Members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) rejected motions to simplify the decertification process and allow electronic voting at the closing plenary of its National General Meeting (NGM), held in Gatineau, Québec on June 9–12. The NGM is a chance for members to put forward motions that propose changes to the CFS’ bylaws.
The CFS is a national student organization that represents almost 80 member local student unions across Canada, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students at the University of Toronto. Its goals are to lobby for accessible postsecondary education and advance student interests.
The meeting included multiple motions that proposed changes to make it easier to leave the CFS, a process known as decertification.
One such motion suggested reducing the time needed between decertification votes from 60 months for university locals and 36 months for college locals to 18 months for both. University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) President Jakob Sanderson spoke in favour of the motion, saying that it would allow locals to be responsive to their students.
Phyllis McKenna — a delegate from the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) and Chair of the Circle of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students — spoke against the motion, arguing that it was only student executives who had problems with the CFS, not students themselves.
“If you were to go on the ground and actually speak about the services and the campaigns that we work on, I’m sure that the membership enjoys these and is happy that we’re advocating for marginalized groups, racialized groups, and whatnot. I’m speaking against this motion because we don’t want the federation to crumble, we want to empower it,” said McKenna.
After some procedural confusion, the motion to reduce the time required between votes was defeated.
Another motion on decertification, also motivated by Sanderson, proposed amending the bylaws to remove the following: “There shall be no more than two votes to decertify in any one period of ninety consecutive days.” Sanderson said that the CFS should trust that members know whether they want to stay in the union.
The University of King’s Students’ Union (UKSU) spoke against the motion, arguing that referendums take a lot of time and money to hold. Following the UKSU’s statement, the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU) called the question on the motion.
According to the rules of order that govern the CFS’ meetings, calling the question can be done by any member at any time during the debate, and it means that members must immediately vote on whether they want to end the debate and vote on the motion.
After MUNSU called the question, members voted to stop the discussion and proceed immediately to the vote on the motion, which was defeated.
Another motion that received much debate was a proposal to introduce electronic voting in CFS elections and referenda, alongside continuing the use of paper ballots. Sanderson spoke in favour of the motion, saying that turnout at the University of Manitoba elections had “skyrocketed” since switching to electronic voting.
In addition, he called simplyvoting.com — which is also used by the UTSU to administer their elections and referenda — a “robust” system. “Not allowing this motion to pass is once again overstepping on our members,” said Sanderson. “This motion is about choice.”
McKenna also spoke against this motion, saying that electronic voting is not “100 per cent unhackable,” and “a person that takes an engineering program with computers can very well hack into the systems.”
Andrew Fenwick, another delegate of the UMSU, spoke about his personal experiences, saying that electronic voting helped him meet his accessibility needs.
In response, a representative from the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association spoke against the motion saying that, as a woman with a disability, she wanted people to recognize how intimidation tactics can be used in electronic voting. She added that electronic voting privileges some people over others, and urged the plenary to vote in the negative.
After the question was called by the UKSU, the motion was defeated, with 34 voting against, 14 voting in favour, and one abstention.
“There were concerns brought up around the security of online voting that really weren’t reflective of reality,” said Daman Singh after the meeting. Singh is the former UTSU Vice-President Operations and was attending the NGM as a UTSU delegate. “One of the concerns that was brought up at closing plenary was that anyone with an engineering degree would be able to hack an online voting site… I don’t think that’s a reasonable position to have.”
After the plenary, CFS Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell told The Varsity that “all members of the Canadian Federation of Students have the opportunity to democratically decide upon a membership, and so it’s absolutely the right of a member local to submit a certification or decertification petition and then have a referendum process on membership.”