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.
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.