The CFS, BCFS, and KSA Butting Heads
Featured / March 7, 2017
Division, separation, and fees between three parties are on the rise
Alyssa Laube, Associate Editor
While the Kwantlen Student Association was fighting in court last year to leave the British Columbia Federation of Students, the BCFS announced its split from the Canadian Federation of Students.
The KSA represents students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, whereas both the CFS and BCFS strive to speak on behalf of a collection of institutions’ student bodies. KPU is included on the provincial and national list of members, and as a result, its students pay fees to the BCFS and CFS every semester. If the membership were to be terminated, students would no longer need to contribute funds, and would not be affected by the initiatives of the organizations.
Separation has been a topic of interest between the three parties for years. The KSA has tried to terminate its membership in both federations, and failed on each occasion. Due to recent developments, there is even division between the two Federations, which were once closely tied. Internal conflict within the national organization has been discussed by the provincial executives, student union representatives, press, and even those on the national board.
Though separate legal identities, BCFS and CFS have always been affiliated. In 2015, a motion published in the BCFS’ annual general meeting stated that “there is a vast and growing divide in the political perspective and goals of the representatives of member local students’ unions in the Canadian Federation of Students.”
Issues raised in the 2015 AGM agenda include a lack of proper representation of members, corrupt political agendas within the CFS, dishonesty, disrespect, misuse of funds, and even that “the personal desires of some had come to supersede the supremacy of democracy within the structure of the Federations, including electoral fraud in the nomination of positions to the National Executive and the duty of the National Executive.” Closing paragraphs included a declaration of non-confidence in the National Executive, and a list of suggestions for the CFS to take. These suggestions ranged from benign to extreme, even calling for the resignation of some executives who remain in office today.
The KSA isn’t the only union that has fought to leave the CFS and BCFS. Like the KSA, some have tried, but not succeeded, to leave, and others have managed to cut their ties altogether. Right now, with the KSA in a legal dispute about its membership within the BCFS, and the BCFS in a delicate and changing relationship with the CFS, the subjects of KPU student fees and representation are more important than ever.
Years ago, the KPU students distributed a petition to leave the BCFS and gained enough signatures for a referendum to be held on-campus. The referendum would allow students to vote either in favour of or opposition to leaving the BCFS, but was never organized. When the federation refused to acknowledge the petition and set up voting booths at KPU, the KSA took them to court. That case is still open, and recently, the BCFS requested that it be dismissed. The KSA refused, and the judge’s decision from the summary trial should be announced by the end of the month.
Marshall and CFS National Chair Bilan Arte declined to comment on the lawsuit, but KSA President Alex McGowan is eagerly anticipating the results of the trial.
“There’s a number of things the judge can do,” says McGowan. “They can side with the BCFS and say that the case is simple and should just be thrown out … [they can terminate KSA membership in the BCFS, give KPU students a referendum] or they can decide that it can’t be decided simply and needs to go to a full trial, which would happen in, like, December.”
He continues, “We believe we’re not members because of this process and so we’d like the courts to recognize that. If they don’t believe that our argument is strong enough to support that, then we believe our argument is definitely strong enough to support a referendum.”
According to McGowan, the KSA hasn’t considered itself a member of the BCFS for a while, and as a result, he hasn’t been to any of the meetings. He also considers the provincial and national federations to, “until very recently, have been the same organization.”
“In our history with the CFS, every action taken within the CFS has been the actions of people in the BCFS … There were all sorts of bad faith dealings where, simply because we’ve been critical and raised issues, they’ve treated us really badly and made it very difficult for us to operate,” he says.
“I hope that they mean well, but until experience proves otherwise, my mandate is to support the students [of KPU], and 1,300 students signed a petition to get a referendum which should’ve been enough. They refused to recognize it, so the KSA is advocating on behalf of those students.”
The BCFS is itching to severe itself from the National Executive, and has already voted in favour of the separation. BCFS Chairperson Simka Marshall alleges that the CFS has failed to provide services that had been deemed its responsibility, and that the BCFS has consequently had to pick up its slack. The same concerns outlined in the 2015 AGM minutes still ring true, according to Marshall, and the collective burden of being affiliated with the CFS has driven the BCFS to remove itself from National.
She cites the fact that the BCFS has taken on the creation of student agendas and running the International Student Identity Card discount program after the national federation failed to do so.
“This is an issue that’s been ongoing for a while now,” says Marshall. “It’s been over 18 months that we started seeing these issues develop within the international organization … We started seeing all these troubling things with the treatment of staff, financial accountability, transparency of the national executive, and just simply the absence of campaigns and failure to provide services.”
“We’ve been actively engaging and trying to have these concerns addressed so that we can have a conversation about them, but the national executive—or the folks from the national office—has failed to address any of that,” she adds. “Our organization is constantly changing and growing, but due to necessity, we’ve had to take on these failing services. It is the prerogative of the membership to ensure that we can continue to deliver these services and manage them properly.”
A number of the BCFS’ member locals have already begun circulating petitions to leave, and some have already submitted their signed documents to the national executive.
“I don’t know anything about that,” says Arte, when asked about the BCFS’ goal of splitting from the national executive. “We don’t really have any comment on that.”
However, Arte does reinforce her belief in “a strong, united, national student movement,” and credits collaboration as the driving force behind past victories for the CFS.
“Historically, we know that when we’ve won, we’ve won because we worked together, and I’m hoping that that’s how we will move forward,” she says. “When we’re working on issues that affect students, we have to collaborate. That’s the only way we’ve ever won any victories.”
McGowan believes that “it’s very reasonable to have the concerns that the BCFS has towards the national branch,” and considers the desire to leave National as a result of those concerns is rational. He cites the same frustrations as Marshall—namely, a lack of transparency and progress within the CFS—to support this claim.
The Fee Increase
To reflect the work that the BCFS will be doing outside of the CFS, the provincial organization is increasing its fees.
The increase is significant, boosting the current amount from $4.43 to $8.76 for each student member every semester. According to the most recent copy of the BCFS’ bylaws, found on its website, “the previous full membership base fee of no less than $3.00 per semester, or $6.00 per academic year, per local union individual member shall remain in full force and effect until such time as the new fee is implemented, which shall be no later than December 31, 2019.”
“A number of our member locals are planning on moving away from the national organization, and so—because we’re taking on a bulk of the service and campaign work that the National once provided—there is going to be a cost associated with that,” says Marshall. “It’s making up for the lack of campaigns and services altogether that used to be on the plate of the national organization.”
She goes on to explain that “what the fee increase would be is essentially redirecting the amount that goes to the national organization to the B.C. office.”
Unlike the KSA’s process for increasing fees, individual student members—aside from the few who attend meetings—have no control over the amount they pay to the BCFS. In order to boost student fees, the BCFS only has to meet quorum and pass a motion to amend the bylaws at an AGM.
“The fee increase makes no sense,” says McGowan. “A majority of the voting members that showed up to the most recent BCFS AGM voted to increase the fee because they’re leaving National. The rest of us, the minority, are being forced to pay double for services, none of which we use and none of which we’re going to use because the CFS has a long track record of providing bad services.”
He finds the increase “outrageous”—particularly because the KSA ought to have left the BCFS already but cannot until the legal dispute is over—though not surprising.
“It’s the same thing they’ve been doing since they were created. They make it harder and harder to leave when people disagree with them and they increase the fees by a vote of majority at their meeting. For students represented by the KSA, for example, there’s no voice. They don’t get a say in whether or not those fees should increase,” he says.