CFS takes credit for WTF?! campaign

Capilano Student Union organizer accuses CFS of “overstepping their boundaries.”

Capilano Student Union organizer accuses CFS of  “overstepping their boundaries.”

Matt DiMera (The Runner)
Samantha Thompson (Capilano Courier)

Organizers of a Valentine’s Day press conference on student debt are frustrated with the actions of another student organization, after the Canadian Federation of Students – BC (CFS-BC) issued a press release on Feb. 14 allegedly taking credit for their event.

The CFS press release called attention to the event, but made no specific mention of the actual Where’s The Funding?! (WTF?!) organizers who staged the event.

“I’m not actually sure how many campuses or how many schools participated,” said Zach Crispin, CFS-BC chairperson, when reached by telephone on Feb. 14. He also was unclear about which schools were involved.

Where’s The Funding?! campaigners hold a press conference at the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Feb. 14. (Courtesy of the Martlet)

The WTF?! coalition describes itself as the largest student-organized post-secondary campaign in B.C., representing more than 160,000 students in eight student unions. The members of the coalition include the students associations at the University of Victoria (UVic), the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), Capilano University, Langara College, the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), the University of Northern British University (UNBC) and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). The Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) is not a member.

After holding a press conference on the steps of the B.C. legislature to call on the B.C. government to commit to a long-term and immediate increase in funding to the post-secondary system, organizers delivered 5000 individual Valentine’s cards to the Office of Advanced Education.

The campaign is advocating for the elimination of interest rates on student loans, the re-establishment of a provincial needs-based grants program and an increase to core funding for colleges and universities.

Jaraad Marani, director of external relations for the University of Victoria Students’ Society, (UVSS) explained that the WTF?! coalition wanted to change the message of student activism into something more positive.

“Instead of shaming the government, we were making light of the fact that there are some issues with [post-secondary education] in B.C.,” he said.

Crispin said students at UVic and Capilano had taken the Valentine’s idea from an old CFS campaign.

“You know we did Valentine’s Day cards coordinated out of our office last year. We decided not to do it this year, but some of our members took it on and this event occurred,” he said.

Teresa Grant, the WTF?! representative for the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU), expressed surprise and disappointment upon seeing the CFS press release.

“The CFS was not and is not a part of the WTF?! campaign. They were never contacted to be a part of the campaign,” said Grant.

“Capilano is the only institution participating in WTF?! that is a member school of the CFS, so taking credit, or playing with words like they did was overstepping their boundaries.”

“In no way was the CFS involved,” said Marani, calling the press release “interesting.”

According to Crispin, the UVSS is also a member of CFS-BC, but UVSS chairperson Tara Paterson argued otherwise.

“It is the position of the UVSS that we are no longer members of CFS national or CFS-BC,” said Paterson.

The CSU did not participate in the CFS’ Day of Action when thousands of Canadian students rallied together for lower tuition fees on Feb. 1, opting instead to put their efforts into WTF?!’s Feb. 14 campaign.

On Feb. 13, a press release was sent out by previous CSU chairperson David Clarkson to promote the Valentine’s Day campaign. It explained that although their student union continues to pay membership fees to the CFS, they preferred “a non-adversarial approach to advocacy.”

Grant was critical of the CFS for their past approach to working with government.

“The WTF?! campaign has worked extremely hard to have a valuable and open dialogue that works both ways with our elected officials, and with my experience and knowledge of the CFS, they do not hold that as a priority, and prefer taking a more in-your-face dictating role.”

Grant said that she is unable to speak for the other coalition schools, but does not believe that the CFS would be accepted as a campaign partner, citing the organization’s well-documented legal battles. Since 2008, the national CFS or its B.C. component have been involved with seven different lawsuits against B.C. student unions at Kwantlen, SFU and UVic.

“Both the SFU and UVic student societies have seen face time with the CFS in court, and so collaboration on such a campaign would not strengthen us…WTF?! is built on the idea of cooperation and consensus,” she said.

“I believe one of the many reasons WTF?! aims to be so cooperative is because of the many negative experiences that some of the participating schools have had with the CFS.”

Marani was more open to the idea, but said that the CFS hadn’t expressed any interest in joining their campaign.

“I guess we’d have to cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

He also extended an invitation to the KSA. “We’re always looking for new folks to come out and be part of the campaign,” said Marani.

“The Kwantlen Student Association is open to partnering with other universities that are currently part of this Where’s The Funding?! campaign,” said Arzo Ansary, the KSA’s director of external affairs. “We would gladly help facilitate movement and create some of our own in the interest of students.”

Despite the controversy, the organizers believe the event was an unqualified success and were happy to see students excited and engaged about affordable education. Grant also noted that the campaign helped to create and foster stronger relationships with both provincial Liberal and NDP politicians.

According to Marani, this is the first time in his recollection that so many big schools in B.C. have worked together on a single issue, and the campaign organizers hope to keep building on that success.