother going to such great lengths. Really. So much typing and text. Every now and then, you should just post: “Bad CFS.” That’s always the conclusion, anyway, right? Save yourself from carpal tunnel syndrome! I worry about you, man.

    And no, I am not a spokesperson for/representative of the CFS.

  6. There are more decisive ways to be partisan, to be sure. Explicitly cheering for one political party over all others is the obvious example.

    But I don’t think Carson is wrong to suggest that this is an example of the CFS being partisan, even if the motion is restrained and supportive of more than one party.

    It implies that the current government should be opposed, encourages other parties to do the opposing, and supports them to that end:

    “Whereas in a minority parliament, opposition parties have the power to work together to oppose regressive policies and pass policies that reflect the priorities and interests of the majority of Canadians.”

    So the CFS is supporting specific political parties, if vaguely.

    If that can be described as partisan, though, than it would mean a lot more lobby groups, coalitions, and NGOs could be described in the same way. And they might disagree.

  7. Nick is right: rare are the people who are truly neutral and non-partisan, whether in politics, lobby groups, the media, or anywhere. Actually most of the well-known or influential actors (individuals or organisations) in the public scene are often seen as biased. Yet we all choose to draw the line somewhere, based on principled or pragmatical criteria. That’s certainly a tough debate to have even at an individual level (which I had with myself many times before writing journalistic articles), let alone at an organizational level, but that’s a debate worth having to at least establish some guidelines so that people can know just how “neutral” we are.

  8. Nick & Philippe: Yes. Obviously. “Partisan” can mean different things, and with varying strength.

    So let’s talk about Carson’s use of the word “partisan.” He’s doing it for rhetorical effect; he knows full well that “partisan” is a fuzzy word.

    What Carson really wants to say is that the CFS is pro-NDP/pro-Liberal, and that pro-Conservatives should therefore get angry and work against the CFS. That’s one kind of partisanship.

    Of course, that’s not what the CFS motion says at all. As Ian pointed out, the motion opposes the economic update (i.e., neither a government nor a party–but rather policies) and calls on opposition parties to “work together” to do the same.

    If one wants to be dishonest for rhetorical effect, then one could toss around the word “partisan” to describe what any reasonable person would call “advocacy” or “lobbying.”

    By Carson’s definition, what form of advocacy/lobbying wouldn’t be “partisan”?

  9. Rick wrote: “What Carson really wants to say is that the CFS is pro-NDP/pro-Liberal, and that pro-Conservatives should therefore get angry and work against the CFS. That’s one kind of partisanship.”

    The CFS often argues that it is non-partisan in its lobbying. For example the “Vote Education” campaign is described as being non-partisan. Assuredly Rick, you would agree that this means that the CFS is trying to argue that it is not intending to endorse a particular political party, but rather policies it believes to be in the interests of students.

    Given the context surrounding the opposition to the economic update, I find it difficult to believe that the CFS is not calling for, if implicitly, for a change of government. If I am correct in my assumptions that puts further strain on the CFS’s ability to claim non-partisanship.

    The question is important, because it questions what are the priorities of the CFS, the students they are mandated to represent, or political parties.

  10. Also worth nothing is that less than three months ago, Carson actually suggested that CFS was not critical enough of the conservatives:

    http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2008/08/25/solberg-unveils-changes-to-student-loan-repayment/

    “The CFS made four press releases all full of glowing praise for the Tory government with respect to the millenium fund, but no mention of the fact the government put no extra strings on the CSF as it had promised to do, and that the CFS had stated as a priority.

    It seemed, as I noted at the time, odd that they were quiet on this, but perhaps not so odd given their peculiar position on the new repayment scheme. So does the CFS know something the rest of us don’t know, or has some sort of weird alliance been struck with the Harper government? Or have I missed something?”

  11. Carson, the priorities of the CFS are set by its many dozens of member students’ unions, and by the many hundreds of delegates — i.e., student leaders/representatives — who participate in CFS general meetings every year.

    Those priorities relate to student, education, and related social justice issues. And those priorities are reflected in policy positions on a wide range of issues. In turn, the CFS follows its policies, and member students’ unions use them as a guide, to lobby.

    Maybe you missed Lobbying 101 in your political science education, but what that means is — quite often — the CFS will find itself opposing policies/initiatives/actions of REAL LIVE GOVERNMENTS. Again, you can call that being “partisan” — your rhetorically preferred descriptor — but most people call that lobbying/advocacy.

    As for the “context,” I’m guessing you are overly sensitive to it because you hate to see your cherished Harper Conservatives fall. But the fact of the matter is that effective lobbying happens when governments are vulnerable/weak. In other words, the CFS position is smartly strategic — not “partisan.”

    What we all know is that the Conservatives garnered only 38% of the votes — from a whopping 22% of eligible voters. On the other hand, 62% of voters — the majority — chose other parties. The opposition parties, as you are surely aware, are the majority in the House. This “context” makes the government vulnerable.

    When the iron is hot, lobby groups must strike. If the CFS didn’t strike, now, then when, Carson? Should the CFS wait until the government has a majority and operates like a dictatorship? Would that be a “context” in which lobbying would not be “partisan”?

    Seriously, you’re really grasping, here.

  12. I don’t think Carson’s grasping at straws here at all – I clearly see the line he’s drawing between representative lobbying and partisan politics. And while I don’t think endorsing a particular political party is wrong, an organization can’t claim they are non-partisan when they cross that line from advocating for a particular outcome or position, to advocating in favour of or in opposition to a particular party.

    Rick seems to think that partisan politics means overtly supporting a particular party – and so long as the CFS doesn’t do so overtly, they’re fine. But I’d counter that opposing a particular party – instead of a particular policy – is just as partisan.

  13. To re-cap, the motion reads:

    “Be it resolved that the November federal economic update be strongly opposed; and

    Be it further resolved that the opposition parties be called upon to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure, including a dedicated provincial transfer for post-secondary education that promotes national standards in quality and affordability.”

    There’s no mention here of opposing any particular party. It’s focused upon POLICY — of the GOVERNMENT.

    So, again, NOT PARTISAN.

  14. You know it’s funny, Rick. I have no problem with the CFS being partisan. I agree entirely that lobby organizations often are. But illogic bothers me. I can’t understand why you insist on arguing the sky is green whenever it suits, as though you think you need to dispute every point until you’re backed into a corner of absurdity. You’d do better if you just stood firm on logical ground and defended it.

    Of course the motion is partisan. If it was only about outcomes the motion would call on all parties “to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure….” By calling only on opposition parties it very clearly endorses a change of government. Implicitly, even if the Conservatives offered you everything you want, that apparently isn’t good enough because it isn’t from who you want it from.

    The thing is, I agree it’s entirely reasonable to give up on getting that from the Conservatives. I agree it’s more likely that hell will freeze over. The CFS is clearly asking for what it wants from a coalition because it knows the Conservative party isn’t onside. It’s calling for a change of government to hopefully get people in power who do support the CFS’s goals. To my mind that’s perfectly reasonable, and in fact one of the most sensible things the CFS does.

    The only thing I can’t understand is why you insist on denying that, even in the teeth of what’s right in front of you.

  15. Btw, if it helps to make my above comment less aggressive, I never really saw the point of Carson’s original piece. As I just stated, I’m perfectly fine with the CFS being partisan – as long as that partisanship is in some sense “for sale” to whatever party will best produce results that align with the goals of the CFS. Carson does have a good point at the end of his piece. Organizations that choose partisanship lose traction with other parties just as they gain traction with the parties they support. But I don’t think the student cause has any traction to lose with the Conservatives anyway, so who cares?

    I am sorry Carson. But I realized that by jumping in now and objecting to the original premise of your story I’m a bit late to the discussion. You’re always good enough to not comment immediately to my stories and say “so what?” so I would never do that to you either. =)

  16. I agree with Carson’s assessment because of the fact the CFS always states it does not favour one party over another.

    Further to that, the Conservatives did choose the CFS path of replacing the CMSF with the “new” grant program and there did seem to be a level of “cooperation” between the Conservative government and the CFS. (This may have been more of a function of Minister Solberg than the Conservatives)

    Solberg even spoke to the CFS during their meeting in May by videolink.

    We haven’t had time yet to see how Finley would act as Minister in her second tenure at HRSDC. Based on the experience of the last 18 months, I would say that the CFS appears to have traction with the Conservative government. (Appearance’s may be deceiving however, we don’t know what affect the lobbying of the CFS had in the CMSF/CSG decision.)

    The government has survived to introduce a budget and calls for budget submissions are underway. What happens to the CFS submission when it arrives in the PMO?

    The willingness of the CFS to come out so strongly in favour of the Coalition serves to confirm a belief held by some significant individuals that the CFS is too closely aligned with the NDP.

    (Interestly, I get a lot of criticism from Liberal and Conservative circles for my common use of quotes from the NDP leader and PSE critic – this is a function of them returning calls quickly.)

    What happens next remains to be seen, however, this hasty motion may come back to haunt the CFS in the near future.

    To the debate on if the CFS was within its rights to pass the motion. It was and the decision was made at a General Meeting, not by the national executive.

    I would not have passed the motion for the reason that it will make no difference in the outcome and only has potential to damage the lobbying power of the CFS.

  17. Hey Joey

    Yeah, I do see why the point was raised, and I know that partisanship within the CFS is a wider discussion. I also think the CFS is too closely linked to the NDP. But I feel that’s a problem when the CFS gets drawn into supporting the NDP’s wider agenda, which isn’t the case here. It’s perfectly fine for the CFS to back one party (NDP or otherwise) as the most likely vehicle to get what it wants. That backing has got to stop well short of picking up any party’s full platform, but again I don’t see a problem here.

    This is a motion of partisan support, yes, but on a key topic of great student concern. If it was partisan on a topic unrelated to the CFS’s key mandate I’d cry foul. Unions align with political parities that advance their agenda. I don’t see why the CFS should or would even want to behave differently. It’s a good idea because it works.

    If I were to be even more cynical I’d say that in this occasion, if there ever was one, the CFS should be cashing in all it’s political chips for the coalition. It’s the first time in living memory the CFS’s relationship with the Federal NDP might actually pay off in immediate terms. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, this isn’t a good occasion to hedge.

  18. Hey Jeff,

    Just a quick point.

    You wrote: “Unions align with political parities that advance their agenda. I don’t see why the CFS should or would even want to behave differently. It’s a good idea because it works.”

    I assume you are referring for their call for, “dedicated provincial transfer for post-secondary education that promotes national standards in quality and affordability”

    Two budgets ago the Tories said they would do this, presumably the following year. The CFS was aware that the Tories had promised to do it and released a press release prior to the last budget calling on the government to attach further strings to the Canada Social Transfer with respect to PSE. When the Tories did not do this, the CFS basically ignored it because the CMSF was ditched.

    I only raise this to show that on a key plank of the CFS’s stated policy goals, there was a Tory promise to do it. The Tories haven’t done it and are probably unlikely to, but the CFS hasn’t bothered to call them on it either.

    As for the coalition, as much as the NDP might be more likely to implement CFS policy, the NDP would have been a junior member of the coalition, and we all know how much the CFS has appreciated Liberal education policy. And how much they like Bob Rae.

    It becomes very muddy very quickly over which parties would be more likely to implement certain policies.

  19. “If I were to be even more cynical I’d say that in this occasion, if there ever was one, the CFS should be cashing in all it’s political chips for the coalition. It’s the first time in living memory the CFS’s relationship with the Federal NDP might actually pay off in immediate terms. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, this isn’t a good occasion to hedge.”

    I just wonder if this is true. I mean, it’s at least more true than ever before, given how close the NDP is to maybe becoming partners in government, but things are so volatile in Ottawa right now. Who knows?

    Joey brings up a great point. Budget consultations will come soon and they’ll be swift. I also wonder if this motion will have nay discernible effect on CFS-PMO relations.

    My bet: No.

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