After 13 years of independence from any national student-lobby group, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) hopes to take out prospective membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
At its monthly meeting yesterday, the SFUO’s Board of Administration (BOA) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move by a margin of 25-3 (with one abstention). The SFUO executive all voted in favour of membership, as did every director except one from the Faculty of Arts and two from the Faculty of Science.
“A lot of people on the Board decided that it should be about whether or not students have the right to vote on it,” said SFUO president Dean Haldenby, who supported the motion.
Only a year ago, the BOA rejected prospective membership in the CFS. Last June, the executive expressed its intent to join the CFS in a letter to the lobby group. Some members of the BOA suggested that the executive didn’t have the power to do that on its own, and a motion to support the executive was presented at the July meeting of the BOA. Twelve of the 21 directors present voted against the motion, often citing concerns with the referendum process. Consequently, the SFUO remained independent for the 2007-08 year.
This year, the BOA struck an ad-hoc committee at the beginning of the summer that “attempted to decide whether the question of membership should be brought to the students of the SFUO by way of a referendum.” It recommended the SFUO apply for prospective membership, the position endorsed by the BOA yesterday.
What changed in a year?
“(There were) less personal opinions, more thought about what students would want,” said Haldenby, who served as the SFUO’s vice-president finance last year. “The feel was that there was a lot more cooperation. The way it was brought forth last year was maybe not the best way.”
Those who argued in favour of the motion yesterday largely spoke not to the merits of the CFS, but to the ability of the student body to decide whether or not membership was the right choice. Voting against the motion was shutting out students, they said.
The SFUO isn’t a member of the CFS yet, and likely won’t be for a few weeks. CFS national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard said that the national executive would consider the application when it next meets in a few weeks’ time, and Haldenby added that the application would also need to be reviewed at the next general meeting of the CFS-Ontario in early August.
Giroux-Bougard said that although the CFS and CFS-Ontario share some congruency, there is still a separate review process for applicants.
Ryan Kennery, an arts director who voted against the motion, said he did so because he sees CFS referendum rules as inherently unfair.
“The sections of the report which concentrated on the referendum process made it very clear that the committee felt that it was a fair process, which I understood,” he said. “I agreed to disagree. I disagreed that the process was a fair process. I think that any process that involves a third-party organization coming on to our campus … with full-time campaigners—I don’t see that as fair.”
The next step for the SFUO, if its membership is accepted, is to appoint two members to the four-member referendum oversight committee that governs CFS referendums (two other members are appointed by the CFS). A date would also be set for the referendum.
If the referendum were successful, based on 2008-09 projections, full-time U of O undergrads would pay $7.15 per semester in membership fees and part-time students would pay half as much. There are about 30,000 undergraduate students at the school. The U of O’s Graduate Student Association is already a full member of the CFS.
Last year, the CFS ran into trouble with a number of student unions who claimed to successfully hold referendums to defederate from the organization. Votes held by the Cape Breton University Students’ Union and the Simon Fraser Student Society, both indicating students wanted to leave, were not recognized by the CFS.
For its part, the CFS said that proper referendum procedures were simply not followed. The University of Victoria’s Graduate Students’ Society also voted to leave after following the proper procedure, and that student union successfully defederated last spring.
Wassim Garzouzi, the interim business manager at the U of O’s French-language student newspaper, La Rotonde, live-blogged the debate surrounding the CFS at yesterday’s BOA.