On Campus

Carleton should keep the Canadian Federation of Students

It’s imperfect, but successfully fights oppression and tuition

CFS supporters protest in Toronto in 2012

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the best! By that I mean the CFS is the best thing students have on a national level. The CFS is the largest student association in Canada, representing more than 500,000 students in more than 80 colleges and universities.

The CFS isn’t perfect, but it more than deserves the membership fees our Carleton University Students’ Association currently provides. As students, it would be unwise to leave this nationwide organization, as could happen after a referendum that has been proposed. Here’s why I think we should remain united with the CFS.

After reading this argument, check out our piece from a student in favour of leaving the CFS.

In the early 1990s, the average undergraduate tuition in Canada was $1,464. In 2012, the average was $5,138. What’s my source? It’s an easy-to-read and informative publication from the CFS. Such accessible research and publications are one of the benefits of a dedicated national group.

More importantly, the CFS opposes rising tuition. And, yes, the CFS has actually slowed down the rise of tuition. There have been quite a few victories at the provincial level. In Newfoundland and Labrador, thanks to CFS lobbying, tuition has not risen since 1999. In fact, it has decreased. It was an average of $2,649 in the fall of 2011—the second lowest in Canada, after Quebec.

But what about Ontario, you might ask? Isn’t tuition there an average of $7,100 per year? There are many considerable examples of CFS efforts and successes in Ontario, but let’s just look at three of them. First, we got a freeze in tuition rates from 2004 to 2006. Second, there was $6.2-billion of new investment in post-secondary education under the McGuinty Liberal government. And finally, there was a successful campaign to stop the very same Liberal government from cutting post-secondary funding in response to the 2009 recession. Meanwhile, other programs got cut.

Despite what you may have heard about CFS and its “Drop Fees” campaigns, the CFS is actually pragmatic. The ideal goal is no tuition fees, but until then every dollar counts.

The CFS has also made student loans more accessible, student grants more available, and got more affordable public transportation for students. Read more about that here.

The CFS is not the Pope. It’s far from infallible. One of the biggest complaints levied at it is that, on occasion, it sues student unions. Sometimes it’s because an individual student union didn’t pay its fees, and other times it’s because the CFS doesn’t want the student union to leave its grasp. I see this as sometimes being a problem, as it wastes money that could better serve students.

But is the alternative any better? Back in 2007, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a much smaller national student group, sued the University of Manitoba Students’ Union and the Students’ Society of McGill University over unpaid fees. CFS nay-sayers often cite the unnecessary litigation as one of its biggest flaws, but almost nobody brings up that CASA has done the very same. What’s with the double-standard?

It’s also worth noting that the CFS is democratic. Each member student union has a vote.

Even if the CFS has done things that seem undemocratic, it has changed for the better in the past, and nothing stops it from changing now. The fact that CUSA skipped the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the Ontario branch of the CFS makes me even less sympathetic to them. Democracy is decided by those who show up. When you play hooky instead, your arguments are less valid.

Another complaint is that the CFS creates campaign material “unrelated to student issues.” I find this sentiment absurd. Let’s look at some of the campaigns they created: anti-sexism (including the anti-rape No Means No campaign), anti-homophobia/transphobia and anti-Islamophobia.

Sexual assaults still happen on campuses across Canada, so this is absolutely a student issue. Just in 2012, there was at least four reported cases of sexual assaults at Carleton University.

Homophobia absolutely still prevails. In a survey of 3,700 students between 2007 and 2009, 64 per cent of LGBTQ students said they felt unsafe at school at various points—-and worse, 21 per cent said they had been harassed or even physically assaulted.

Sames goes for Islamophobia. Every year there are incidents of anti-Muslim graffiti on campus.

How are these issues not relevant to students? They all are, in fact, and it’s more than reasonable for our national association to combat these problems.

In order to fight for student issues effectively, we need to do it together. If we want lower tuition, more accessible education and a more equitable learning environments, we need as much support as possible. The Canadian Federation of Students is the best apparatus we have at the moment. It has, by far, the most student associations and students behind it. As students, our ability to demand cheaper education and a better learning environment is elevated when we stand together.

The government can ignore one voice, but it can’t ignore half-a-million voices, and that is the purpose of the CFS. To fragment is to falter, and I’d rather we thrive.

Adam Carroll is a first-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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