KSA Executives Report Disappointment in CFS National Meeting

The student federation expelled 12 B.C. schools but voted against simplifying decertification

Courtesy of The Varsity. (JosieKao)

Courtesy of The Varsity. (JosieKao)

From June 9 to 12, executive members of the Kwantlen Student Association attended the Canadian Federation of Students’ 71st semi-annual national general meeting in Gatineau, Québec.

The CFS, which is comprised of 64 student unions representing roughly half a million students across Canada, advocates for accessibility to education and supports students through various campaigns and services.

Prior to the June meeting, the Federation represented 14 student unions across B.C., but early in the opening plenary, all but two of them were expelled. This occurred as a result of a years-long dispute between the Federation and the BCFS, a similar organization exclusively representing British Columbia-based student groups.

The KSA has a history of legal conflicts with both the CFS and the BCFS, and only exited from the latter organization earlier this year, as reported by The Runner in February

While this was taken by most members of the Kwantlen Student Association as good news—since there would be no further expenses arising from lawsuits and appeals on the matter—it also meant that the KSA would not be included in the federal organization’s expulsion of members represented by the BCFS.

“We all voted for them to go,” says KSA President and VP External Caitlin McCutchen. “And they just slowly walked out the door. That was it for them. And then we were sitting alone at the back.”

As a result, the KSA is now one of only two student unions in B.C.—along with the College of the Rockies Students’ Association—represented at the CFS.

In addition, because every province has a representative on the national executive and no delegates from College of the Rockies Students’ Association were present at the meeting, McCutchen was elected into that position.

“It’s weird,” she says. “For decades [members of the KSA] have been vocal about how much they don’t like the CFS. To have us in a position on the executive—it’s interesting.”

According to McCutchen, none of the motions that the KSA supported, including a motion to streamline the process of decertification, were passed during the national general meeting.

There was also an attempt to introduce the option to vote online in CFS referendums and elections, an option which the KSA supported but was ultimately voted against by members of the CFS. Proponents of electronic voting believe that it would make it easier for students to participate in the democracy of the CFS.

As reported by the University of Toronto’s student paper, The Varsity, a delegate from the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson named Phyllis McKenna argued that an online voting system could easily be hacked to change results.

But Daman Singh, a delegate from the U of T student union, said that the hacking concerns “really weren’t reflective of reality.”

“I don’t think that’s a reasonable position to have,” he said.

A motion to call the question passed, ending all debate on the issue, and the motion to introduce the option of electronic voting was defeated. The motion to make it simpler for member unions to decertify and leave the CFS was also voted against after calling the question.

The KSA’s vice-president student life, David Piraquive, is critical of members’ use of the motion to call the question, which he suggests is used to stifle the voices of CFS members who want to leave the organization.

“It’s overused to shut down debate on anything that was anti-CFS,” he says. “I never really felt welcome there, which was frustrating because they talk a lot about being inclusive and having safe spaces.”

He says he feels that the delegates treated him differently after he told them that he was from B.C.

“They would kind of just step back and be like ‘Oh, cool! Um, I have to go now.’”

McCutchen, who also attended the NGM last year, says that her experience this year was “par for the course.”

“Because of the conflict between the KSA, the BCFS, and CFS national, we’re not well-liked there,” she says.

After a KSA council meeting on June 29, vice-president student affairs Murdoch de Mooy recounted his experiences at various meetings he attended during the conference. He said he was disappointed to see that members were having their votes influenced by a whip, claiming that members would communicate online using WhatsApp, and vote based on a consensus.

After speaking about an issue in a CFS caucus meeting, de Mooy recalled that after the motion he supported was defeated, he was approached by a member who apologized to him. The member claimed that they believed in what de Mooy had been discussing, but had been compelled to vote against it by other members.

In spite of their experiences, de Mooy believes it’s important for the KSA to be present at CFS meetings, so that the interests of KPU students can be represented nationally.

The Kwantlen Student Association has long held the opinion that services offered by the CFS are a waste of KSA members’ money. The KSA procures services similar to the ones offered by the CFS like health and dental care, and they do it for less money.

KSA VP Finance & Operations Joseph Thorpe is also critical of the time it takes for the CFS to release its audited financial statements.

“Originally we had a motion that said they should release it one week after the NGM at max,” he says. “They went through a bunch of arguments, and somehow they thought that 30 days was an acceptable amount of time. Their excuses were things like, ‘Oh, NGMs are so tiring. People need to rest.’ We were like, ‘You need 30 days to release something that should already have been completed?’”

Thorpe says that the KSA’s protocol is to prepare the budget and statements 10 days before an AGM so that they can be released on the day of the meeting for members to view.

“[The CFS] should have this done,” he says. “It is inexcusable for a national organization with a ton of staff to release audited statements and their finished budget 30 days after its NGM.”

CFS Treasurer Trina James says that the audited financial statements should be available on the CFS website soon and that, “if there is ever a situation where a member wanted to look at the budget, it’s something that’s always available on our website—the up-to-date ones that have been passed by the membership.”

James admits that her knowledge on past conflict between the KSA and the CFS is “slim,” but says that she remains optimistic about working with the KSA in the future.

“That means building our relationships and being more transparent when it comes to our finances as well as when it comes to the various services and campaign work,” she says.

In 2017, the CFS was accused by some members of withholding the findings of a forensic audit that found that the organization had ties to an undisclosed bank account, holding over $250,000 dollars in funding. The audit stated that these funds had been intended for different parts of the organization, yet the account had not been revealed to members or the public until 2014. The audit report was not disclosed to members before it was voted on to be accepted.

McCutchen also expressed frustration with delays in the processes of the Federation, recalling motions from November 2016 that still hadn’t been voted on.

James believes this is primarily due to the fact that, at past meetings, “many of the delegates were not able to have those fruitful discussions and in-depth discussions about the work of the Federation because of other conflicts that don’t necessarily have to do with the work of the organization.”

Now that the BCFS has officially split from the CFS, it’s possible that there will be less conflict among members at its meetings. James says that the work that the CFS does will still benefit students in B.C.

“Though they’re not with us, we’re still fighting for them,” she says.