The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Can we take CFS seriously?

By in Opinions
Delegates gather in a hotel ballroom in Gatineau, QC for the CFS’ semi-annual general meeting, May 31 to June 3, 2011.

The Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Federation of Students recently revamped its cheque-signing procedure, but that isn’t enough to convince me that the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union should rethink its position on membership in the national student lobbying group.

CFS simply gets into too much shit to be taken seriously.

On Sept. 27, the University of Regina student newspaper, the Carillon, published an interview with former U of R Students’ Union President Haanim Nur. Nur stepped down as president in June of this year after the URSU board of directors found out she had forged two CFS-SK cheques totaling $700. She also attempted to cash another $300 forged cheque during her time as the CFS provincial representative.

CFS-SK national executive representative Kent Peterson says he cancelled the third cheque after the bank informed him in February of the suspect money made out to Nur.

Following the Sept. Carillon article, Peterson issued a statement on behalf of CFS-SK. In it he said he froze the account and removed Nur as a signing officer before completely closing the account and transferring the money to the CFS national organization.

Peterson told the Sheaf that the CFS never made the issue public because Nur never gave an admission of guilt until she talked to the Carillon. He has since filed a complaint with the Regina police regarding the cheques.

Peterson informed the Sheaf via email that, prior to the account being frozen, cheques only had to go through “two provincial signing authorities,” himself and Nur. Now, the money is held in a national account.

“The new procedures are much more vigorous,” Peterson wrote. “To make a payment, proper receipts and invoices will be sent to the national treasurer, and a cheque will then be issued and signed by two national signing authorities and sent to the appropriate vendor.”

Prior to the incident involving Nur, CFS-SK had its own bank account separate from the national organization. According to CFS’s national chairperson, Adam Awad, the Saskatchewan chapter should not have had its own bank account in the first place, because it is not a separate body from the CFS.

While I’m glad that these new procedures ensure a stronger system of checks and balances for the CFS, the national body never foresaw a problem with an account run by two students with no national oversight — which is obviously worrisome.

Awad said the account was started by the URSU on behalf of the federation’s Saskatchewan chapter a few years ago, though he couldn’t give an exact date.

Now, ironically, the URSU has filed an audit request with CFS-SK.

The entire situation illustrates why the CFS is not worth the USSU’s time and money — even if that money is a relatively small amount, at about $5.60 a year for full-time students.

Since 2009, the CFS has been involved in at least four membership disputes, each of which involved the CFS denying members’ requests to leave the organization.

According to the University of British Columbia student newspaper, the Ubyssey, the CFS requested over $100,000 from three separate student unions as they attempted to leave the organization.

“On one occasion, they told the Concordia Student Union that they owed over $1 million, and when asked to explain, produced a signed agreement with the CSU’s past president that said the student union should be responsible,” the Ubyssey wrote.

The USSU, which was a founding member of the CFS in 1981 but left in 1993, went through its own legal battle with CFS in 2005 after former USSU president Robin Mowat challenged the results of a referendum to rejoin the CFS.

Students had voted to rejoin the CFS, but according to Mowat, the results were skewed because the referendum did not follow USSU or CFS bylaws.

For instance, the referendum question was not verified two weeks in advance of the ballot and the question did not notify students that their fees would increase with membership into the CFS.

Mowat won the case and the judge ruled the referendum invalid.

At the time of the ballot the USSU was nearing the end of a one-year trial membership with the federation. The CFS insists that because no referendum was technically held, the USSU is still a prospective member of the CFS.

The USSU argues, however, that they separated entirely from the organization when their trial ran out and that they, in fact, were never actual members.

“I think we’ve spent over $60,000 on lawsuits to not be a part of it,” USSU president Jared Brown said. “They say that they represent [students] yet you see them spending a lot of that money on lawsuits from students’ unions trying to get out of the CFS.”

Brown also says the services the USSU provides are far superior than those of the CFS, citing bus passes and health care in particular.

“The services that they provide are substandard to the services that we currently have,” Brown said.

CFS-SK is too small and requires too much supervision from the national body to be more effective for U of S students than the USSU.

Aside from representatives from each of the provincial chapter’s three members, which are the URSU, the First Nations University of Canada Students Association and the U of S Graduate Students’ Association (there are four members if you count the USSU), the Saskatchewan arm only consists of a chairperson and a national representative, both of whom are students working on one-year terms.

There are no full-time staff members working out of the Saskatchewan office to keep the likely inexperienced workers in check — and as Nur showed, sometimes when students are handling thousands of dollars, they need supervision.

The USSU, by contrast, has several full-time staff members as well as a student executive. The CFS business model is simply inferior.

The senior managers at the USSU, unlike the staff at the CFS national offices, are in the same offices as their student executives every day. They can keep a close eye on spending and can keep the executive, which changes nearly every year, up-to-date on what was effective and ineffective in years past. They provide continuity.

I’m not saying that the USSU is perfect, of course, and I’m not saying that there is no communication between the CFS’s national office and its provincial component, but it does appear that, especially based on the most recent controversy regarding forged cheques, CFS-SK is stranded.

The Saskatchewan chapter simply does not have the numbers (both in terms of staff and members) or the structure to significantly benefit U of S undergraduates. I don’t see any point in the USSU reconsidering its position that it is not part of the CFS.

Photo: Patrick Imbeau

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