The CFS coordinates national student unions Photo: Rame Abdulkader.
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Referendum committee bans third party financing, caps funding to $500

The Student Federation of The University of Ottawa (SFUO) attempted to pass a motion to provide emergency funds to unions facing dissolution at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) annual meeting last November.

The CFS is an organization that lobbies for students at a national level and provides student services including a union healthcare plan. It also coordinates activities between member unions, including the SFUO. Critics of the organization often cite inefficiencies in the use of collected student fees and the federation’s use of heavy-handed legal tactics.

The motion ultimately failed to pass during the annual general meeting of the CFS due to a lack of time for debate. It was referred to the CFS’ national executive meeting scheduled to take place in April, where it will be voted on. 

If the motion were adopted, it could have been used to fund the SFUO’s campaign for the upcoming student union referendum.

However, use of the CFS’ financial and legal assistance would violate the Referendum Committee’s campaign finance rules, which cap funding at $500 and forbid third-party donations or advertising.

The motion would create “an emergency fund for unions … that could be used in moments that post-secondary institutions take actions against unions, student groups, and student organizers” according to a printed draft of the proposal.

A recording of the meeting’s closing plenary, obtained by the Fulcrum, includes the emergency motion being read by an unnamed representative of ‘Local 41’ — the CFS designation for the SFUO.

A significant debate followed, including the representative for the University of Toronto Student Union quizzing the SFUO on their self-interest in the motion. The SFUO representative insisted the proposal was not related to the union’s current tensions with the University of Ottawa but conceded that the SFUO could benefit from the proposed emergency funds.

The CFS has made interventions similar to this motion, including a campaign last year to maintain the Carleton University Student Association’s (CUSA) enrollment in the national organization.

A 2018 report by the Charlatan claims the CFS paid representatives from other universities to travel to Carleton’s campus and campaign on behalf of the CFS. A vote to withdraw CUSA from the CFS ultimately failed, with 52 per cent of votes in favour of remaining.

Another report by Maclean’s also highlights the CFS’ long history of protecting their status on university campuses, and the maze of bylaws and legal challenges that student organizations attempting to withdraw from the union.

The campaign period for a referendum to determine a new student union at the U of O began on Jan.17 and will continue until on Feb.10.

Correction: This story has been edited to note that the motion brought up at the November CFS meeting has not yet been voted on.