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CFS approves creation of Chief Returning Officer and a new National Day of Action

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BRIANA HILL
CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief

Delegates gather for the CFS' semi-annual general meeting, May 31 to June 3, 2011.
OTTAWA (CUP) — Delegates from across the country discussed campaigns, referenda and a new Day of Action as they helped determine the direction the Canadian Federation of Students will take over the next six months at their semi-annual National General Meeting held in Gatineau, QC from May 31 to June 3.

The CFS is a national lobbying organization that represents students’ unions across Canada. It campaigns on behalf of its member unions for lower tuition, increased funding and other student issues at the national level.

The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union is not a member of the CFS. The USSU held a referendum in October of 2005 asking U of S students if they wished to join the CFS. After a protracted controversy surrounding the validity of the referendum and behaviour during the campaign period, the USSU decided not to join the organization.

Last fall, by a margin of only 88 votes out of 3000, students at the University of Regina voted to continue their CFS membership.

Incoming CFS national chairperson Roxanne Dubois felt the four-day-long meeting was an overall success.

“This meeting allowed everybody to have plenty of discussion, then come out with a really positive, energetic feeling,” she said.

Budget committee report

The budget committee’s report was well received, with some discussion surrounding the litigation and membership drives and referenda expense lines.

Litigation expenses for the 2011 year-to-date are $59,497.44, up from $25,392.43 in 2010.
The 2011 budget had laid out $60,000.00 for membership drives and referenda, but the 2011 year-to-date expenses have reached $232,980.21.

Dubois believes that the amount projected for the 2012 combined budget is more reflective of spending trends.

“In the past couple years, circumstances have made it that that line wasn’t necessarily where it’s supposed to be, so the expenses have been higher,” she explained.

“At the same time, the amount that was projected is more in line with what has been standard spending for that line item in the past few years.”

In the campaigns and government relations budget line, $338,756.53 has been spent out of the $567,000 set aside in the 2011 budget.

Changes to referendum rules

Some changes to CFS membership referendum rules also successfully passed, including a motion presented by the York Federation of Students to eliminate the referendum oversight committee and replace it with a Chief Returning Officer.

Previously, an individual referendum oversight committee was struck each time a referendum was held on a university or college campus and was composed of two people from the campus’s student association or member local and two people appointed by the CFS.

The same practice will be applied for votes on continued membership.

“There were numerous discussions around the motion to have a CRO, and in the end, members decided on a structure that is very similar to that of most students unions,” Dubois explained in an email. “The national executive will be discussing the best way to implement what was adopted by members.”

Furthermore, according to the updated bylaw, the CRO “shall be the sole arbiter of whether materials are misleading, defamatory or false” during a campaign.

The dispute between the USSU and CFS following the 2005 referendum was partially related to the wording of the referendum question. The disagreement led to lawsuits and the USSU was still dealing with whether or not to hold a second referendum, with all the problems that could potentially entail, in 2010. Having a CRO in place could help mitigate those problems.

Any appeals of the referendum results or of the ruling of the CRO will be referred to an appeals committee. The committee will be composed of one member from the national executive or an individual chosen by the national executive and two CFS members not on the national executive and are elected at a CFS general meeting.

National Day of Action

At the campaign end of discussions, delegates enthusiastically passed a motion to implement a National Day of Action for the 2011”“12 academic year, though there was indecision about the focus it would take. Some discretion will be left to individual locals, but the general emphasis of the concerted lobby effort will be on rising students fees and debt.

The CFS is expected to meet next in November for its second general meeting of 2011.


image: Patrick Imbeau/CUP

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