Loose Cannon: Whose side are you on, Denise?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

  • After all the trouble the CFS
caused, it’s appalling that External Affairs Commissioner Denise Martins would help
to imp

    After all the trouble the CFS caused, it’s appalling that External Affairs Commissioner Denise Martins would help to imp

Written by Greg Beneteau

More than two months after University of Guelph undergraduates voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the Canadian Federation of Students, we remain unable to leave the organization. Like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, the more the Central Student Association struggles to remove itself from Canada’s “united student movement” the more trapped it seems to become.

After all the trouble the CFS caused, it’s appalling that External Affairs Commissioner Denise Martins would help to impose their ridiculous standards on other schools that want out.

But I digress. The CFS held its semi-annual general meeting in Ottawa at the end of May. According to Federation bylaws, a majority of member unions must ratify the results of our referendum before we can finally be free of the CFS.

Sadly, U of G didn’t make it on to the agenda. The CFS and CFS-O won’t even consider our request to leave until its members on the Referendum Oversight Committee endorse the results, which they have refused to do.

Since the CSA remains a reluctant member of the federation, it was entitled to send a voting delegation to the meeting – but only one person could attend, the CFS National Executive decreed, because the delegation request was submitted past deadline.

Martins chaired the campaign in favour of staying part of the CFS and was in opposition to the majority of CSA Board members, who voted to endorse de-federation. Regardless, as External Affairs Commission she is our official representative to the federation. She was sent to Ottawa, entrusted with voting in the best interests of the CSA.

Instead, Martins made a mockery of the CSA and students on this campus, endorsing a series of restrictive referendum bylaws that put even more power in the hands of CFS. If these bylaws were in place prior to Guelph’s referendum, a vote would never have happened.

Martins voted in favour of Motion 7, making paper ballots the only acceptable method of voting in CFS referenda (it passed).

It was a bizarre decision, considering that the CSA uses electronic ballots in its own general elections. The CSA also spent $70,000 in court, fighting for the right to use email balloting during the referendum vote. The court steadfastly upheld that right, as well as the right to have a neutral third party conduct polling.

Undoubtedly, email voting played a key roll in increasing voter turnout. Nearly 45 per cent of undergraduates cast ballots in the referendum – roughly the same estimated turnout for young voters in the last federal election. It should be considered a positive step for student democracy.

Yet according to Canadian University Press Ottawa Bureau Chief Emma Godmere (the only reporter allowed to attend the meeting) a group of supposedly progressive student delegates was suspicious about using technology in an election. Citing a handful of security breaches in the past year, they warned that email voting could not be trusted.

Those breaches involved private companies conducting online polling, whereas Guelph’s vote was overseen by the university administration. Further, student unions across Canada have used online voting for years without any serious problems.

Passing an amendment based on such sweeping generalizations was nothing more than a cynical attempt to keep turnout low, which favours CFS supporters. Martins, who once told The Ontarion that she found the high turnout for the referendum “suspicious,” played right along.

It wasn’t the only vote cast by the CSA delegate that students would find remiss. Martins also voted in favour of other regressive bylaw changes, including:

-Motion 30, which implicitly recognized counter-petitions that remove students’ names from a de-federation petition.

- Motion 32, requiring member locals to submit a voters list the Referendum Oversight Committee (and therefore the CFS), or else use a double-envelope system for voting.

Martins also abstained from voting on Motion 29, which tightens the requirements to submit a de-federation petition and gives the CFS National Executive the “sole authority” to determine whether a petition is valid.

The CSA fought all of these in court for the simple reason that the CFS abused them to prevent a democratic referendum from happening. Simple common sense would dictate that the CSA wouldn’t impose standards on others that it wouldn’t accept for itself. Yet, all of the above motions passed with Martins’ support.

At its last meeting, a flabbergasted CSA Board voted to re-affirm its support for the electronic ballot system used during the referendum, but the damage was already done.

The External Affairs Commissioner is supposed to represent the CSA to outside organizations like the CFS. Through her voting record, Martins instead supported her own interests in the CFS, betraying the trust of her colleagues and students who elected her.

The Loose Cannon published in the Ontarion stated that Motion 32 would require that a voters list would be submitted to the CFS. This was clarified to state that the voters list would be submitted to representatives on the Referendum Oversight Committee, including those representing the CFS.

Based on preliminary information provided by Martins, thecannon reported that she voted in favour of Motion 29. This turned out to be incorrect. Martins abstained from voting. 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: christine de pizan on Jun 17, 2010 @ 3:42pm

    denise is worried about online voting? so am i. due to online voting, you can't scrutinize the ballots, the systems are hack-able, and there have been multiple cases accross canada, such as the case at uofo, where hundreds of votes were cast by one person from the same id code, time, and computer. if you run a campaign and lose to an unlikely candidate, of course you would wonder why you lost and would want to scrutinize the results to find closure. even during the csa elections of this year, there were multiple complaints that went unanswered and unquestioned that could have been resolved if the results could have been scrutinized.
    thank you for yet another stimulating piece greg. maybe you just hate external affairs commissioners, did you ever think of that?

  2. Posted by: on Jun 18, 2010 @ 6:28am

    @Christine : The problems with online ballots at other schools arose when they conducted the voting through a private company who clearly did not have the proper security measures in place to prevent such harmful voting practices. The CSA and the UoG have been using the UoG online ballots for years. As a web developer myself I know that, because the University has access to their own listservs and databases of users, it is easy for them to set up securities that strictly limit user's abilities - something a private company couldn't do. It is quite simple to do and I am confident that the Universities' web developers know what they're doing when it comes to web security since they've KINDA been doing it for a while. So this really isn't a problem with online balloting. The problem is with a certain commissioner's ability to accept the fact that her election is not a popular an issue as the Defederation vote.

    If Denise is so worried about the results of the Defederation ballots, shouldn't she be equally concerned with the very same balloting system that had her elected in the first place?

    - Maybe she'd be kind enough to step down based on her own morals when she realizes that her election could be illegitimate by her own standards.-

    Seems like Denise only wants things to go her way despite the popular vote of her constituents. Well I have a little surprise for you Denise. If you want to put yourself in a position to represent the voice of students at the UoG, you have to put your personal interests aside and do what the masses tell you. It is your job! If she is unwilling to fulfill her duties as the External Affairs Commissioner, I for one would like to see her impeached and replaced with someone who can do the job.

  3. Posted by: christine de pizan on Jun 18, 2010 @ 3:22pm

    private company or not, why would i trust the university administration? especially since last years commissioners worked way too closely with them, and those now former commissioners are still continuing to be in close contact with the 4 floor. also, i'm sure denise would love to scrutinize the results of the election, although i'm fairly certain curtis wasn't going to win...wasn't his last lost enough to show him that? guess not.

  4. Posted by: on Jun 18, 2010 @ 6:03pm

    Funny that you would bring up Curtis when the discussion has nothing to do with him not winning the election. All I was getting at is that if there was a concern over electronic voting systems, then how can Denise be confident in her own election.

    And when it comes down to it being 'fairly certain' has no merit in a voting system, especially when the divide is 6000 votes.

    As for trusting the University Admin, have you ever spoken to or worked with any Admin staff on campus? When did you or any other student in support of the CFS get it in your head that the University Administration is the bad guy?

    There's no reason not to trust them. If anything it is the CFS that has given more than enough reasons to distrust, and I shouldn't have to list them here since they've already been explained to the student body hundreds of times and the student population voted 'NO'.

  5. Posted by: Al on Jun 19, 2010 @ 12:19am

    at least she is sticking to her view points, she clearly was in favour of our affiliation with the cfs, and lets not forget that WE elected her. If you want to point fingers at someone, blame the people in the csa who fought to leave and didn't want to go to Ottawa to continue fighting. It's enough for me to agree with Denise's 'suspicion'

  6. Posted by: on Jun 19, 2010 @ 11:57am

    @Al, I know for a fact that other members of the CSA requested to attend the AGM in Ottawa and Denise kept putting off the application until it was past the deadline. This kind of act is not new and has happened to many other student union representatives across Canada. It was up to Denise to submit that request and she simply didn't.

    Also, it's all great and fine for an elected representative to stick to an election platform, but her priorities should be to here constituents and representing their views. When the majority of here constituents, and fellow board members voted 'NO' to the CFS, it is her job to represent that view, election platform or not.

  7. Posted by: Anastasia Z. on Jun 20, 2010 @ 5:28pm


    Hi, D'Arcy. I'm just going to remind you that Denise took office May 1st with the rest of the commissioners and it would've been up to the previous executive to sign up for CFS National as the deadline was around mid-April.

    Just thought I'd clarify!
    Anastasia Z. (Local Affairs)

  8. Posted by: Bill on Jun 20, 2010 @ 9:43pm

    @ D'arcy

    You're really funny!
    I absolutely agree with you that the university administration is the students' ally and that the CFS is the bad guy that's just really wasting our money. In this time of economic struggle, it's important to cut any student services and make sure we give more money to the administration. They need pay increases badly because the cost of caviar is obviously rising, especially since the oil spill.

    If there's one thing to learn from last year, it's that a student government who works hand in hand with administration will result in CSA execs getting jobs with the administration.
    F**k student representation, this is a student government and it's the exec's responsibility to take charge and tell us what we need to do. That's what they did with telling us CFS is bad right?
    I mean, I'm just a student and I don't have time to do anything else other than drink, so I'm going to trust the CSA fab 5 to pull through tough decisions that will benefit themselves in their private endeavors.

    Oh, and are you aware that the majority of 'student movements' that aim to defederate from CFS are really just a bunch of awesome self-motivated students that have lots of money and don't give a flying F**k about making education more accessible? 'Let's keep the trash out' kind of deal, right?

  9. Posted by: on Jun 21, 2010 @ 6:46pm

    @thecannon, your comment button works with an empty field. I'd suggest adding an to the validation script to stop that.

    @Anastasia, I stand corrected, it would then be Momina who was at fault for that. Very similar ideals there and I am not surprised either way.

    @Bill, your argument is extremely sarcastic and nonsensical. If you'd like to make a point I'd suggest doing so in a fashion that is at least semi-professional and to the point.

    As for CFS Representation, where is it? The only time the CFS reared it's ugly head on campus is when we threaten them with defederation and force them to court for our legal rights, with which the judge ruled in our favour.

    As for the CSA board backing the NO Campaign both financially (which was minuscule compared to how much money the CFS spent on the ordeal) and visually, it had been decided by the board. How could a group of students, unknown to most of campus, have a chance at competing with the multi-million dollar voice brought to campus by the CFS. If anyone wasn't happy with their college backing one side or the other there was plenty of time to get informed and approach your college government with any concerns. It may have changed that vote, but the fact of the matter that those who voted to support the NO Campaign did so because in their position and to their knowledge the majority of their constituents supported the NO Campaign. That is how democracies work, majority rule (50% + 1).

    Also, this article and this discussion isn't about the CSA last year, it is about the fact that the students at the UoGuelph voted in favour of defederating from the CFS and that Denise Martin's approach to the AGM was counter-productive to other schools that are going through what Guelph went through last semester. Had they been applied before Guelph's vote, it could have drastically affected the outcome through unfair means, in favour of the CFS.

  10. Posted by: Bill on Jun 21, 2010 @ 7:18pm

    @ D'Arcy. Thank you for pointing out my writing style. Although it's different, it's not invalid. What is invalid is making basic writing mistakes like "...adding an to the..." and "...to here constituents...".

    You make a good point about CFS representation last year: Where was it? As it is the CSA's responsibility to advocate for CFS and lead CFS initiatives on campus, why didn't the previous executive take responsibility? Rather, they refused to do so and decided it would be good to get rid of them. They then used their power to influence the students which are about 75% apathetic and easily influenced (these are the people who don't vote at all normally).

    You seem to ignore the points I make about how invalid and corrupt this whole thing is, but then again, privileged students are well organized on campus.

    Denise Martins seems to be in favor of working with CFS and therefore is taking responsibility to fulfill her leadership role in advocating for students in the best way she knows. This is democracy.

    (take for example how the majority of the people in Uganda want to make homosexuality reason to go to jail or even sentenced to death, doesn't mean Uganda leaders should create these laws... They should stick to what's best for the people, even if it seems like they're standing for a small minority)

    oh snap.

  11. Posted by: on Jun 22, 2010 @ 6:56am

    @Bill, Well Bill, the "...adding an to the..." actually contained some PHP code, but these comment boxes are coded semi-decently, so they erase all PHP. It would be preferable if they'd simply comment that out, then mistakes like that wouldn't happen.

    As I said before, there is no point in arguing about the CSA of years past, the vote has already been cast, and the students voted 'NO'. And your points on the corruption of student leaders and / or administration is pretty ungrounded.

    The Uganda issue is completely different from what is going on here. That is an issue of Human Rights, not of any basic political policy. The issues with the CFS are completely on a different level than what is happening in Africa. We are not debating basic Human liberties.

    I also really enjoy your assumptions concerning my socioeconomic. Clearly anybody who would support defederating from a student union must be rich and privileged. I find this completely insulting. Let's ignore then the ~$120,000 worth of debt that my family has accumulated, so absolutely, I must be privileged.

    You're wasting my time with these arguments, I've got two jobs to work at and some freelance work to get to. Unless something good comes up in this discussion, I probably won't be back here.


  12. Posted by: Bill on Jun 22, 2010 @ 10:39am

    "to here constituents" remains standing.

    In no way can the actions of previous years simply be negated. Everything is connected; what is occurring now is a products of the events that happened in the past. Therefore, Denise Martins' actions are the result of an incredibly biased anti-CFS campaign (led by people who used power dynamics to persuade the vastly uninformed voters).

    Although the current issues faced by the CSA are not as extreme as the Uganda issue, many people remain unheard, vulnerable and marginalized on our campus. It is through hard work with external bodies that we can relate and learn how we can create a better campus that is free of hate crimes (that are way too high to begin with; I invite you to find out the stats).

    Privilege does not necessarily equal socioeconomic status. It is a contributor, but many families wouldn't even have the opportunity to accumulate debt (that in itself is a privilege). Even more families cannot afford post-secondary education.

    To tie everything together (except for the first point :p), the work that Denise Martins is what she deems best for the student body, whether it be issues of hate crimes or affordable education, in the manner that she knows. I agree with the work she is doing, and I'm sure many others do.
    As for her going out of line with her constituency, her real constituency is 75% apathetic. If people were really concerned and felt that their voice was usurped, I'm sure that the student body could suddenly rally up a storm. Rather, the few head honchos of progressive opposition cry behind flawed stats, bad grammar, juvenile ideology and incredibly biased writing in student media.

    hats off

  13. Posted by: John Sakaluk on Jun 22, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    I have been eager to avoid comment-warefare on thecannon, but as a couple of your comments, Bill, pertain directly to my involvement in CFS campaigning, I feel the need to toss in my two-cents here.

    Where I am concerned:
    -"progressive opposition cry behind flawed stats": as I was one of the members of the CSA's Capacity, Analysis and Planning Committee, who handled data analysis of the General Student Survey, i'd like to know upon what grounds you consider the statistics flawed? The stats regarding CFS, which were released in a larger package of evaluations of CSA-related services, were simply frequency-data based. This make analysis and interpretation straightforward, and the use of these results were approved by the ROC, making them 100% fair game. The vast majority of our students (66% and upwards, depending on service) have never used these services.

    -"incredibly biased writing in student media": I was asked by thecannon to write a piece for the No Campaign's side, which was to appear alongside a similar piece from the Yes Campaign's side. Both articles were biased towards their respective campaign's message. The only other thing I will say, is that it's awfully funny that after reacting poorly to being criticized for not having a substantial UoG student contingency in their campaign, the Yes side elects to have a non UoG campaign member write their campaign piece for publication on a student-run media site.

    -"led by people who used power dynamics to persuade the vastly uniformed voters": wasn't this what both campaigns were trying to do? Use their knowledge of the issues to persuade voters to see as they see? There were student-leaders on both sides of the issues who all used their connections to advance their point of view, and you can see this for both Yes and No campaigns as evidenced by the organizations which sent out respective Vote Yes or Vote No emails. Furthermore, speaking from experience--I was at the campaign table for 2 days of campaigning--the No Campaign was very encouraging of students who came to us (note* came to us) to go speak to the Yes side and CFS reps who were at the Yes Table. Students hearing from both Yes and No sides, and then making a decision? I call that an informed voter.

    Commentary not specific to me:
    -"her real constituency is 75% apathetic": apparently not, as if this were true, they would not have voted in the referendum. Even if they are indifferent more times than not, it doesn't mean that those students don't have a right to have their wishes upheld when they finally do express them.

  14. Posted by: Bill on Jun 23, 2010 @ 11:11am

    Well written John, this is so typical of you.

    Yes, there are issues with the legitimacy of the results, as someone else had stated earlier. Wasn't it the Administration that controlled the online poling? Administration = profit over students, and coaxing student leaders to work for them. We established this already.
    Even if the results are what they are, yes John, it is possible for an apathetic individual to vote when they are bombarded with e-mails to vote a certain way.
    As you know very well, all of the student governors, college reps and CSA members were the ones who led the NO campaign (cuz you were one of them), and therefore abused their powers and used the colleges and CSA e-mail to tell students how to vote.
    The following week, all I could hear on campus was "...Well I voted no cuz the CSA told me so, and they have to be right, right??..."
    I have to give you credit that it was a very strategic and ingenious plan. touche

    Without a doubt was the YES campaign weak, they weren't organized very well, didn't take control of the student government and there was absence with the UofG presence, I guess that's just how hippies are tho right? Kind of just scattered everywhere.

    The point about biased student media is general... The Ontarion admitted that they didn't do the best coverage of the referendum when it was all over. Kind of like a 'Oh woops, we abused our power guys, ha ha...'. As for the Cannon, most articles written by Greg usually lean on the conservative side and don't really take a critical analysis.

    It's kind of obvious that something is up when you get consistent voter turnouts of 30-25% and suddenly get a 70 something percent turnout. If we did this referendum again and mass-emails would say to vote YES, there'd be a drastic change.

    Don't humor me by saying students came to you. Some students with 'Vote NO' t-shirts would tell me personally that they were told to wear it and just vote NO. Using your circle of friends to coax them into your own belief system is still corrupt. Just because Nathan told you what to do doesn't mean you have to do the same to others.

    I'd like to finish that this topic is completely off line with the article, and what's important is doing work to help students, whether they be current or prospective, and reducing the gap between the current disparity of power.
    Many students are leading great initiatives on campus that are for the students and I hope people will be able to discern the difference between them and those who do nothing but pursue their private interests at the expense of others.

    This isn't fun anymore so I'm really done now, cuz nothing gets through the minds of those that think of nothing but themselves. I invite you to counter my statements and ignore the ones that you can't negate. It's what you do best, right? p.s. congrats on convocation, what's next? ;)

  15. Posted by: John Sakaluk on Jun 23, 2010 @ 1:32pm

    Im glad that you think "well written" statements are "typical" of me--I was always told I was a subpar writer.

    However, for you to know anything as being "typical" of me, to make comments about my friendships (nathan), to know ("know") what I do best, and to comment on recent personal events of mine (convocation), it would seem you like to think you know me pretty well, "Bill".

    Drop the pseudonym. Have the courage to put your real name behind your ideas--maybe then I'll waste my time "countering your statements and ignoring the ones I can't negate".

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