Breaking down the CFS -

Breaking down the CFS

Beyond Toronto and Ottawa national lobby group doesn’t pack a lot of punch


In the wake of UVic students voting to leave the Canadian Federation of Students last week, maybe it’s time to take stock of how national the “effective and united voice” really is.

The CFS trumpets that they have 500,000 members from over 80 student unions. But here are the facts:

  • The CFS has no healthy, stable relationship with any universities in Alberta or Quebec
  • The CFS has no real undergraduate representation in Alberta, Quebec, Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick
  • There are no student unions with over 10,000 full-time students west of Manitoba represented by the CFS

When you break down the 83 “Locals” of the CFS, you find the amount of support they have from decently-sized universities is rather small, except in Toronto and Ottawa. That those two cities are the media and political capitals of Canada can explain why the CFS still gets the attention they do, but outside of those two bubbles, the CFS doesn’t pack a lot of punch.

To start with, let’s see who comprises those 83 Locals. Nineteen are colleges. Another 11 have undergraduate populations of less than 3,000. This is not to besmirch the good people of the Saint Paul University Students’ Association (Local 85) and other small institutions, but these locals are never going to carry a lot of weight.

Then, you add in the fact that at many schools, there are multiple student unions. At University of Toronto alone, there is the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students of the University of Toronto, the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the University of Toronto at Mississauga Students’ Union. That may be five locals, but it’s just one school. So let’s lump them together.

Then, there’s Prince Edward Island undergraduates, Saskatchewan undergraduates, Guelph undergrdautes, Concordia students, Post-Graduates at McGill, Graduate students at Calgary, SFU students, and UVic students. All of them have voted to defederate (or in the case of Saskatchewan, never legally joined in the first place), yet all are listed by the CFS as members on their website. And while the CFS can use plenty of semantic or legal arguments to claim they are still part of the organization, you can’t claim they are happy, active members.

When you consider all that, which student unions at moderately-sized universities are left? And which of them represent students at large, national universities? We’ll go province by province, noting when the CFS only represents graduate students, and bolding any school that is either the largest in its province, or has more than 15,000 full-time students (as measured by the AUCC).

  • British Columbia: UBC-Okanagan, Capilano, Kwantlen, Vancouver Island University, and Thompson Rivers.
  • Alberta: None
  • Saskatchewan: U of Regina, U of Saskatchewan Grad. Students
  • Manitoba: U of Manitoba, U of Winnipeg
  • Ontario: Carleton, Lakehead, Laurentian, Nipissing, U of Ottawa, Ryerson, U of Toronto, Trent, U of Windsor, York, Brock Grad. Students, Guelph Grad. Students, McMaster Grad. Students, UWO Grad. Students, Wilfrid Laurier Grad Students
  • Quebec: None
  • New Brunswick: U of New Brunswick Grad. Students
  • Prince Edward Island: UPEI Grad. Students
  • Nova Scotia: None
  • Newfoundland: Memorial

Now yes, this list misses out on plenty of small schools, and plenty of schools the CFS argues are still part of their organization. But this is the backbone of the CFS now. And outside of Toronto and Ottawa, it’s not particularly strong.

The “Canadian Federation of University Students from Ottawa and Toronto Along With College and Graduate Students From Across the Land” might not roll off the tongue—but it’s probably the most accurate description of the CFS as it currently stands.


Breaking down the CFS

  1. The CFS is not strong in Ottawa. To the contrary. Its only power comes from their past control of the student unions, something which former Macleans on Campus Blogger Dean Tester highlighted in the past and fought against. Things have changed now. At Carleton, they have lost control of the undergraduate student union. As an elected councillor, I vow to adhere to the wishes of the students who signed the petition to hold a referendum, something that the previous council refused to do, under CFS orders. Students United Will Never Be Defeated! Some day, the CFS will fall!

    Delroy Dyer
    Carleton University Students Association
    Public Affairs Councillor.

    • Dude … I think you just had a Braveheart moment.

  2. @Delroy: Wow. I want to march on CFS headquarters after reading that.

    I am a Uvic student and was one of the thousands of students to vote to defederate. You can get your referendum and get out, just like we did. Get your lawyers ready for after though.

    Good Luck!

  3. Thats Delroy for you, He’s a rather inspirational fellow on our CU campus. It’s actually amazing how CFS Local 1 is not the bastion you’d think it would be.

    Stephen C.
    Carleton Academic Student Government
    Special Student representative
    long time anti-CFS activist

  4. As a director for the UVic Student Society who fought for nearly 2 years to get a referendum on our CFS membership I have tremendous respect for any student group that is willing to stand up against the CFS and fight for their rights. We had to go to the BC supreme court twice to get our vote but once we did, was it ever worth it. 70% voting to leave! I hope you see the same result at Concordia.

  5. I just want to point out that 2 student associations at the University of Ottawa had a referendum to defederate (to leave the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa) and the ‘yes’ side won.

    Part of the reason they left is because of the presence of the CFS on campus. More and more students are just not happy with the CFS.

    More student associations will present a referendum question to their students in the next months.

  6. @Raphael, more of an Aragorn moment.

    @Teeves, make sure you blast La Marseillaise while doing it.

    @Everybody else. LAW-Suit UP!

  7. OH SHI-
    I can’t wait until LOCAL ONE SALUTES YOU in a few weeks. Shit’ll be REAL this time.

  8. Few corrections: Kwantlen is actually over 10,000+ members. I also believe that Camosun College next to UVic is also one of the `bigger` BC members too.

    And what`s this about CFS`ers at Carleton losing control? The new councillors need to unite and take the CFS to court over the counterpetition ASAP. At UVic, the CFS yielded all right to appeal the court ruling against the counterpetition as the deadline to appeal has expired. That means that UVic Undergrads are the closest to being able to successfully leave since the UVic Grads in 2008. They are ahead of SFU, PGSS, Concordia, and even Guelph (since that ruling is under appeal).

  9. It’s worth noting, too, that the college and faculty student governments at the University of Toronto’s main campus are nearly uniformly opposed to the University of Toronto Students’ Union, largely because they’re so pro-CFS. In fact, Trinity College, St. Michael’s College, and the Enigineering Society have all looked into ways to defederate from UTSU in an attempt to take a stand against the CFS. The St. George Round Table has been established and may curtail the day-to-day influence of UTSU in favour of the more rational and democratic college and faculty governments. It doesn’t help that anti-CFS candidates get disqualified in UTSU elections.

    They only appear strong at UofT because their ilk are monopolizing the main student union. In reality they aren’t strong anywhere.

  10. Do whatever it takes to get rid of the CFS from your campus. They are an infection that will be the destruction of your school unless they are forced out. The effort is worth the fight.

    • Yup you’re right. So many schools have been destroyed by working together with other Students’ Unions.

      This article is ridiculous and so is most of the commentary.

      • “So many schools have been destroyed by working together with other Students’ Unions.”

        So why do they need to pay fees to a parasitical organization that has done little aside from taking legal action against its own members?