UTSU to hire students to help with You Decide campaign

Campaign aims to trigger referendum on Canadian Federation of Students

UTSU to hire students to help with You Decide campaign

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is hiring students to help with You Decide, a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The position, titled Outreach Associate, will be responsible for “handling outreach strategies to make members aware of [You Decide], collecting signatures on physical petition sheets, and coordinating class visits in large lecture halls to speak to students.” There is not a set amount of Outreach Associates being hired, said UTSU President Mathias Memmel. “It’ll be based on the availability of those who are selected.”

The CFS is an organization that represents over 70 student unions across Canada, with the mandate of lobbying provincial and federal government on behalf of students. The federation and the UTSU have had a turbulent relationship for years, with current and previous UTSU executives endorsing leaving the federation, citing lack of accountability and opaque financials.

A referendum of the UTSU’s membership must be held in order to leave the CFS. In order to hold that referendum, a petition in favour of it must be signed by 20 per cent of students in the membership. You Decide is in the process of collecting those signatures.

Memmel said that the UTSU is hiring for this job because “You Decide has been endorsed by the UTSU, so it’s appropriate that we do what’s necessary to support the campaign. As we said last year, we’ll support any student-initiated effort to leave the CFS.”

UTSU Vice-President External and U of T’s CFS-Ontario (CFS–O) representative Anne Boucher echoed Memmel’s statements, saying that since the UTSU has already endorsed You Decide, it is going to do everything it can to help.

“It’s also nearly impossible to leave the CFS, so we’re going to do what we can to leave. It’s in students’ best interest to do so,” wrote Boucher. “Compared to the amount of money that CFS takes from students, the amount we’ll be spending to leave (i.e. by paying student collectors) is microscopic.”

In 2016, U of T student unions, including the UTSU, contributed $598,678 in membership fees to CFS–O, which amounted to about 38 per cent of the federation’s budget. The position of Outreach Associate will pay $14 per hour for a three-month term, with a minimum of five work hours per week.

On whether this new position would affect the UTSU’s relationship with the CFS, Memmel said he “couldn’t care less what the CFS thinks.”

“The CFS is just another nasty, self-serving corporation. It doesn’t do anything for U of T students, except for those on the CFS payroll,” said Memmel. “We’ve spent three years demonstrating that we don’t need the CFS, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.”

Boucher said that the two groups’ relationship is already strained, and that she’s experienced that strain in her own dealings with the federation.

“You’re immediately othered when you enter CFS spaces just for being from local 98 (UTSU), due to our efforts of keeping them accountable and presenting motions that would force them to be more transparent (eg take minutes, adopt online voting, etc),” she wrote.

The CFS and You Decide did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

YouDecide provincial petition fails to meet required signatures, must reset

National petition for referendum continues as UTSU executives take hard stance on defederation from CFS

YouDecide provincial petition fails to meet required signatures, must reset

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.”