The state of the Canadian Federation of Students

The Canadian Federation of Students is in slightly less trouble today than earlier this year.

Way back in 2013, Rabble noted that Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and York University were the only schools the national federation was operating from a position of strength at. That may have been a bit of an exaggeration but not by much.

The years since have seen successive anti-CFS slates elected and defederation campaigns at UofT and here at Ryerson. A few weeks before our election, the University of Toronto Students’ Union endorsed the defederation campaign.

According to the federation’s own local list, it’s lost every school in Quebec, New Brunswick, damned near everyone in Alberta and a good chunk of the ones listed above are disputed. This is not a good place for the federation.

Which brings us to this year’s Ryerson Students’ Union election where the controversy plagued-anti-CFS slate still managed to take about half the positions.

Now the question is, will the CFS-dominated slate, Elevate, be able to stop from embarrassing itself long enough to win a full slate next year?

It won’t reverse the trend but a decent year for the CFS at Ryerson may slow the hemorrhaging, presuming the scandals slow at other campuses as well. On the other hand, a clear failure might accelerate it.

The current sentiment was described well by Tristin Hopper for the National Post, the CFS has regularly faced “zealous charges that the body has hardened into an out-of-touch, money-squandering bureaucracy.”

A decent slate may turn the general feeling towards the CFS from disgust at its lousy organizing and many scandals to indifference. In which case, the CFS may deserve congratulations, I suppose, for turning a crisis into an unpleasant malaise.

One hopes the CFS leadership sets higher expectations for itself.

I’m not sure they do but I hope.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, I was genuinely encouraged by the CFS’ Day of Action for free education. I was happy to see it advance the demand and organize students in a fight for a genuine gain.

Hell, in that moment I was reminded of what the federation was for. When the rally crossed the lawn at Queen’s Park, I was reminded of its role in the Days of Action against Harris when it was really on the edge of the movement, had something to offer students and won their respect by involving them directly in the struggle against austerity.

Then, after the rally in November, we got nothing.

Not just a lack of reform but literal silence on this subject from the federation for months, with one exception. After the rally, CFS-O spokesperson Rajean Hoilett told The Eyeopener that the “next step is directing the discourse to individual members of provincial parliament. ‘We’re going to continue to take action and continue to escalate our tactics until this government feels the pressure.”

Then, more silence, until earlier this month when the CFS launched a press release with the title “Students Take Call for Free Post-Secondary Education to Parliament Hill.”

There was no escalation of tactics—just lobbying. The release reads that the CFS’ “student representatives” lobbied 150 MPs and Senators for its CFS’ National Lobby Week. During this time, politicians lobbied “were presented with students’ vision for post-secondary education, which included a plan to meaningfully reinvest in post-secondary education by eliminating tuition fees for all students.”

This was reflected in Elevate’s pitch to students during the RSU election: to lobby the government to eliminate tuition fees.

Here, we see the CFS moving against directly mobilizing students and sending professional activists to lobby on their behalf, instead. This is the sort of behavior that makes people ask, “What is the CFS good for?”

Students aren’t being involved in the fight, they do not see the CFS working with them for to serve their interests and there’s no reason to believe this is going to eliminate tuition fees.

So, we are more or less stuck with the unpleasant malaise until the CFS changes its tune.