Equal campaign spending

Why would you want a fair referendum that you might lose?


The Canadian Federation of Students has voted down another attempt to reform the CFS that would have been a push in right direction, and encouraged the federation to be the fair democratic grassroots organization it claims to be.

The motion, voted on at the group’s semi-annual general meeting, would have imposed the same spending limit on the CFS side as is imposed on the non-CFS side of a membership referendum.

Here’s a quote from the new York Federation of Students president on page 5 of The Fulcrum’s summer edition:

“As far as we’re concerned, in any referendum situation the No side
has an [inherent] advantage because they can break the rules as much as they want without any type of consequence,” said York Federation of Students President Krisna Saravanamuttu, who voted against the motion.

I have a question for Saravanamuttu: Why is this justification for not creating a rule to create fairness between opposing sides in a referendum? If the problem is that the rule isn’t being followed, does this mean we should not have rules in the first place?

Kudos to the graduate students at Concordia for voting in favour of the motion. The CFS has great potential in theory but has sold its soul in favour of power and money, but thankfully, there are some left that still see what could be.


Equal campaign spending

  1. I was glad to see one member local vote in favour and a few others abstain.

    Unfortunately I was up against my delegation in choosing to vote in favour; however, the rest of the delegation respected that we were mandated to present the motion by abstaining.

    Below I am pasting the speech I gave in motivation for the motion.

    I will never forget the looks of disgust when I dared to mention that CFS needs to recognize that most of the students whom they represent are either against them or don’t even care about them.

    “Although this motion is brought to plenary by our local, our delegation is divided on this motion just as our campus was and remains divided on CFS membership. Our delegation is comprised of one of the two official representatives from the YES committee, six volunteers from the YES committee, two students who were not actively involved in both committee and me, one of the two official representatives from thee NO committee.

    Yes, the referendum passed, but we need to recognize how narrow the victory was at only 51.8%. We need to reach out to the 47.2% of students on our campus that voted against joining the CFS. In order to avoid a referendum to disaffiliate we must recognize their concerns and ensure that the CFS works for everyone and not just those that voted in favour.

    Our locals and the students we represent are all members of the CFS but we cannot forget that a fair amount of our students do not want to be members or simply do not care. We cannot move forward and function believing that all of our student are happy with the CFS. We cannot ignore the concerns of the others.
    Prior to our November 2008 referendum, our board compiled a list of recommendations to our Referendum Oversight Committee in order to make the rules fairer. Our Oversight Committee adopted many of them and after our referendum, our board then mandated our local delegation to present the recommendations that worked on our campus – this one worked so here we are.

    From what I have heard as part of this debate on this issue over the past few days leads me to believe that the purpose of a referendum seems to have been misconstrued. What a referendum on affiliation with the CFS should seek to do is create a fair means of joining or leaving the Federation. Yes it is the CFS’ desire to gain new and retain membership but that desire should not taint the referendum process. During a referendum it should be the responsibility of the YES committee to gain new or retain membership and not the referendum process itself. We cannot have a process that privileges joining and retaining members, but we do. For example, whether it is a referendum to gain or retain membership, the question will be phrased so that the CFS is always the YES which instils a positive and the other side is the NO which instils a negative. We should instead value both sides of the debate: the NO as much as the YES.

    We need a process which is more in line with standard election procedures rather than a procedure that automatically favours one side – the YES side – this would make the process more inviting to campuses that are hesitant based on the process.

    Our NO campaign almost gave up and didn’t campaign because we knew it was a losing battle and an unfair process. If that is the goal behind the process as it is, then that is a shame.

    Finally, we must also remember that the individual Referendum Oversight Committees can still define what is considered a campaign expenses which would also empower the individual locals to participate in the process and feel as though the procedure is fairer. Thus, this motion affirms the principle of equal spending, while leaving it application up for debate and definition. It affirms a principle which is accepted in elections the world over. This motion will hold our federation to a higher standard of fairness, and make us a stronger, more democratic, student movement.”

  2. I fail to see how the no side ever really gets an advantage. In a referendum to leave, if they break the rules the CFS can refuse to recognize the result. If it is a referendum to join it is extremely likely the Student Union will be on the Yes side meaning it is not likely the no side will not have any resources other than what they provide themselves.

    I also find the ‘They can break the rules’ line to be very funny in that there are really no rules for a CFS referendum, everything is left up to the referendum oversight committee to decide. No two referendum are ever the same, this would have at least created one constant.

    The CFS should create a referendum policy so there are no deadlocks and all parties know what they are getting into.

  3. If I am not mistaken, at uOttawa, the No Committee was penalized during the referendum.

  4. Ken, you are not mistaken. We received so many penalties that we were not even allowed to campaign at all on some occasions. Many of the infractions for which we were penalized were not even comited by the No side.

    And Michael, all but one of our exec members last year was on the Yes side.

  5. Thank you Joey for posting this, and thank you Ms. Lamarche for having the courage to bring this up at the CFS AGM. The electoral rules regarding referendums and student elections at CFS schools infringe on many democratic principles, but this may be the worst of all. We all know the CFS flies professional campaigners across the country to deal with referendums (remember when they “ranked” different student union executives on their campaign skills?) – how can a no campaign compete against this? A small group of volunteers cannot campaign against an army of paid recruits who are willing to do anything to win, including lie, distort and intimidate.

    This is not democracy.

  6. In referenda to join the CFS, the No campaign should operate outside the rules. The rules are unfair, so why bother?

    In a referendum to leave the CFS, if the Student Union is in favour of leaving, their two members on the ROC should block any attempt to penalize the pro-defederation side during the campaign.

    It’s really that simple. Lobby for fair rules, but until that happens, you should take advantage of any loophole you get (the CFS sure does).

  7. Pingback: Krisna Saravanamuttu and friends fire Student Centre director « Without the Agenda