The Canadian Federation of Students filed a petition in the BC Supreme Court last week for an injunction that would postpone a membership referendum at Kwantlen University College.
The vote on whether to remain a member of Canada’s largest student lobby group is currently scheduled to begin March 18. But if the CFS’ petition is successful, the vote will be rescheduled until the fall.
The CFS is dealing with simultaneous membership referendums at Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria (graduate students). Cape Breton University’s students’ union has also posted notice of referendum but it is unclear whether that vote will follow the CFS’ bylaws.
The CFS court petition claims that the Kwantlen Students’ Association, which is opposed to maintaining membership in the CFS, has broken a number of CFS referendum bylaws. It argues that the committee in charge of overseeing the referendum (that includes reps from both the KSA and CFS) has made little progress on key issues, including the referendum question, voting procedures, and alleged violations of bylaws. It also claims that the KSA has been campaigning since September, long before the scheduled campaign period.
Titus Gregory, a policy analyst at the KSA, said that part of the disagreement comes down to what is considered campaign material. All materials are supposed to be approved by the committee. According to Gregory, the CFS representatives don’t consider CFS general materials to count—such as posters or handouts for their “I Am CFS” campaign. But he says they do consider the KSA newsletter to be a campaign material.
The CFS petition also protests how poll clerks have been hired and the KSA appointment of an independent chief returning officer.
Gregory says he expects that students will vote to terminate membership with the CFS. “The campaign is going quite well. There are few students who support membership in the CFS,” he said.
Calls to CFS-BC, national chairperson Amanda Aziz, and CSF-BC chairperson Seamus Reid were not returned.
Meanwhile, Aziz was on campus Tuesday at Simon Fraser University, campaigning in favour of continued CFS membership there, along with a sizable group of students, including students from other universities including Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. The campaign opposed to CFS membership had a much smaller presence on campus.
SFU had a non-binding referendum on CFS membership last year, in which 70 per cent of 1,300 students voted to leave the CFS.
The loss of the SFSS’s membership would be a significant blow to the CFS, which received over $400,000 in membership fees in 2005 from Simon Fraser University students. This funding is divided between the national and provincial organizations.
A SFU students’ union working group struck last year to assess their relationship with the CFS reported a number of issues that led to the referendum. These include allegations that the CFS interferes or is “over-involved” in student union elections.
CFS-BC responded to the submission with its own. It details the organization’s services and lobbying track record. The document states, “No campus, no matter how big or active, has the resources or the political clout to effectively influence the post-secondary education policies of the federal government.” The document does not address the problems alleged in the working group’s submission.
In support of its decision to leave the CFS, the submission by the SFSS working group also cites allegations of financial mismanagement in relation to a loan given to the Douglas Student’s Union (DSU) at a time when serious questions were being raised about that union’s financial controls. A forensic audit of the DSU — ordered to look into “significant deficiencies in internal controls” — reported that the CFS-Services and CFS-BC made three loans, for $100,000 in October 2005, $50,000 in December, and $50,000 in January 2006. The alleged advances took place while Douglas College refused to remit payment of student fees to the students’ union because of concerns about the union’s financial management. The audit also stated that none of the loans were approved by the union and were entered into without proper authorization.