The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) ad-hoc committee on the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has released its report on the union’s relationship with the federation.
The committee was initiated in July 2015, by former University College director Daman Singh, to investigate their association.
“We met once early on in the year to establish the duties of various committee members, delegating different committee members to research different sections of the CFS’ mandate,” Singh told The Varsity in an email.
The report describes the processes in which member unions leave CFS as “unnecessarily burdensome.” Numerous unions have gone to court with the CFS in an attempt to leave, including the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, which is currently in litigation.
Other governance issues that were identified included: the “one local, one vote” policy, in which each member union has one vote regardless of size; the “limited oversight of the National Executive and the provincial Executive Committee;” the power that unelected staff hold; and the lack of public availability of documents.
The report is also critical of CFS-Service’s National Student Health Network, which offers student health and dental plans through Green Shield. In January, it was revealed that UTSU lost $1.6 million over a six-year period from Green Shield’s contract. The union has since switched providers to Desjardins, after consultation with StudentCare, an insurance broker.
The report distinguishes between the activism-focused CFS and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), both of which have been more focused on government lobbying and policy development.
The report labels the CFS’s decades-old ‘No Means No’ campaign against sexual violence as “outdated.”
It also calls into question the credit CFS is claiming for the Ontario government’s plan to make tuition largely free for students from lower-income families; the report said this was more comparable to OUSA’s policy.
The report concludes that the CFS is “too large and bureaucratic to be an effective activist organization” and suggests that the federation should provide resources to smaller member advocacy groups.
In an email to The Varsity, CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte said that they were not consulted during the compilation of the report. “Given the many sweeping generalizations and blatantly incorrect statements I encourage the authors to rethink their draft- I remain open and available to speak with them,” Arte said.
“The reality is that students at the University of Toronto and indeed across the province and country benefit from a strong and united student movement that advocates for a fully accessible post-secondary education system but that also provides practical recommendations to government that can be adopted immediately,” Arte continued.
Arte also defended the CFS’s advocacy campaigns: “Take for example work done to address sexual violence, three provinces and many campuses have made significant advances in addressing rape culture since the Federation developed a framework about a year ago. Students have also benefited from increased investment in needs-based grants that is expected to positively impact many UofT students.”
Singh hopes that this year’s board of directors will build on the committee’s work. “Specifically, I hope that they reach out to the CFS and other student unions within Ontario while continuing their research,” he said.
Despite its criticisms of the federation, the report states that it does not take a position on secession from the CFS.
“While I believe that the union should not take any further action I am confident that the union’s membership will take the necessary steps to secede from the Federation,” said Singh. “If there was a referendum, I’d vote to leave the CFS.”