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.