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Save Me The Speech: The Canadian Federation of Students Gets Worse, Somehow

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The Monolith
The Monolith

This past weekend, the Canadian Federation of Students again met nationally. This time, however, I’m not going to write a speech. This time, I’m going to tell it like I saw it.

Firstly, I attended this meeting as the Vice-President of the Graduate Students’ Association at Laurentian University, and the chair of the Ontario Graduate Caucus for the CFS-Ontario. As such, the first order of business was to attend the meeting of the National Graduate Caucus. During this session, as with the others, delegates are nominated to attend sub-committees, which “debate” to send recommendations on motions to plenary for ratification. In my opinion, too many layers allowing the censorship of change. Anyway, I nominated myself to go to the Organizational and Services Development sub-committee, the space for tackling issues regarding bylaws and standing resolutions, as well as services. In the selection I, a student, lost to two staff members from union locals. This time, I was okay with it.

The next stop was the Ontario provincial component meeting. Again, I ran to go to OSD. This time, the appropriate number of people were nominated to avoid an election. But I, being a known “dissenter” and almost being able to go, was too much for some. Sandy Hudson, staff of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, crux of the CFS axis; also its former president and former chairperson of the CFS_Ontario, suddenly nominates herself, announcing none of this CV in her motivation speech. Too much to be a coincidence. So naturally, with Ontario as the voting stronghold, I am elected to the gallery.

The dichotomy in OSD established quickly; staffers versus dissenters, Lucy Watson whispering in the ear of Toby Whitfield, the Ontario executive staffer chairing the meeting. At one point in response to logically fair points, Hamid Osman, staff at York Federation of Students, its former president, and former Ontario national executive representative, almost threw a chair. At another in response to equally sound debate, the remarks of Anna Goldfinch (introduction too long to type) were so libellous, the offended union was forced to threaten legal action right there in the room. In the ONLY space designated to speak on bylaws in the entire Federation, the only plea that could be made, and was, in defence of the Federation was how the room wasn’t discussing campaigns. But it wasn’t just the stomach-wrenching density of loyalists that was the most powerful force in the room. It was the fervor with which the truthfully, logically essential reforms to the bylaws were protected by those that wrote them. Only in the streets of Montreal, facing down the SPVM have I seen someone stand their ground in pursuit of truth with this intensity. For this, Brad Evoy will forever have my respect.

With the voices of dissenters, established or otherwise, being blatantly skipped on speakers lists in the sessions to come now seeming like petty child’s play, closing plenary was upon us. Right off the top the tone was thick, as if everyone knew this wasn’t going to be easy. In the haze of emotion, there are three particular atrocities of democracy that I recall well enough to recount. First regarded the budget. Having largely not been discussed regarding key issues such as legal the night before, no thanks to the fact that Philip Link himself was taking minutes, the budget was moved for defeat. After three speakers against, staff included, mumbling some things about trusting the proceedings of the sub-committee, the question was called. The request for a roll call vote was denied, and the budget was passed, with over a dozen unions noting their opposition. This gross lack of financial responsibility was the first kick in the groin. Cue anxiety attack number one. The bulk of campaigns was skipped to recover. The next one-two punch was the section of OSD. Motions not dealt with from November’s meeting (which dissenters were accused of “filibustering”) were handled first and included a pair from the Dawson Students’ Union. The content of the two were essentially the same, so I will report as such. The motions were to allow the DSU to stop paying $2.04 per student into the now non-existent CFS-Quebec. However, this money has been ordered sealed into a trust fund by the courts of Quebec. After stressing the inaccessibility of the funds, particularly Goldfinch again with Anne-Marie Roy of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, told DSU straight to their faces that it’s their fault they’re not campaigning the entire province hard enough to justify the money. Arguments were made, after stressing the illegality of using the money a second time, that they should be using the money to do said campaigning anyway. So much for student solidarity. Any semblance of it remaining between the CFS and the students of Quebec disappeared at this point. The question was called and what’s worse, the room followed suit with the motion failing 20-30. In one of the most egregious acts of outright greed I have seen in a long time, the CFS effectively gave every student in Quebec, regardless of Dawson’s role in the strike, a big fuck you. Anxiety attack number two. The students from Dawson literally required consolation. As if it wasn’t evident enough, the insatiable greed of the CFS was solidified for me at this moment. The best part is, the climax was still to come.

With time winding down, and OSD motions still being discussed, emergency motions were rightly moved to be dealt with promptly. After the first one was voted through, Osman again crashes the mic in an aggressive display equal to his chair bit earlier, moving to omnibus the remaining OSD motions before the rest of the emergency ones knowing full well motions would be pulled again. With one of the remaining emergency motions supporting students being imminently deported, this was the nail in the coffin, as it were. Holding something like that hostage to push through defeat recommendations of critical bylaw changes was one of the most asinine displays of intimidation and abuse of power I have seen. Mind you I haven’t been in politics that long. Regardless, the motions were indeed pulled, and staffers and loyalists hoarded the mics, calling every question. After a couple of these was when we walked out. Over a dozen unions left the room with their voting cards, many in outright tears. Anxiety attack number three. Now, I understand the use of Robert’s Rules to maintain timelines and all that, but there was something else in the air that evening and it didn’t care one bit about that meeting. Again, I have fought the police in the streets and the malice and hatred of particular people in the room that day reminded me as such.

At this point it has become old hat to rag on the CFS for its top-down, anti-democratic, conspiratory bullshit, blah, blah, blah. Everyone who follows student politics knows this. It’s been ranted, raved, and written many times. I want to add something that I personally saw for the first time in the eyes of those loyal to the Federation; fear. I was not in attendance at the meetings in 2009, and will not pretend to understand the emotions of that space, but I do know what I experienced this time around. The predetermined climate of the meetings still held true of course, as it is more than automatic behaviour by now. The question this time around is what does a fear in the eyes of some of their most devout staffers and loyalists mean? I think it’s quite obvious. The end for them is near. Very near. Over the course of the last few meetings, the axis has lost control of the motions on the table, lost control of the social dynamic at the meetings, and have lost control of, when the cards are stacked against them, themselves. The humanity level of the tried and true tactics of the Federation has hit an all-time low. I truly believe, if I have anything to do about it, will be their undoing. To use a cliché, the power is always in the people and despite the cult of personality generated by this Federation, this space is no different. I alluded to people being backed into corners in my blog after the meeting in November, but this time you didn’t even have to provoke it, and they weren’t subtle about it either. Perhaps more time is required to reflect on it, perhaps the only way is to let themselves implode, I really don’t know. But one thing I do know coming out of this experience once again is that they’re on a dying breath, and they’ve burned too many bridges for the students of this country to come to their rescue.

As of the day of this posting, I have resigned my position as Chair of the Ontario Graduate Caucus.

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BRENDAN LEHMAN (Brendan Lehman)
Member since May 2013


Graduate student and organizer at Laurentian University and beyond.

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