Will the SFUO election spark debate about membership with the national federation?

Patricia-Joy Crosby | Fulcrum Staff

THE STUDENT FEDERATION of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) is fast approaching the five-year anniversary of its partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). With the SFUO election campaigns now underway, many of those involved in student politics believe continued membership in the CFS should be a focal point of discussion.

The CFS has been met with controversy across the country as their opponents argue they are ineffective and radical and that they mismanage money. Those in defence of the CFS point to the resources, services, and greater opportunities CFS brings to campus when a student association is a part of a larger body.

“CFS gives a lot of support for services and campaigns that are important here on campus,” said SFUO vp communications Anne-Marie Roy. “They add a stronger voice to our student government so that we can inform students on policies that are important.”

Jonah Clifford is a third-year political science and philosophy student who has been active on campus, namely as communications director for the Political, International, and Development Studies Student Association (PIDSSA) during the 2011–12 school year. He argues the CFS is good in theory but not in practice.

“Students need an organization like the CFS—they need an organ that looks after student rights, promotes university education, ensures that our degrees are valuable—because students don’t have much of a force individually,” he said.

Roy added that “it is important to have a body that represents students across the province and country to give them a voice.”

Simon La Terreur is a U of O alumnus who held the position of vp university affairs for the Criminology Students’ Association (CSA) during the 2011–12 school year. He points to the positive impact that CFS has had but has concerns about the efficiency of the organization compared to other student organizations, particularly Quebec organizations like the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ).

“CFS has had an impact and brought many services, but when you look at the math—what you pay for what you receive—that’s where the problem is,” said La Terreur. “We pay way too much for what we get.”

The fall semester of 2008 was marked by tension throughout the U of O as students voted on whether or not to join the CFS.

Peter Flynn is an alumnus who was active on campus with both PIDSSA and the Economics Student Association (ESA) and lobbied against joining the CFS in 2008.

“[The campaign] was a coordinated effort involving multi-partisan and non-partisan students … who were all fighting against the CFS,” he said. “Overall, we were very organized.”

Amanda Marochko, an alumna who was active with PIDSSA and the SFUO, became involved with the campaign against CFS membership after hearing about the contents of its meetings.

“What I heard was particularly disheartening, as votes were being whipped and student unions were being manipulated into taking hyper-political stances,” she said.

Marochko and Flynn commented on the challenges they met with in the campaign.

“During that time, we faced many difficulties as the referendum committee was comprised of openly biased members and CFS employees, and funding was allotted to the uOttawa campaign,” said Marochko.

Flynn added, “We were up against a campaign that told students that voting ‘no’ said no to international students’ rights.”
U of O students were still divided following the vote.

“Student politics were never supposed to be about the politics,” said Marochko. “It was about having fun, meeting new people, running events, and unifying the campus.”

One of the largest controversies surrounding the CFS is its organization of the Drop Fees protests and the Education is a Right campaign. Marochko argues that the protests are ineffective.

“That sort of behaviour isn’t taken seriously down in Queen’s Park,” she said. “We need to create dialogue and discussion.”

According to Marochko, more attention should be paid to providing scholarships and bursaries, improving work-study programs, and regulating provincial student loans so that more students have access to funding.

Clifford agrees with the fight against student debt, but points to the polarizing nature of the campaign, which has been unable to reach across partisan lines.

“The means of advocating and communication on campus has been a failure,” he said. “[CFS] has not been able to bring people together. There is no excuse for not even trying, and alienating portions of the student population, when there are so many things we can all agree on. I challenge you to find one student on campus that would say that they agree with paying an unnecessarily exorbitant amount of money for their education.”

Many support a referendum—even those who favour the CFS partnership—as it would allow an open discussion about the future of the SFUO and students on campus.

“We need to have an SFUO executive that will work with the CFS so that we can maximize what we get out of memberships,” said Roy. “The executive needs to promote the services so that students can get the most out of them.”

It’s rumoured that certain candidates or slates will seek to address the CFS question in the current SFUO elections. Presidential candidate Geoff Parent was heavily involved in the campaign against membership in 2008, while opposing candidate Roy is supportive of the CFS.

La Terreur said it will be impossible to have a legitimate debate unless the CFS issue is discussed.

“It has to be a major election issue,” he said. “The discussion needs to happen.”

Students will soon find out where SFUO candidates stand on the issue of membership with the CFS.