Breaking down the CFS - Macleans.ca

Breaking down the CFS

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

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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.