On Campus

Aziz responds: more denial

The only surprise from the leaked "war plans" is the CFS' denials

The Canadian University Press spoke with Aziz last week regarding a leaked document (see here) from the CFS-BC office detailing campaign plans for the upcoming defederation vote at Simon Fraser:

Amanda Aziz, national chairperson of the CFS, said that the document was authored by the B.C. wing of the CFS without the input from national office, adding there are no plans to fly anyone to B.C. to campaign during referendums.

“There has been no discussion about who is going to be attending,” she said, but added she knows there is interest. Aziz would not speculate whether their flights would be subsidized by the organization.

Aziz said that the document wasn’t a final plan and shouldn’t have been circulated.

“I’m trying to understand what Summer was thinking when writing it,” she said, adding that “the idea of having a game plan doesn’t seem very sinister to me.”

Aziz is apparently suggesting that not only was there no collaboration between the national and BC offices of the CFS, but that Summer McFayden (a paid CFS-BC staffer) thought this up all on her own. Maybe she created the spreadsheet on her own, but should we really believe that its contents are just a figment of McFayden’s imagination?

NOTE: The law firm representing the CFS sent a letter to the Kwantlen Student Association which made the original document public last week, demanding they apologize. Aziz sent a letter to CFS member schools making arguments similar to the ones expressed to the Canadian University Press. The KSA made these responses public on Tuesday.

For starters, in addition to listing scores of potential campaigners from across the country, the plan detailes a number of tasks assigned to Aziz and Lucy Watson (CFS national director), and Aziz appears to be slated for employment in the CFS-BC office. But Aziz would have us believe that McFayden (despite the fact that the intended recipient of the document was a national office staffer) made all these plans independently, including plans for Aziz’s own employment. Really?

Of course, there is nothing “sinister” about having a game plan in and of itself. What is troubling is the extent to which the CFS will be both determining the rules governing the referendum and actively campaigning in it.

It appears that there will be scant regard for local regulations governing elections and referenda. The bylaws of the Simon Fraser Students Society (SFSS) require that all campaign expenses be limited to $50, but in the CFS document, there is a clear plan to spend as much as thousands of dollars. (Who will be footing the bill is not clear.)

These expenses are listed in the excel document and include such things as arranging flights and hotel rooms, and advertising in campus papers and Vancouver daily papers, not to mention all the photocopying and banner printing to be done.

It is telling that while the CFS national office is paying lawyers to solicit apologies and Aziz is denying involvement, she has not conceded that any wrongdoing has been done. After all, it is CFS’s bylaws and not the CFS-BC bylaws that govern referenda and lead to allegations of unbalanced spending.

CFS bylaws also suggest that rules that prohibit campaigning during voting (as the SFSS bylaws do) will likely be overridden. This is done either directly, as in this clause from their membership bylaws: “There shall be no less than ten (10) days on which campaigning is permitted, during which classes are in session, immediately preceding and during voting;” (emphasis mine), or indirectly through the oversight committee, which Lucy Watson and CFS national treasurer Ben Lewis will be sitting on at SFU. This committee is responsible for such things as, “overseeing all aspects of the voting”;“counting the ballots following the vote” and “establishing all other rules and regulations for the vote.”

Such responsibilities are normally deferred to local election boards and/or independent chief election officers. The leaked document, which is obviously not only intended for oversight committee people, lists many of these tasks as preparation for the campaign. It is also worth noting that prior to the mid-1990s when a number of schools pulled out of the CFS, CFS bylaws offered minimal guidance on referenda procedures, deferring to local union rules. The current rules clearly make it easier for the CFS to win votes either for schools to federate or against their defederation. Two recent cases demonstrate this point.

When in 2005 the University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) held a referendum to join the CFS, they voted to suspend their own by-laws. Regan Sarmatiuk, the Manitoban editor at the time, pointed out that, unlike in an election governed by UMSU rules, “While the official ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sides are allowed to submit receipts for campaign materials and will be reimbursed up to $250, there are no requirements to report to the Oversight Committee on spending, and thus the potential for unlimited and unbalanced spending exists.” During voting days students were handed free tuition pamphlets and practically pushed into the polls.

The CFS won with 87 per cent of the vote — not quite the numbers that Fidel Castro pulls down, but close. Incidentally, Aziz, who was the union president at the time, was elected to her current role as national chairperson in the same month she successfully campaigned to have the U of M join the CFS.

At the University of Saskatchewan, the same year, the student union opted to keep their election board (while the U of M did not) though the CFS mandated oversight committee was still put in place. When the election board ruled that the vote was invalid due to procedural problems, the student union ignored the decision, only to have a judge rule later the referendum “of no force or effect.” In other words, when CFS rules, which give sole authority to the oversight committee, are questioned — or subject to scrutiny — their purpose is clear: they do not exist to ensure fair campaigns.

Procedural checks on voting, which most student unions have, are in place to ensure fair campaigning and that votes are not manipulated. CFS voting parameters lead to concerns that such rules will not be enforced, or at least not to the extent they should be. That $50 spending limit required for elections at SFU is already a gonner.

The document unearthed last week is merely evidence of what anybody who has observed a CFS referendum or has any knowledge of the CFS already knows. It is interesting not because it is evidence of questionable behaviour, but because it gives greater insight into how such behaviour is planned, carried out and condoned.