The Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) approved a motion that makes it easier for member student associations to leave the organization.
The NGM, which took place in Gatineau, Québec from November 18–21, is the meeting where delegates from all member student associations come together to elect candidates for CFS leadership positions and vote on important matters relating to the federations.
The CFS is an organization made up of college and university student unions across Canada. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), along with nine other CFS member associations, sent an open letter to the CFS in September calling the defederation process “overly burdensome.”
A motion to lower the signature threshold for petitions to trigger a defederation referendum to 15 per cent of members of a students’ union was moved by the UTSU, known as Local 98 within the CFS. Previously, a petition to trigger a referendum on defederation needed signatures from 20 per cent of members.
“This was one of 30 resolutions adopted by members following 75 hours of official meeting spaces for delegates to debate them,” CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte told The Varsity of the change. “This change in petition threshold comes from years of discussion, and members still have a right to decide on their membership through a referendum vote.”
In October, the CFS National Executive — of which Arte is a member — also approved a motion to lower the threshold to 15 per cent.
At UTSG, a campaign called You Decide UofT is currently collecting signatures to trigger a referendum. You Decide organizer Daman Singh applauded the NGM decision.
“The YouDecide campaign is very happy to hear that the motion to lower the petition threshold passed at the recent Canadian Federation of Students National General Meeting,” said Singh in an email statement to The Varsity. “We appreciate the good faith effort to reform the Federation and we are thankful that the Federation is willing to make these important structural changes.”
UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike and Vice-President Internal and Services Mathias Memmel said in a joint statement that they were “pleased that the motion to lower the threshold passed” but expressed disappointment at the outcome of their other motions; one of the motions would prohibit student associations from sending delegates to the NGM who are not fee-paying students while another would have allowed for online voting for deferderation referendums. Denike also noted that the entire 11-member delegation from the UTSU were made up of either current students or elected officials of the student union.
“We’re pleased that the motion to lower the threshold passed, but they refused to even debate most of our motions… We would’ve argued that non-students shouldn’t be speaking and voting on behalf of students, but the motion was never debated,” said Denike and Memmel. “Another motion that was incredibly important to our delegation was N13, which would have mandated the CFS implement online voting in conjunction with paper ballots.”
Memmel further criticized the structure of the NGM. “These meetings are controlled by CFS staff and the staff at other students’ unions, and they’re designed to prevent serious discussion of how the CFS operates,” he said. “Anyone who’s familiar with the structure of general meetings knows this. If you want to talk about the structure of the organization, you’re accused of ‘being negative’ and ‘distracting from the real issues.’”
Memmel continued: “We were and are being placated. In theory, our motions will be debated next year, but that’s not good enough. We engaged in this process in good faith, and we weren’t even given an opportunity to make our case.”
Arte disputed Memmel’s assertion about the role of the CFS staff at the NGM.
“Delegates are the ones around the table, making decisions, while staff of the Federation keep the lights on. The structure of the general meeting is designed to have members from different backgrounds and geographic areas debate decisions,” Arte said. “In more that 20 official meeting spaces, adding up to 75 cumulative hours, delegates debated motions and ended up adopting 30 resolutions.”
Arte also took issue to what she called “the ‘us and them’ rhetoric in statements by the UTSU executive after the meeting,” and said that she “appreciated the attendance and contributions of the UTSU delegation at committees and workshops at the national meeting and know that others feel the same.”
“I know that it can be frustrating to present a motion and not see the decision made that you want, but that is the nature of operating within a democratic structure,” Arte continued. “It is not true that motions were not debated. They were discussed by students in different meeting spaces over 12-hour days all weekend.”