Column: What students should know about the CFS

Column by Mark Mancini

It’s an exciting year at Laurentian.

Thanks to the leadership demonstrated by President Andy Rollins, Executive Director Charles Wilson, VP Services Iain Park, and the entire SGA staff team, things are moving forward in the Students’ General Association. The launch of the V-Desk is a seminal moment for students, and for the University. Our focus this year on expanded transit services have already reaped rewards for students, and will continue to be a priority for our organization. Long story short, we have a vision about what we can be for the student body.

There is one piece that doesn’t fit in this long-term vision. That piece, in short, is the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Most students haven’t heard of the CFS, and that makes perfect sense—though every student at this University pays $15 dollars to them, their focus is not at Laurentian.  That $15 dollars adds up to close to $85 000 a year, out of the hands of students, to the CFS. And what do we get from this investment? Can anyone say the last time they have seen anything the CFS does on campus?

The CFS uses this money to no benefit. Their focus, in contrast to ours, is squarely on Southern Ontario schools. They get the majority of their membership dues from large schools, and so their focus on the realities of Sudbury and Northern Ontario is decidedly absent. Their advocacy strategy is one of aggressiveness towards university officials, the public sector, the private sector, and anyone who doesn’t fit their ideological bill.  What do they have to show for this strategy? They claim to stand for lower tuition and lower student debt; though they preach a good line, tuition has consistently increased in Ontario, as has student debt.  They have failed at their core goal. On the other hand, by working with parties in the private and public sector, we have worked hard to earn the trust of students on the issues we all care about.

So, why should we, as students, care? It, believe it or not, matters greatly. Recently, it came to light that there was a petition circulating around the university to end our involvement in the CFS. Though this is not officially endorsed by the SGA, students have mobilized at the grassroots. They have obviously seen that the $15 fee that we all pay to the CFS could be better used. Whether that is in the form of a rebate to students, or as an investment in new services, is a discussion that should be had in an open and democratic forum. Our position is simple. This is an opportunity for us to have a fulsome discussion with our students about these problems.

That said, the SGA has attempted  to work with the CFS—to provide suggestions, to reform the organization—however, our efforts have constantly been rebuffed, and in some cases, we have been personally attacked and ridiculed for even trying. It would be the ideal to work with the CFS to jointly improve life for students at Laurentian. They have no interest in that endeavour. So, we have come to this.

The CFS does not welcome a fruitful discussion on continued membership. In fact, as soon as they heard about the discussion happening at Laurentian, they sent unnamed staffers from Toronto to Laurentian to stop it. Using student money, they sent them to Sudbury, presumably providing lodgings, meals, and other amenities. This is not the only thing the CFS does with your money, our $85 000—they have been in countless legal suits against students(see if you’re interested).

All of this is not only disturbing, but it is alarming for our university. These staffers went through our university residences at night (which is against university policy). They solicited our membership at SGA events, without invitation or cause. These practices are not part of our vision. As young people, we must be hopeful about the sort of politics we want to create—based in honesty, good-faith, and hope for the future. The tactics the CFS chooses to employ represents a bygone era of underhanded politics.  We strive for better in the SGA for our students. Indeed, we will demand better for your hard-earned money.

When students are asked about the CFS, when they may encounter these staffers at the doorstep,  I’d ask that we all consider one very simple thing. That is, where is your $15 better spent? On meals and flights for staffers who simply do not care about Laurentian, or right here on campus to improve your life as a student? The answer to that, I believe, is fairly clear. We will continue to fight for our students, to have a discussion on our future, no matter how many staffers the CFS flies to our school.