Mixed reaction from Carleton organizations at CFS meeting

Following the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) semi-annual meeting in Ottawa from June 4 to 8, The Charlatan spoke to both Zameer Masjedee, president of the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), and Eric Hitsman, president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), to hear their thoughts on the meeting.

Masjedee, who ran on a platform of defederating from the CFS, said disappointment from member locals in the CFS is on the rise, and attempts to make the federation better have been met with resistance. He added that allegations of mismanagement of student funds levelled against the CFS are a big factor in why CUSA is looking to leave the organization.

But, Hitsman said in an email that it’s well worth staying in the CFS.

“The CFS offers us affordable, and fair trade merchandise to distribute to our students. They proved a not-for-profit health plan that is easy to use for students and easy for us to administer,” he said. “Again, while we do not share these locals’ views, they bring significant contributions to the overall meetings.”

At the semi-annual meeting in November 2016, student unions from various schools such as the University of Toronto attempted to put forward various motions to change aspects of the CFS.

The motions were postponed until the semi-annual meeting this past June, where they were again tabled, failed, or weren’t discussed.

The first motion was presented by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, who proposed online voting be a part of the process for certifying or decertifying from the CFS. The motion was tabled for discussion at the next CFS semi-annual meeting.

Under current bylaws, decertification is done by paper ballot. But, Masjedee said that the paper ballot system is problematic and gives a less accurate representation of student voices because student participation in voting increases dramatically with online voting.

“Even if you’re for or against the CFS, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the student body whether or not they want to be a member. That’s the democracy in the whole process,” he said.

Hitman said the online voting issue was not an easy motion to pass.

“The motion regarding online voting is complicated and was tabled as a result. I can understand the frustration of locals that want this motion to pass, but it is also important to fully consider all of the details included in the motions,” he said.

The second motion was about consistencies within decertification and certification bylaws. In a consecutive 90-day period, only two schools are allowed to decertify, or leave the CFS, at a time. If a school is trying to certify, the CFS allows up to three schools to do so in the same 90-day consecutive period.

This means that after a member local gathers the 15 per cent of student signatures necessary to go to a decertification vote, the CFS can only schedule the vote at a time when there are no more than two other decertification votes being held.

“There are at least seven different member locals that we know of that have collected the necessary signatures or are in the process of doing so. That means the earliest CUSA could take a look at decertifying is over a year from now,” Masjedee said.

The motion sought to make the rules which govern certification and decertification campaigns consistent by making the number of schools who can certify and decertify at one time the same.

The motion failed.

Hitman said he thinks that was fair.

“It is important for those who wish to make changes in [the] CFS to acknowledge the changes that did move in their favour during this meeting,” Hitsman said. “If they did not pass, it is the reality of democratic voting forums.”

Another motion put forward was in regards to meeting minutes at general executive meetings, none of which are currently being recorded. The motion failed.

“The real frustrating part for a member local such as ourselves who is looking for positive reform within the federation is that, when we’re proposing these changes that will ultimately make the federation more democratic and accountable, we didn’t have the chance to vote on them or have a discussion,” Masjedee said.

While Hitsman said the tension at the meeting was obvious, he added that he felt the issues brought up at the meeting were discussed fairly.

The CFS has been the source of numerous controversies recently, such as allegations of interfering in student union elections, and its handling of a hidden bank account discovered in 2014.

While Masjedee said he does believe there are benefits to having a unified voice for students, he is dissatisfied with the current state of the CFS.

“To say that the CFS as a whole is not useful would be incorrect, they are,” Masjesdee said. “It’s just, there are so many other issues that need addressing that make member locals question if the money in student fees they’re collecting and giving to the CFS is worthwhile to their students.”

Hitsman said the disappointment from member locals at the meeting was obvious.

“It was very clear throughout the meeting,” he said. “The disappointment, I believe, comes from lack of trust in the organization as well as some locals desire to leave the federation, but encountering difficulties doing so. I spoke with many of these people, and they are all reasonable persons. It is important these kinds of spaces be open to different points of view. That being said, the GSA is a supporter of the CFS.”

Photos by Amy Yee