Loose Cannon: Ask how your student movement can screw you

Friday, March 5, 2010

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  • If a
newly-elected student union doesn’t want to respect the outcome of a defederation vote, it
can simply stop trying t

    If a newly-elected student union doesn’t want to respect the outcome of a defederation vote, it can simply stop trying t

Written by Greg Beneteau

It’s not prescience. Just history repeating itself.

There was always a good chance that the Central Students Association would be forced to seek legal relief against the Canadian Federation of Students on the issue of holding a referendum vote. It didn’t make me any happier to warn people it was coming for the past 12 weeks.

Out of the 13 schools that held petition drives this year, only one, the Alberta College of Art and Design Students’ Association, managed to satisfy the CFS’s conditions to hold a referendum.

Those aren’t terribly good odds. But what do you expect from a group that refuses your referendum request because you submitted the necessary materials by process server (i.e. personal courier) instead of registered mail? That’s like showing up for a job interview and being told you won’t be hired because youdrove there in a BMW instead of a Chevy.

What’s worse, most schools have chosen not to stand up for their members’ rights. Student petitioners at Western and Carleton have encountered the same problem at U of G, except their student unions won’t go to court to force the issue for one reason or another. That’s a losing strategy – when it comes to the CFS, you have to fight for every inch.

I’m not normally a betting man, but I’d like to invite the CFS National Executive to participate in a friendly wager over what will happen next. At stake are bragging rights and a 2-4 of Molson Canadian. In order for me to win, both of my predictions will have to come true:

-The CFS will have their asses handed to them in court – that is, the U of G referendum will go ahead this year. While respecting the letter of the law, judges tend to be pragmatic when presiding over disputes within an organization. A justice might attempt to seek out a compromise on the timing a referendum, but there is no chance the court will throw out U of G’s petition because of the way it was delivered, no matter what CFS-Ontario’s bylaws say.

-When a referendum is finally held, U of G students will vote to leave the CFS. This is not because of the federation’s callous disregard for basic democratic rights, its litigious nature or its hugely expensive and useless attempts at lobbying, but because the vast majority of students have no stake in their version of the so-called “unified student movement.” The CFS has long preferred to focus its organizing in schools around Ottawa and Toronto, where seats of government are located. Come campaign time, U of Gstudents will scratch their heads at the federation’s sudden affinity for our school and its $225,000-a-year membership.

That’s where the bet ends. What happens next depends on the CSA. If the referendum affirms defederation, our student government must submit a withdrawal request to the National Executive, who then puts forward a recommendation to be voted on at the next general meeting. (Yes, that means that other schools in the federation get to vote on whether Guelph is permitted to leave – a frightening prospect, but far enough away for the moment that it’s not worth the worry).

Like at Western and Carleton, if a newly-elected student union doesn’t want to respect the will of students, it can simply stop trying to push the matter with the CFS. The student union will miss its deadline (or the CFS will raise another asinine technicality) and the withdrawal will fail. End of story.

This has been the case at several universities over the years who suddenly found their governing bodies stacked with pro-CFS candidates following an attempt at defederation.

I don’t believe that’s the case at U of G. However, I know how student politicians loathe to a take a stance on controversial issues. I still think the CSA’s version of “neutrality” was bone-headed given the history of CFS’s dirty tricks.

Nice to a fault, our elected representatives did everything possible to accommodate the federation and, as if on cue, the federation stymied them at every turn. By refusing to push early and hard for CFS to respect the petition process, the issue dragged on until the 11th hour, potentially jeopardizing students’ chances at voting.

This year’s executive is finally starting to realize that playing politics with the CFS is a contact sport. They’re making the right moves. The question is, will the incoming executive follow their lead? That’s a question only they can answer.

The Loose Cannon published in the Ontarion stated that undergrads pay $300,000 a year in fees to the CFS. The figure is actually $225,000. thecannon regrets the error.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: William Sentenza on Mar 30, 2010 @ 5:33pm

    I read this on the 30th. Your psychic predictions have turned out to be true.

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