NOAH DAVIS-POWER — The Muse (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — The Canadian Federation of Students in 1981 was an organization born from the fires of dissent and fanned into a powerhouse lobby group by student action across the country — hundreds of thousands of students coming together to fight for accessible post-secondary education for all Canadians and joining the fight for a better Canada.
The CFS in 2013 is an organization on death’s doorstep, slowly withering away from separatism, their demise hastened by undemocratic and secretive policy — hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in legal fees to prevent locals from becoming independent while post-secondary education has become less important than taking left-leaning social stances.
So the question is: do we still need the CFS?
On Sept. 4, an announcement came from 15 student unions — the largest unified group action since 13 universities attempted to leave in 2009 — launching their petitions in an attempt to disaffiliate from the CFS. Those students are affiliated with such schools as the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University and Dawson College.
“Many of us are long-time student organizers and have seen students attempt to reform the CFS from within for decades, but to no avail,” said Ashleigh Ingle, one of the spokespeople for the movement. The CFS has been open in their dismissal of resolutions on the national level to make their lobbying and finances more transparent — those on the inside who attempted reform are called dissenters.
Post-secondary education in Canada is a jurisdiction controlled solely by the provinces. There are no national standards for post-secondary institutions, no federal ministry of post-secondary education and a considerable lack of funding from the federal government for Canadians wishing to attend post-secondary institutions. Because of these reasons and many more, is there any reason to be lobbying federally?
In every administration since its founding, from Trudeau to Harper, each administration has turned down requests from the CFS to increase federal funding and involvement in post-secondary education in Canada.
Cash transfers for post-secondary education in the last decade have declined by 50 per cent when measured as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product and are down $400 million from 1992, all occurring alongside ongoing CFS lobbying.
Today, the CFS persists to pester and as a result we are left with exactly what we started with 32 years ago: no standards, no ministry and no increased funding.
Oddly enough, Newfoundland and Labrador now has the lowest tuition fees in Canada outside of Quebec’s post-secondary rates for native Québécois. In the Newfoundland and Labrador budget, the provincial government is at a point where an increase in the Advanced Education and Skills budget by $130 million would see post-secondary education in the province completely subsidized for all students attending their institutions.
It is because of Memorial University Students’ Union and its predecessor, the Council of the Student’s Union in the province, that we are able to see fully provincial-funded tuition on the horizon for students in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Students in Newfoundland took to the streets in the 90’s when former Premier Clyde Wells was in office, demanding a tuition freeze and reduction in tuition costs. It was because of actions like this that MUN students were able to freeze tuition, as noted by Premier Wells.
Similarly in Quebec, when the former Charest government proposed a roughly $2,000 increase in tuition fees over five years, students from most — if not all — student organizations in Quebec took to the streets demanding the proposed hikes be abandoned.
All of the major student groups in Québec, except for the FCÉÉ (the francophone branch of the CFS) — La Coalition large de l’ASSÉ, La Fédération étudiante Universitaire du Québec and La Fédération étudiants collégiale du Québec — took part in nightly rallies, boycotting class attendance and working with opposition parties to guarantee that post-secondary education in their province would remain accessible. As we saw, the Parti Québécois crushed the Liberals and Mme. Marois and the PQ immediately froze tuition fees.
It is clearly because of heavy provincial lobbying, not the provincial components of the omnipotent CFS, that has brought these provinces and many others to this point.
CFS locals often run on surplus budgets composed of mandatory student fees, and yet we see no campaigns towards further socializing post-secondary education in Newfoundland. What we see from the provincial unit of the CFS are campaigns towards boycotting businesses in the provinces who do not share their leftist social views, chastising governments for making standardized cuts to social programs that are failing to produce results and taking orders from Ottawa about bottled water and Anti-Harper propaganda.
Because attention is diverted elsewhere during the entirety of the year, save the dropping of the provincial budget, why does the CFS exist? A more frivolous question is, why do we continue to fund a lobby-group for post-secondary education that focuses on everything but what it’s supposed to be lobbying for?
The national board of the CFS operates on almost $4 million of membership fees. One would expect that this would be spent on campaigns lobbying the federal government for more federal involvement and funds towards PSE in Canada. Unfortunately, these funds go toward the Band-Aid court cases that plague the federation and keep separatist locals in the lobby group; they go toward announcing that the federation condemns Israeli occupation; they go toward holding onto aggressive staff and lobbyists that insist their budget be a private document to the federation.
The funds that we pour into the CFS have now lost their way from the lobbying of the federal government for a better post-secondary education system in Canada, and are now being used as life support for a slowly dying, self-absorbed ember of a once great flame of action.
We must ask ourselves, is it worth it? Do we stay in an organization that has lost its way and fights for its own existence instead of student issues? Or do we fight for independence and call for referendum? It’s time for all provinces and all locals to take their lobbying in their own hands and separate from the Canadian Federation of Students.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor