The Western Student

commentary about campus issues from unceded territory in British Columbia

Students Launch Petition to Impeach Langara Students’ Union Board of Directors

After years of concern expressed by Langara College students, the Langara Voice student newspaper, and others, students at Langara College have decided to petition to impeach their student union board of directors. The petition was launched this month after another year of tumultuous conflict that involves students, student association staff, and student money.

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Headline from a story in the Vancouver Courier about LSU corruption

A history of internal problems

The Langara Students’ Union (LSU) has a long history of internal struggles and problems that have been covered by the student newspapers, The Langara Voice and the now defunct Langara Gleaner, big media outlets, and blogs. These issues can be broken down into three connected parts of the LSU: elections, financial transparency, and staff management.

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Langara Voice article suggesting the LSU’s finances were accessible in 2011

On many occasions, there have been accusations of interference and corruption in LSU elections against current directors and staff. Within the last decade alone, students running for the LSU board of directors – including some who won – were disqualified for “irregularities.” On many occasions, the LSU’s media contacts and staff overseeing elections refused to disclose the nature of these irregularities. LSU staff have been accused of working to find ways to disqualify student candidates they disagree with.

Students’ union finances are supposed to be available to students to review, and audited financial statements should be made available at annual general meetings and in the students’ union office. While the LSU may perform some of this basic function, the reality is that the group is highly secretive. LSU  board of directors members, as elected students who rarely have experience as a fiduciary, need a lot of ongoing training about their responsibilities for finances – but they never get it. Students’ union members – regular students – are never told that they can access LSU finances and are treated with suspicion if they try to get a copy of these documents.

The reality of the Langara Students’ Union is that both these issues stem in large part to the staff-management relationship. Staff of the LSU are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have a collective agreement, and negotiate with student representatives using experienced negotiators. The result of this arrangement is a collective agreement that places significant power to disrupt the board of directors in the hands of unionised staff. According to many years of elected students at the LSU, the staff have a stranglehold on decision making and financial spending.

Year-over-year, the LSU refuses to provide timely answers to journalists and student journalists. Coverage of LSU corruption has reached as far away as the United Kingdom.

2016 and 2017 issues

As an example of the stranglehold that LSU staff have on the communication and operations of the organisation, the August 26, 2016 LSU Council minutes note a discussion that took place about forming a text message group. The minutes state: “Staff noted that they had become aware that Council members had created numerous Whats App accounts to discuss LSU business that did not include staff. J. Patil (Joyce Patil, LSU staffer) reminded Council that according to the staff union’s contract with the LSU, the Council was to include staff in all business.” LSU staff told elected students it was illegal to use Whats App to discuss union business and asserted that they would start a group text message that included them. They also demanded that the other group messages be deleted. This is only a small example of the lying and manipulation that long time LSU staff use, hiding behind a collective agreement that inexperienced students are hopeless to manage effectively, to protect their meal ticket.

At the June 29 meeting, elected student Harismran Malhi successfully argued against staff that the association should hire a new lawyer and appoint her and another elected student to be liaisons with the company.

On July 11, LSU Council voted to approve the membership fee to join the Alliance of British Columbia Students. Council appointed Malhi to liaise with the group.

Minutes of the July 20, 2016 Council meeting illustrate how separated from reality the staff-management relationship has become at the Langara Students’ Union. The minutes read not as the record of business of a board of directors, but like as a staff person writing about a meeting that they are losing control of (LSU staff keep all minutes, which in itself is not unusual). The minutes an item entitled only “In Camera” with the notation:

Record reflects that the staff and some council members were not included nor invited to the In Camera Meeting held outside the LSU Board room. Staffs also feel that the decision to hire a new legal firm should have been done through the proper channels and the decision should have been inclusive with all staff and council members. Some Council members should not have held a private meeting outside the Board room without informing all members of council and staff on June 29th 2016. There was no respectful communication to staff and some Council Members regarding the hiring of Borins and Co. LSU previous Lawyer had served the organization for over 20 years and has been named the best law firm in metro Vancouver.

It is entirely unacceptable that a democracy that belongs to students is viewed in the way this paragraph describes. The idea that a student association board of directors can’t hire its own legal council without interference from staff is a recipe for staff to have total control. The expectation that elected student board members only meeting – or even discuss – student association business with staff present is Orwellian and dangerous.

In August 2016, the LSU hired Desmond Rodenbour to be its General Manager. Rodenbour has a long history of involvement in student associations, including tumultuous years at the Kwantlen Student Association. LSU Council directed Rodenbour to review the electoral process of the society. The LSU did not conduct interviews and Council minutes don’t show the hiring ever being ratified. For a student organisation, the position was highly paid.

The August 31 Council minutes tell a much different story than those from July 20. Council simply directs Rodenbour to start the process of making many changes, and editorializing in the minutes is cut down.

Staff terminated and directors “resigned”

In the Fall 2016 semester an election was held to fill positions on the board of directors.

In late November, General Manager Desmond Rodenbour was fired. Rodenbour claims that the shift in support for him and the ideas he represented were no longer supported by newly elected students.

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Portion of letter from Harismran Malhi to LSU Council about her forced resignation

Harismran Mahli, a leader in the efforts to change the LSU during the summer of 2016, was “terminated” by the LSU after the Fall 2016 election.

Media Committee response

The Western Student reached out the LSU about accusations against it and received a response from the “LSU Media Committee” that included:

I am not sure of what you have heard from the members of the Voice or any other social media outlets. I do want to assure you that we do respond to the Journalism Departments questions. Yes, we do not give interviews to the Voice and that is due to the fact that numerous time the Voice has published stories that are untrue, biased,contain twisted facts and simply defamatory against the LSU. Every day the LSU aims to do more of the membership. Provide excellent services and spend the students money in a transparent and accountable process. Which is why we respond to the media via email, this ensures that when we review the stories the answers lineup and are not twisted.

When asked what students get for the money they pay to the LSU, the “Media Committee” simply listed a few basic student association services as well as “various events throughout the year” and “various services.”

“The current LSU Bylaws are fair and democratic. The Board is working with the membership currently in creating a new set of bylaws that are in compliance of the BC Societies Act.” said the LSU Media Committee in an email, “In its continuous effort to improve transparency, The LSU Board has held workshops and open committees which invited students to participate in the reformation of the LSU Bylaws. Many students have provided suggestion that the LSU is incorporating into the draft bylaws that will be presented to the membership at the upcoming workshops once completed.”

Petition calls for special general meeting to elect a new board of directors

While it has only happened a few times, students in British Columbia have the power to petition their student association to hold a special general meeting to impeach their board of directors. This has happened at Simon Fraser Univeristy and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, but it is very rare.

Langara College students have launched a petition to impeach the board of directors of the LSU.

The petition statement includes:

This petition is open to all currently registered Langara College students with a valid student ID, and who are members of the Langara Students Union (LSU.) By signing this petition, you will add your voice to the hundreds of students who have called for reform within the LSU over the past decade, with an aim to building a new transparent, accountable and democratic student organization to represent and serve Langara students.

The petition says it aims to do several things:

  1. Call a Special General Meeting of the LSU membership to pass a number of motions that will remove the current Board (which is violating numerous provincial, federal laws as well as Canada Revenue Agency regulations)
  2. Trigger new elections to fill the LSU’s Board of Directors, and appoint a caretaker Board in the interim to ensure the LSU continues to provide services to students
  3. Start a meaningful public process to update the LSU’s governing bylaws to comply with provincial law and ensure accountability
  4. Start the process of forensically auditing the LSU’s finances to force financial transparency
  5. To ensure student interests are maintained in the next bargaining process with LSU unionized staff.

“I’ve read the petition and also I believe its a good step,but it requires at least 1000 signatures from students to call a SGM and then those motions could be addressed and also students will have to show up to vote at the SGM as well, at our campus its hard, especially with all the active people on this petition being students themselves, but this definitely needs to happen, and I believe that the group leading the Open LSU Campaign are doing there best,a and thus will be able to make LSU a open, accountable and democratic students working for the students.” Harismran Mahli told The Western Student.

Here is how the LSU Media Committee responded:

The membership has the right to do this. The Board encourage the members to sign this petition if they feel that we are not doing a good job.

Impulse decisions of the previous board has put the LSU under jeopardy. They may say that they were trying to improve transparency and accountability however that is untrue. We felt that these decisions have caused the LSU to cut many services. Having secret meetings does not showcase transparency. Not interviews candidates for an GM position which was very highly paid does not showcase accountability. Getting paid for excessive office hours, missing numerous meetings without notification to council, Paying a legal retainer of thousands when other unions are paying much lower for the same service, Threatening executives to resign if they did not vote in their favor, resigning an executive without notification or a chance to appeal are just some reasons why the current Board has taken measures to “fix” the wrong doings of the last council. 

We feel that this is a personal vendetta which will result in a lot of unnecessary stress for the LSU and its membership. We will continue to serve the LSU membership and aim to produce bylaws and policies that are transparent and accountable.

Many layers of failure at the Langara Students’ Union

The LSU is an example of a student association that has layers of failures that will take years for students to fix, even if they start right now.

The biggest failure is that the LSU has almost completely failed to fight for better education for decades. The LSU has no campaign strategy or lobbying goals and does no outreach to educate students about alternatives to increasing tuition rates or student financial aid issues. The LSU never sends delegations or representatives to Langara College Education Council and Board of Governors meetings, meaning programs are adopted and College financial decisions are made and the group that is supposed to advocate for students just sits on its hands.

The LSU also is also deeply integrated with destructive corporate contracts that make it hard to change the society. Langara Students received their LSU health coverage from the Quebec Student Health Alliance (operating as StudentCare), a massive for profit company with a history of influencing student association elections to ensure students that are willing to sign contracts with them win. A lawyer should be at least one small contact that elected students have to provide direction with staff, but the LSU’s legal council during the Harismram/Rodenbour period was former UBC Alma Mater Society director David Borins who has a long history of involvement and bias in student associations. One of Borins’ staff members was also the LSU Council chair, meaning Borins had eyes and ears on the ground whatever is happening.

None of this can change until the destructive and one sided relationship with LSU staff is fixed. Langara College students have no need for people to work for them who are going to try to control their student association and do nothing for them. This is not an issue of unions, but it is made more complicated by the imbalance in experience between LSU representatives and skilled Canadian Union of Public Employees negotiators. If LSU staff don’t resign or face rightful termination, at the very least their work needs to be subjugated to the democratic will of students.

“…the collective agreement of the LSU with its staff has given a lot of power to the staff in terms of how the business will be conducted inside the LSU, and that was one of the main reasons our board, and the student leaders before us might not have been able to fix things, and its due renewal this November, that is why I feel I feel its really important to have people who are aware and who will work in the best interests of Langara Students, to be on the council so that they can negotiate better and in best interests of Langara Students not the staff on collective agreement this year.” said Malhi.

UVSS Elections: Trelford calls out Connect manager

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In the continuing story of the University of Victoria Student Society elections, The Western Student reached out to each of the two slates for comment. Last year the UVSS elections saw considerable mudslinging, and it appears this year may be no different.

Energize UVic responds

Energize UVic says that its team was pulled together from many backgrounds.

“Our Energize team comes from across many different faculties and departments with a shared interest in excellent student government,” said Energize campaign manager Ryan Trelford. “We want to bring excellence to student government at UVic by being transparent with business that happens in the SUB, reducing fees students pay through our Open Textbook Program, and making UVic more fun – the place to be – by having fun events and activities around campus.”

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[Energize UVic campaign manager Ryan Trelford. Photo from Twitter.]

Trelford said that the slate was likely not to reach the spending limit set by the elections office because raising money is expensive for students. When it came to criticising Conenct UVic’s campaign manager Jessica Lar-son, he had this to say:

“We are aware that Connects’ campaign manager is from Kwantlen in Vancouver. Our research has also shown that though she was involved in student government there, she was very controversial and was ineffective at getting results based action. We believe that it is up to people to make their own decisions, but would speculate that having an in-house manager (from UVic) would be more efficient.”

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[Connect UVic campaign manager Jessica Lar-son. Photo from Twitter.]

Trelford said that Energize UVic is committed to keeping a balanced budget at the UVSS and holding high quality events.

Connect UVic declines to comment

The Western Student connnected with Connect UVic‘s candidate Dakota McGovern. He was provided questions, including why the group was running together and what their opinion was of Energize UVic’s campaign manager Ryan Trelford, but McGovern said that the slate could not give an interview. No reason was provided.

CFS sends campaigners to BC colleges

As a response to student unions in open rebellion, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) sent two professional campaigners to colleges in British Columbia this month. After several years of infighting in the CFS, British Columbia schools have begun the long and difficult process of removing themselves from the national group. Several schools have already submitted petitions to the CFS to hold a vote so that they can leave, with more on the way.

Campaigners arrive at Selkirk College unnanounced

The Selkirk College Students’ Union (SCSU) submitted a petition to leave the CFS (part of the official process) in December 2016. Kavy Kaur of the Selkirk College Students’ Union told The Western Student that CFS campaigners then arrived on campus unannounced and refused to answer questions.

“The two were CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch and CFS National Deputy Chairperson Anne-Marie Roy,” said Kaur. “Students reported that the two dressed as students and tried to get them to sign petitions. Students reported that the CFS representatives were deceptive and lied about our students’ union’s campaigns.”

Kaur said that the SCSU has been fighting to get the CFS to verify the petition and hold a vote.

“We were not informed about the CFS coming to campus and they refused to discuss our concerns when approached. Although more than 25 percent of students signed the petition, which only requires 15 percent of students, the CFS has yet to set dates. It is the view of our Executive Committee that the CFS’s actions have been extremely aggressive, especially since they have not satisfactorily addressed our concerns,” said Kaur.

Meeting with Okanagan College Students’ Union

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[Okanagan College students petitioning to leave the CFS. Photo from Instagram.]

After spending time at Selkirk College, the two CFS campaigners went to Okanagan College. While they arrived unannounced and began talking to students without telling Okanagan College or the Okanagan College Students’ Union (OCSU), they did meet with the students’ union when they were caught.

Okanagan College Students’ Union representatives met with the CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch and National Deputy Chairperson Anne-Marie Roy. The meeting covered the OCSU petition to leave the CFS and letters that BC students had sent the CFS about ongoing problems. After the meeting, OCSU sent two letters condemning the CFS to a list of student associations from every province.

A request for comment was sent to the Canadian Federation of Students but The Western Student received no response.

UVSS Elections: Will UVic undergraduates be Energize’d or get Connect’d?

On March 1, 2 and 3 undergraduate students at the University of Victoria will have the chance to elect a new board of directors for the University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS). The choice is between Energize UVic, the successor slate to last year’s landslide winners, or Connect UVic, associated with the losing slate from last year’s vote. Voters will also consider two referendum questions on fees relating to the UVSS.

Only Energize UVic is running a full portfolio team

energize_group_banner_big_2Two slates, the student association equivalent of a political party, are running to take over the UVSS board of directors. Energize UVic is running a full portfolio slate, meaning they could fill every position, with the exception of one Director at-Large. Connect UVic is missing a candidate for Director of International Student Relations, meaning at least one portfolio has already been forfeited to their opponents.

Both slates have diverse groups running on their teams. In the five Executive positions, Energize UVic is running four women candidates. Many of Energize’s Executive candidates have experience in volunteer, charity, and not-for-profit groups that they claim will help them run the UVSS.

“At UVic, I have served as the Director of Charity for the Commerce Student’s Society, where I was able to help introduce a new system of philanthropy.” says the online profile of Anmol Swaich, Energize UVic candidate for Director of Campaigns, “We shifted the focus to building a greater perspective of the world for students through volunteering with local organizations.”

Connect UVic is a bit different from Energize. For the five positions on the Executive, Connect is running four men. The experience of this slate’s candidates is less focused on “philanthropy.”

One of Connect UVic’ candidates with a long list of previous affiliations is actually a first year student. Dakota McGovern is a first year geography major running for Campaigns and Community Relations. In his list of previous positions, he includes having worked with the British Columbia Student Alliance as Founder, Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group as Outreach Coordinator, and The Society of Geography Students as Director of Fundraising.

“On May 9th of this year, only nine days after the next UVSS board takes office a new provincial government will be elected.” says McGovern’s election biography. “My goal is to bring student issues such as Affordable Housing and Need-Based-Grants to the forefront of BC politics.”

Platforms highlight differences

12312351Energize UVic’s platform highlights that before it’s predecessor took over in last year’s elections, the UVSS ran a $260,000 deficit. This year the UVSS is budgeting a $50,000 surplus that the slate hopes to continue and use to fund new programs and services.

Apart from running a balanced budget, Energize includes the following in their platform:

  • “Work with the university and provincial government on tuition issues, to reduce the student financial burden, and increase scholarship options.”
  • “More accessible committee and Board of Directors’ meetings’ that utilize a townhall format to engage constituents on a monthly basis.”
  • “Bring concerts, drive in movies and food truck festivals to campus. UVic needs more on-campus activities, and university administration is ready to work with us.”

While it can’t be confirmed with total certainty, this slate may be the first in the history of student associations to offer money to attend AGMs (annual general meetings). Energize UVic is using #FeelTheSpark to spread awareness about their platform.

Raj Alamchandani of Energize UVic, the only candidate for the position of International Student Relations, says he will “Lobby the University to lower the co-op and tuition fees for international students or at the very least, freeze the tuition fee.”

The platform was previously only available in four points on their Facebook Page. The slate now has a full website with more information. Included in the Connect UVic platform are:

  • “Student financial issues and services: tuition; cost of housing; reducing student debt; lower CARSA fees; better transit; increased mental health resources and reduced wait times.”
  • “Environmental and Community issues: divesting UVic fully from fossil fuels; better waste management and food security on campus.”
  • “UVSS management: more student input on UVSS policies and budget; strong financial management that sees your fees used for you! Regular town halls will be held to get your feedback throughout the year!”
  • “Student events: interdisciplinary academic lectures and events; interactive social events during welcome weeks and throughout the year.”

Connect UVic has a high production value campaign video.

Established student association personalities supporting Connect UVic

Despite Energize UVic representing the incumbents, their opposition has some establishment student association personalities.

In a post on the Connect campaign Facebook page, former UVSS Director of Student Affairs Kaylee Szakacs says, “Exactly what the UVSS needs after this year of trying to take away funding from VIPIRG and not supporting advo groups and marginalized students. Best of luck!”

Kenya Rogers, a former UVSS Executive member who’s team lost in last year’s election, is supporting Connect UVic.

Jessica Lar-son, a former Kwantlen Student Association President and former Chair of the Alliance of British Columbia Students, is helping coordinate Connect UVic. UVSS Elections was sent a question asking if this sort of campaigning was allowed from outside student groups or alumni, but they only referred the Western Student to the UVSS electoral policy. While UVSS policy states that “Candidates may accept the endorsement of an on-campus group and refer to that endorsement in their campaign material, but must provide written proof of an endorsement to a DEO before referring to it in their campaign materials,” it is silent about outside groups or individuals, leaving the matter open to interpretation.

Unclear what complaints have been filed

The Western Student inquired about complaints in the electoral process but was told that only reports from previous elections were available.

“I cannot discuss complaints at this time but the website does contain an overview of historical complaints and findings from past elections,” said Lori Roter, the UVSS Chief Electoral Officer.

Referendums ask students to cough up more money

Two votes, called referendums, ask students if they would be willing to pay more money in their student fees.

The first referendum question is about the University of Victoria Food Bank:

Do you support an increase to the UVSS Food Bank Fund of 75 cents per full-time student and 37 cents per part-time student, per semester, for the purpose of addressing student food insecurity?

The UVSS Elections “Approved Proponent” for this referendum is Jasmine Robertson. Robertson is the UVSS Food Bank coordinator. The referendum is essentially asking is UVic students want to pool money so that low income (or just hungry) students can get food.

The second referendum question is about the University of Victoria Student Society fee:

Are you in favour of adjusting students’ society fees annually to match Canada’s inflation target, to a maximum 2% per year, beginning in January 2019?

This referendum was endorsed by the current board of directors of the UVSS. The University usually increases tuition rates by 2% each year, too, but they vote on it each year.

How to vote

Students can vote on March 1, 2 and 3. From the UVSS Elections website:

“All student election and referenda voting will take place using the online webvote system. Polling stations with computers will be still set up on campus to facilitate and enhance voting access, however eligible voters will be able to cast their ballot from home or wherever they are, using a personal computer, tablet, phone or internet accessible device.

More information will be emailed to all students closer to the voting days with a link to the voting website – webvote.uvic.ca. You will use your Netlink ID and password to log into the webvote system once polling opens.”

Students looking for more information can contact the UVSS Elections office at election2@uvss.ca.

Alliance of BC Students says “Count on Our Vote”

1500x430-web-sliderA British Columbia provincial election will take place in May 2017. The Alliance of British Columbia Students (ABCS), one of BC’s two provincial student groups, will be running a campaign to register students to vote.

“This year the UVSS is working with the Alliance of BC Students on a get out the vote campaign for the provincial election on May 9th,” said University of Victoria Student Society Director of Campaigns and Community Relations Maxwell Nicholson, “Our campaign, called “Count on Our Vote” takes a unique approach, with the underlying belief that student apathy is a myth.”

Campaign starts with training

The ABCS started its campaign with training sessions for all participation student associations. Campaigners will be trained to do voter outreach so that students are informed about the process. This includes how and where to vote on election day.

“The reason a student wouldn’t vote is not because they don’t care, it is because of the many barriers that make voting harder to do,” said Nicholson, “Our campaign is focused on getting students to pledge to vote, and to make the voting process easier.”

Nicholson said the campaign aims to make the voting process straightforward for students.

Several schools taking part

In addition to the student associations that are members of the ABCS, the University of Victoria Student Society and University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society will also take part in the campaign. Campaigners have already arranged voting booths on some campuses.

University of Victoria students interested in volunteering are asked to contact Maxwell Nicholson at campaigns@uvss.ca.

Northern Undergraduate Student Society reveals financial problems

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-6-16-14-pmShown left to right: President Arctica Cunningham, Vice-President Internal Ana Saenz, General Manager Duncan Malkinson, and Vice-President Finance Eric Depenau. Image courtesy of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society.

Students at the University of Northern British Columbia were surprised to learn this month that their undergraduate students’ union was greatly in debt. It was announced by the group that Northern Undergraduate Student Society services would be impacted as the leadership of the group attempts to right the ship.

The nature of the financial situation

“We as directors, and our management, have all been pouring over the audited financial statements, minutes and records from the last 10 years and while there is a lot that go in to these statements and the numbers at times require some interpretation there is a clear narrative forming,” Eric Depenau, Vice-President Finance of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society (NUGSS) told The Western Student. “(NUGSS) has slipped further and further in to financial insecurity over the last seven years. Our year end totals show significant loses over all year after year.”

The financial statements of NUGSS show year over year of deficit at least as far back as 2009, raising questions about the competency of previous year’s student leaders. Fees collected from students that were meant to go towards maintaining a building have been reallocated to the general funds in the past, effectively postponing the crisis.

Depenau told The Western Student that the current operating fund deficit is roughly $153,000, with an overall $99,000 deficit. NUGSS is still managing two major loans, a 2010 $100,000 loan meant to cover basic expenses and an older $1.8 million loan from when the group built its student centre building.

“What this means is that we need to discuss the current spending practices of NUGSS and see whether we can continue to provide the same services that we have for years. For members this could mean a number of things, like decreased funding for Student Led Organizations, it could mean a sublease of the campus pub or any other number of measures. We are looking at our whole operating model to make sure that we get on to a sustainable path for the future,” Depenau said.

Origins of the financial situation

“… (Y)ears of financial insecurities led to a 100,000 loan being sought in 2010 to assist in operational challenges,” said Depenau. “Another example could be identified in the spotty record keeping that we have had in the past.”

Depenau suggests that there are many reasons for NUGSS’s poor financial standing, but doesn’t lay the blame on former student leaders.

“These practices (and in all likelihood other factors) led to four years of missed Consumer Price Index adjustments to the Student Fees that NUGSS receives. Yet another example is that despite the efforts of our board, staff, and management the Thirsty Moose Pub has consistently realized significant loses,” continued Depenau.

Services and pub to be impacted

The Thirsty Moose Pub, owned and operated by UNBC students through their undergraduate students’ union, is a focus of these financial woes. In the previous year alone, the Pub cost students $40,000 more than it brought in, and expense Depenau says it would be “irresponsible” to continue. NUGSS is review options to let other companies run the pub during portions of the year or fully closing the establishment.

In 2013-2014 the Simon Fraser Student Society lost $475,000 on its food services. In the same year the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society lost $250,000 for food services. This is part of trend of campus pub and food service programs that fail for a variety of reasons.

The Monetary Affairs Commission Fund, administered by a working committee that hears financial assistance appeals for student events, has been cut by 20 percent.

Student leaders to cut positions, take pay cuts

Depenau claims that NUGSS leaders are reviewing options to reduce the number of positions on its board of directors. Additionally, elected students have agreed to reduce their own pay by 7.27 percent.

The General Manager Duncan Malkinson, who was the President of the society before resigning so he could be hired as the lead staff member, has agreed to a 20 percent pay cut.

Moving forward at NUGSS

“The necessity of some of these changes are overdue, others have only recently emerged,” Depenau tells students of UNBC. “Nevertheless, we have a plan in place to surpass the short and long term challenges our organization faces. When this process of rectifying our situation is successfully completed we will be well poised to reevaluate the NUGSS strategic priorities and mission. This will undoubtedly bring our organization back in line with its intended purpose, serving the students of UNBC in Prince George and the regions.”

Moving forward, Depenau says NUGSS members will be consulted about changes to the students’ union.

While the financial issues of the NUGSS have been fairly high profile, including a CBC article covering the issue at length, the current leadership of the society has a comparatively measured approach. At many schools, financial issues fester beneath the surface until only extreme solutions can fix them. The NUGSS leadership is taking a pay cut and putting moderate cuts to services such as student events, ensuring students continue to see benefits from the society while changes are underway.

Support for Canadian Federation of Students collapses in British Columbia, part 3

Read part 1 of this story here, and part 2 here.

“The North Island Students’ Union is a proud member of the British Columbia Federation of Students,” said Andrew Dalton. “Over the past two years, the BC office has stepped up to provide all the services, campaigns, and support needed for us to move forward successfully and be able to work successfully for our local members.”

The British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS),  one of the organisations that founded the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), has reformed to offer the services and campaigns that students say they previously received from the Ottawa group.

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Speaking of the national CFS, “It has been three years since a financial audit has been presented to the membership,” said Dalton, “Because of the failures of the National Executive, the BC Federation of Students has taken on providing all federation merchandise for students, organizing mass purchasing for BC institutions at better rates than ever before. The BC office also handled the organization and creation of this year’s handbooks, a service normally provided by the national office.”

“To bridge the disparity created by the [CFS], the British Columbia Federation of Students, our BC students’ union, has taken on the responsibility of providing the BC Locals with incredibly high-quality services,” said Santanna Hernandez from the Selkirk College Students’ Union.

The British Columbia Federation of Students isn’t the only option students’ unions are reviewing to fill the CFS gap.

“The Douglas Students’ Union has resolved to research other opportunities for national representation and engagement,” said Steven Beasley of the Douglas Students’ Union. “It is likely the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations will be one option among several to be researched.”

Beasley’s comments contrast with those of Andrew Dalton, who said specifically that the North Island Students’ Union would not explore membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). Given that BC schools have voiced the lack of a CFS campaign strategy as a primary reason for exiting the group, it is likely that other schools will avoid the CASA as North Island plans to, as that group does not engage in campaigns for free education.

“Our student association has not undertaken a membership review in any other student associations or student groups in which we don’t currently participate,” said James Bowen of Vancouver Island University Students’ Union. “We continue to actively participate in the BC Federation of Students and also in the CFS as much as is reasonably possible.”

Hernandez explained that the Selkirk College Students’ Union had supported a BCFS plan to start a new national student group saying, “due to the implosion of what was Canadian Federation of Students, students in Canada have been left with an imbalance in representation … Given their history and political positions, the SCSU will not consider joining the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. We need a real national students’ union; a fighting union grounded in campaigns for free education.”

This is part 3 of a series. The student associations at TRU, Northwest Community College, College of New Caledonia, Okanagan College, and Emily Carr University did not response to requests for comment. Camosun College Student Society External Executive Rachael Grant declined to comment.

Support for Canadian Federation of Students collapses in British Columbia, part 2

This continues our story on the collapse of support for the Canadian Federation of Students in British Columbia. Read the first part of this story here.

“Members of Selkirk College Students’ Union are proud to have been a founding member Local of the Canadian Federation of Students,” Santanna Hernandez told The Western Student. “The SCSU continues to believe in students working together for universally accessible public post-secondary education. Before the Federation became defunct, there was no alternative for students to unite for Canada-wide campaigning for accessible education. The Canadian Federation of Students we championed for so many decades no longer exists. Unfortunately, the thing we still call “Canadian Federation of Students” is dysfunctional, and has allowed itself to become a barrier to the fight for free education.”

“The Board of the North Island Students’ Union believes that the National Executive of the CFS is failing in their duties and responsibilities,” Andrew Dalton said. There is no financial accountability, they are not providing regular services, there is a lack of national campaigns about affordability and access to education, and they are operating under a broken democracy.”

Based on The Western Student’s discussions with student leaders, it can be hard to pinpoint the start of these woes. One source of evidence is the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia’s “Report of the Executive Committee” from the 68th Semi-Annual General Meeting 2015 (the group, now called British Columbia Federation of Students, has two big meetings each year called general meetings).

This was not a normal year for members of the Canadian Federation of Students. As discussed later in this report, a crisis of leadership in the national organization and failures by the National Executive have placed a unique and pronounced burden on the Executive Committee and BC member local unions to deliver meaningful political campaigns and member services without the necessary support and resources from the national office.” – CFS-British Columbia, August 2015

The Report of the Executive Committee includes a 10 page appendix entitled “Crisis of Leadership Within the Canadian Federation of Students”. The appendix suggests that a “coalition of progressive students’ unions” took over the CFS in the 1990s and guided its actions until the elected students and staff of the CFS-Ontario ended the coalition and ran their own slate of candidates in November 2014. The Report further states that this new slate of candidates began attacking unionized staff of the CFS, failed to produce a written campaign strategy, and refused to provide financial information to affiliated students’ unions or certain members of the National Executive.

Steven Beasley told The Western Student, “the Douglas Students’ Union shares the views put forward by the BC Federation of Students in their Executive Committee Report of August 2015 and 2016. The Douglas Students’ Union has nothing to add to the analysis provided by BCFS.”

“CFS has been operating under a broken, or false, democracy as they have been operating behind closed doors under the direction of a small number of staff without the approval of members across the country.” Andrew Dalton said.

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In March of 2016 the Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College sent an open letter to all affiliated students’ unions in the CFS saying they formally refuse to participate until demands for transparency and campaign action were met. The letter, sent by Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College Chairperson Sara Bigler, included the following passage:

In addition to these actions, the Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College demands an apology to the students of Canada from you, Bilan Arte, for your leadership role in undermining the student movement. Over the course of the last year and a half, you have failed to respond to members’ questions or to take responsibility for the destabilization and instability in the student movement that your actions caused. Rather than communicate with members in British Columbia respectfully, you have built petty personal relationships with individuals and attempted to have them undermine our unity. You have lied to the members of our students’ union directly. Ms. Arte, you are the Chairperson of a cross-Canada organisation calling for accountability and important investments on the part of the federal government at a time that you yourself have not produced basic financial documents for members in two years. It shames the student movement and makes students seem disconnected from reality.

Oddly, despite this direct and public demand of an apology from CFS Chairperson Bilan Arte, Arte has pretended in comments to the Camosun Nexus and other student newspapers since that time that the desire to leave the CFS comes as a surprise. In a July 31 of 2016 article in the Camosun College Nexus Newspaper, Arte called the feelings of students in BC, “misplaced.”

“Our board of directors has decided that it cannot, in good conscience actively support participation in the national organisation while it consistently fails to meet its obligations to our members,” Vancouver Island University Students’ Union’s James Bowen said. “Over the past couple of years there has been an absence of any campaigns on core student issues such as education quality and cost, and student debt. Services for individual members and member students’ unions have also clearly deteriorated.  Compounding these issues is a lack of transparency and financial accountability – audited financial statements have not been presented for review in two years.”

This is part 2 of a series. The student associations at TRU, Northwest Community College, College of New Caledonia, Okanagan College, and Emily Carr University did not response to requests for comment. Camosun College Student Society External Executive Rachael Grant declined to comment.

Support for Canadian Federation of Students collapses in British Columbia, part 1

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Image above: Students at Selkirk College signing a petition to leave CFS. Below: petition cards. Images courtesy of Santanna Hernandez of the Selkirk College Students’ Union.

Despite over three decades of working with students across the country through the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), at several campuses in British Columbia there are petitions to formally and officially disconnect from the Ottawa-based group.

“There is a petition being circulated that is requesting that the CFS National Executive allow students at North Island College have the opportunity to vote on their future membership in the CFS. It is my understanding that a similar petition is being circulated at several other schools in BC and in other provinces,” Andrew Dalton of the North Island Students’ Union told The Western Student.

“A petition asking the Canadian Federation of Students to hold a referendum on continued membership is circulating at Selkirk College,” stated Santanna Hernandez, a Director of the Selkirk College Students’ Union.

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Vancouver Island University Students’ Union’s James Bowen confirmed “students at VIU are signing a petition in support of conducting a referendum on continued membership on the Canadian Federation of Students.”

“The member local unions of BCFS are seeking to leave the national organizations due to the many issues documented by the BCFS at their past two August general meetings,” said Steven Beasley of the Douglas Students’ Union. “…Accordingly, it is time for the membership to decide whether the Students’ Union will leave, and there will be a petition process early in the winter semester to have a referendum on membership.”

A source has confirmed that both the Northwest Community College Students’ Union and Camosun College Student Society are also currently petitioning to leave the CFS. The petition is the first part of leaving CFS, followed by a referendum on campus.

This is part 1 of a series. The student associations at TRU, Northwest Community College, College of New Caledonia, Okanagan College, and Emily Carr University did not respond to requests for comment. Camosun College Student Society External Executive Rachael Grant declined to comment.

Updated: Embarrassing dad criticizes UBCSUO President on social media

A candidate in recently wrapped up elections has become embroiled in what has to be the most embarrassing UBC Okanagan electoral incident since Curtis “Bumbling Bee” Tse won the Executive Chair position*. The father of a University of British Columbia Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) Vice-President has been harassing the groups leader on social media about his electoral endorsement.

President endorses Sarah Maryschuk for VP Internal

On October 13, the day prior to voting, University of British Columbia Students’ Union Okanagan President Blake Edwards endorsed Sarah Maryschuk in a by-election. Using the hashtag #weAREsarah, President Edwards encouraged UBCSUO members to vote for Maryschuk for the position of VP Internal using Facebook.

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Maryschuk, who ultimately lost the election, was opposed by Amy Park and Arina Rora.

It is sort of rare for sitting students’ union representatives to endorse others because most of the time they are all elected simultaneously. While it may not happen often, it is not banned and there is arguably nothing wrong with endorsements.

Update: After this article initially came out, Kimberly Rutledge of the UBCSUO confirmed that the executives of the students’ union had discussed putting forward a limitation on endorsements in the future, and that President Blake Edwards had agreed to the measure.

Embarassing dad comes to the rescue

In a Facebook comment to the President Edwards’ endorsement, Leo Rutledge, father of UBCSUO Vice-President Kimberley Rutledge, began criticizing Edwards for making an endorsement.

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Rather than just letting a campus election run its course, Rutledge felt the need to interject with literally the cringiest wag of the finger ever to come to the Okanagan valley. Edwards and Rutledge has a bit of a back and forth before others started to comment.

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Why Rutledge felt it was reasonable for him to interject on his daughter’s students’ union’s president’s social media about their internal democracy, we may never know. It is essentially the online equivalent of showing up at your child’s workplace and yelling at their boss. What is certain is that the ranks among the most embarrassing electoral incidents ever to happen to the UBCSUO.

Update: In response to this article, UBCSUO Vice-President Kimberly Rutledge distanced herself form the Facebook interaction.

“I was open and accepting to any of the candidates winning this election, and I think they all would have done a great job,” said Kimberly Rutledge. “Our Vice Presidents had a conversation about how in this case, as we would be working with the VP Internal for the next 6 months, it was best to remain neutral to create an accepting environment for whoever won and to make sure this election was unbiased.”

“There were complaints about the President endorsing his friend over the other candidates, but no one really did anything about it,” said VP Rutledge.

*that reference

A UBCSUO source says that apparently there used to be a slate (political party) called Students4Students that ran the UBCSUO for many years. The slate were eventually embarrassingly defeated by a guy named Curtis Tse who, the source says, was often referred to as Bumbling Bee for his many goofs and gaffes.

Updated: 1. Previously the article said Curtis Tse was the President of the UBCSUO. He was actually the Executive Chair. 2. Now includes comment from VP Kimberly Rutledge.