The YouDecide campaign, which is promoting a petition to hold a referendum on the UTSU’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), has had to reset its provincial petition due to a lack of signatures needed by the designated deadline.
Headed by Adrian Huntelar, the YouDecide campaign is a student-run endeavour to collect a sufficient number of signatures on a petition to initiate a referendum on the UTSU’s membership with both the national CFS and its Ontario chapter. The campaign has garnered over 1,000 signatories since the start of orientation week.
“So far [the campaign] has been very grassroots,” Huntelar said. “It’s been very much just a collection of individuals who are interested in the idea of having this referendum as soon as possible.”
YouDecide was formed in September 2016. According to Huntelar, the objective of the YouDecide campaign is to garner enough signatures to initiate a referendum by the end of this year. In order to accomplish this, the campaign must collect signatures from 15 per cent of the UTSU membership on the St. George campus. Of the 43,000 students represented, YouDecide must obtain approximately 7,000 signatures.
The campaign is complicated by the existence of two petitions, one regarding the national CFS and one regarding the provincial chapter, CFS-Ontario. While the signatures collected last year for the national petition carried over, the expiratory clause in the provincial petition required restarting from the beginning. According to CFS-Ontario bylaws, a petition for a referendum on membership must include the exact dates of the proposed vote. The YouDecide petition for CFS-Ontario included dates that have passed this point, which requries them to begin a new petition entirely.
Despite this, Huntelar remains hopeful for the campaign’s efforts.
“So far I’ve seen a great amount of interest,” Huntelar said. “When we talk to students and when we make our case for why they should be able to make this decision for themselves, the vast majority of them agree and the vast majority of them who we talk to do sign the petition and are very enthusiastic about having a referendum.”
YouDecide and the UTSU
While Huntelar said there is no official relationship between the YouDecide campaign and the UTSU, and that the campaign itself remains a disinterested actor with regard to the outcome of the possible referendum, UTSU executives are unequivocal in decrying the CFS.
“The CFS wants every local to do the same thing at the same time, and that’s a barrier to effective advocacy,” UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote in an email to The Varsity. “Campaigns are developed centrally by CFS staff and then shipped across the country. It doesn’t work. There’s no single student experience, and there’s no single set of student needs.”
In an email to The Varsity, CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah confirmed that “a decision on continued membership rests with students through a democratic vote.” He reiterated that membership in the federation “allows U of T students to benefit from being part of an organization that, in the last few years, has won a 50% increase to the Canada Student Grants program, $90 million in new funding for Indigenous students, and legislation requiring universities in Ontario to implement standalone sexual violence policies.”
Current UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh shared Memmel’s criticism in a separate email, saying that “the CFS shuts out the voices of members who suggest different priorities than those decreed by the National Executive. There are frequent, demonstrable instances of corruption, ranging from serious concerns such as the secret bank account… to simpler issues such as the disclosure of documents and financials to member locals.”
Singh played a major role in the YouDecide campaign last year, but neither he nor Huntelar believes Singh’s past involvement with the campaign constitutes a conflict of interest.
The CFS did not comment on the matter. “The CFS is a hindrance, not a help,” Singh wrote to The Varsity. “The UTSU has no reason to stay. I have complete confidence in the You Decide campaign. There’s no conflict between my role in the campaign and my role as an executive. I’ve always been completely transparent about my position on this issue.”