Student lobby group criticized

Of the over 80 student groups represented by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), 13 are petitioning to host referendums on their campuses to question the continuation of their membership with the lobbying organization.

“It’s the individual students that petition the national executive that have a referendum,” explained David Molenhuis, national treasurer for the CFS.

The referendum requires students at the member establishment to submit a petition reflecting 10 per cent of the population in order to initiate the process. CFS then has 90 days to respond to the request.

“For the purposes of accountability we have to verify the authenticity of the signatures to ensure there weren’t any errors on it and it is in fact representative,” said Molenhuis in explaining the 90-day wait.

Students at the University of Calgary’s Graduate Student Association (U of C GSA) have submitted a petition for the second year in a row to host a referendum.

Regarding their first attempt to petition in 2008, Matt Musson, director of campaigns for the U of C GSA said, “The CFS pointed out in the by-laws that we had to pay our full dues … [and] nothing ever happened from that.”

Their second petition was filed on Oct. 20, 2009 and has yet to result in any response from the CFS, according to Musson.

Despite criticism from students at the national level, there still remain many schools in strong support for the CFS, including Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Student Association (WLUGSA).

“It’s up to CFS to prove every year that they’re worthwhile and they manage to do it,” said Melany Banks, president of WLUGSA.

“It would be very hard for a lobbying group to have a constantly changing membership, so they’re trying to get some stability there,” Banks continued.

Though WLUGSA – representing graduate and part-time students at Laurier –is a member of CFS, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union – representing undergraduate students – is a member of the alternative national lobbying group Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

To the CFS, the sudden surge of petitions are representative of the freedom of students within their organization.

“I feel as though the only thing that receiving petitions tells me is that we’re the only national student organization that has a full referendum process for all students to have a voice in their membership,” said Molenhuis.

However, critics of the federation see the situation as reflective of their inability to effectively represent their students.

“The CFS is inefficient for lobbying at student needs because they’re scatterbrained and go off on all these side issues,” said Eric Merkley, Laurier student and president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA). The OPCCA oversees CFS Watch, a group that follows what they believe to be radicalism, attack on free speech and corruption within the CFS.
Merkley stated that the CFS is lobbying on issues that are unrelated to students and also radical, leaving politicians unable to take their claims seriously.

“We’re going to take a stand on the Gaza conflict at York [University] and alienate 20 per cent of students on the campus…

“What does a students’ union have business in taking sides on very emotional issues like that?” said Merkley, illustrating previous situations in which the CFS took a stance on an issue.

“If you’re paying for representation and you don’t feel like you’re getting it you should be able to evaluate that representation plain and simple,” said Musson.

With the CFS hosting their bi-annual annual general meeting (AGM) Nov. 25 to 29, it will become more clear if the criticism of their member students are taken into consideration and adopted with new policies and restructuring.

“We all come together at the very end and vote on each of the motions and discuss them for a final plan,” said Molenhuis regarding the AGM.

Regardless of the claims of the CFS, their critics remain skeptical on the outcome of the meeting. “I just don’t think they’ll ever get it,” said Merkley.