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photo courtesy Jake Lajoie

Does anyone know what the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) actually does?

As the editors of a campus newspaper, we like to think we’re more informed than the average student. But a conversation among our editorial board about the student organization quickly revealed a lack of consensus on what the CFS is and what our membership means for University of Ottawa students.

To some of us, the CFS represents the Education is a Right campaign; to others, it’s an organization that supported striking postal workers this summer. One thing we could all agree on: The generic description of the CFS on its website—filled with empowering yet vague language—is both confusing and frustrating.

Those of our editors who are in or beyond their fourth year at the U of O remember the referendum that reunited our campus with the CFS in 2008. We also remember the many Board of Administration members at the time that campaigned for the “no” side of the referendum question, believing that the CFS would take money away from Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) initiatives.

We were slightly more aware of issues surrounding our involvement in the CFS then, because during this time, students were engaged in a dialogue on an issue they felt directly affected them—something largely absent on this campus three years later as our university fills up with new students who can’t tell where the SFUO ends and the CFS begins.

That conversation was reignited by a handful of 101 Week guides last Saturday in what was many first-year students’ introduction to the divisive nature that characterizes our campus. Many students have spoken out in support of the guides’ anti-CFS stand; others have argued that Fedstock, an event part of a week-long welcoming of first years to our campus, was not the appropriate time or place for a protest. But whether you’re in favour or against the protest, for or against the CFS—it doesn’t matter.

What matters is what the CFS does—what they do to help or hurt students—and that students have begunto again question where their student fees go and what they’re getting out of the federations that claim to have their best interests at heart.

We can’t let the CFS become so ingrained in our understanding of student politics at the U of O that we stop questioning its purpose and usefulness on our campus. The organization should exist within a dialogue sustained by two sides that put forth their arguments regarding how the current system is or is not working for students. Quite contrary to the SFUO’s vp communications Paige Galette’s comment to the Fulcrum regarding the anti-CFS stunt at Fedstock—“We did vote ‘yes,’ so there’s nothing much we can do”—students on all sides of this debate can do something: Discuss.

If you’re pro-CFS, you can give your peers some much needed insight into the services the CFS provides its members. If you’re anti-CFS, you should continue to question our place within the federation, making these questions heard by students who only know our student federation as part of a larger federation of students. It is this kind of dialogue that informs and engages the student population—something both sides of this debate can agree is important.

Over the past two weeks, it has become clear that, while the CFS label is smeared across our campus—I’m looking at you, new SFUO website—a solid understanding of its place within our campus and vice versa is next to non-existent for the majority of students. Maybe the “Stop CFS” protest wasn’t the most politically correct way to raise awareness about the organization’s shortcomings, but the unquestioned presence of a group that should be working for us is far more worrisome than a group of protestors voicing their opinion to a crowd of students.

We pay the CFS thousands of dollars each year in membership fees—is a conversation about what they’re doing for us such a bad idea? Questioning the CFS and what it does needs to be something U of O students continue to do for as long as we are members. Because if the answer to “What does the CFS do for us?” is “Not much,” then students deserve better.


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