Students at Simon Fraser University and Cape Breton University, and graduate students at the University of Victoria, last week voted resoundingly to cease membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.
The electoral committee at SFU announced Friday that students voted 66 per cent in favour of cutting ties with Canada’s largest student lobby organization. At Cape Breton, 92 per cent of student voters were reported to have cast their ballots against the CFS. And at the University of Victoria, 58 per cent of graduate students voted against the CFS. Undergrads at Victoria did not take part in the referendum and remain within the CFS.
“This is a clear democratic mandate. There is no way to read these results as anything but a clear indication that SFU wants to leave the Federation,” Simon Fraser Student Society President Derrick Harder told the campus newspaper, the Peak. “Students have excellent bullshit detectors and those were going off like crazy over the past two weeks.”
The votes, however, may not spell the end of the matter. CFS national chairperson Amanda Aziz hinted to the Peak that her organization had concerns about the accuracy and fairness of the process. “Some of the things that I saw were ballots being found outside of the polling locations, people from the no campaign campaigning right beside the polling station[s], in fact, directing people in terms on how they should be voting on each of the questions, polls running out of ballots, [and] ballots being found outside of polling locations,” Aziz said.
Last week, before the results were announced, Aziz told Maclean’s that “the campaign at SFU has been quite positive,” though she did say that she believed that “there is a lot of misinformation being spread by the SFSS (Simon Fraser Students Society) executive that we are unfortunately spending a lot of time having to correct.”
As for the referendum at Cape Breton, Aziz said that the CFS would not recognize its result. “Whatever vote that may have taken place at Cape Breton University would not relieve Cape Breton University Students’ Union of its contractual obligations to the other student unions which comprise the Federation,” Aziz wrote to Maclean’s.
The CFS is not expected to recognize the referendum because it says proper procedures were not followed. The CFS says that it never received notification of CBU’s intention to hold a referendum. CBU claims that notice was served—along with a petition signed by 500 students—six months in advance of the vote as required by CFS bylaws.
CBU’s student government also says that the vote was representative of student sentiment. “We made our quorum and when you look at it there were about 200 more people who voted this election then voted when we joined CFS,” Ian Lindsay, CBU students’ union president, told the Cape Breton Times and Transcript. “Obviously we would have liked more students to vote, but we are happy we had this turnout.”
The Martlet, the student newspaper at UVic, reported that the referendum campaign there was dominated by those supporting the CFS. The CFS side held a barbecue for graduate students and had a visible presence on campus with colourful pamphlets and numerous supporters. The “No” campaign claims it barely had a campaign at all. “We only had one banner, [a website], and one set of buttons. That’s our entire campaign,” said Tayfun Ince, a member of the No campaign and former chair of the Graduate Students’ Society. “We had nothing for material. We didn’t use a single sheet of paper.”
At SFU, both campaigns were highly visible, although the pro-CFS side initially appeared to be stronger. As the vote neared, students seemed to be growing tired of the constant solicitation from both sides. In a letter to the Peak, one student complained about “thousands of imposing posters on every wall and [… people] trying to intercept your every move.”
Meanwhile, the Kwantlen Students Association (KSA), of BC’s Kwantlen University College, claimed victory last week after a BC Supreme Court hearing regarding their upcoming referendum. The CFS sought to delay the vote until the fall. However, the court ordered that the vote, that was originally scheduled at the same time as the SFU and UVic referendums, be delayed until April 8. “In regards to Kwantlen,” Aziz said, “we are satisfied with the outcome of the injunction, and that the judge recognized that the KSA executive had broken the rules.”
The CFS is Canada’s largest student lobby organization. Half a million students at more than 80 universities and colleges are members of the organization. Each student organization that is a member of the CFS pays dues to the national and provincial arms of the organization. According to the most recent available numbers, SFU students paid $400,000 in 2005 to the CFS.