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Letter to the editor: a response to Grist and CFS

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By the SGA staff

It was with interest that we read the letter to the editor from Corey Grist, the Northern Commissioner for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). In the article, Grist challenged a number of comments made in an article in which one of our Executive members, Mark Mancini, was quoted. In the article, Mr. Mancini challenged the notion that the CFS stands up for Northern schools. Grist went on to cite the Federation’s advocacy efforts on Northern transportation as well as food services—where he said that the SGA was absent. He also claimed that Northern schools have ample space to deal with their issues within the Federation.

It is not our intention to enter into a letter war with Mr. Grist, or the CFS. We believe in a better sort of politics. Indeed, we have made our position known about the CFS in all available avenues.  However, it is also our duty to inform you, as students, about the truth of this debate, especially when misinformation is spread.

The truth of the matter is simple: Laurentian University students have very little to show for the approximately $85,000 we pay them in fees annually. Take for example Mr. Grist’s transportation assertions. Mr. Grist claimed that there needed to be a “Northern angle,” on transportation, citing the Federation’s participation in a coalition for passenger train service in Northern Ontario. Yet, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) has been divested by the provincial government and transportation options across the North continue to fail for students. The fact of the matter is that the provincial government most likely does not take the CFS seriously, especially when they continually demonize the Premier and Ministers. With our $85,000, they have attended a press conference on transit, and held some meetings; but where are the results?

On the other hand, the SGA has improved transit service locally for students, with far fewer resources than the CFS. Close to 10 hours of service have been added, just this summer, to the University/Four Corners route, used by students. We have a fantastic relationship with the City of Greater Sudbury and Sudbury Transit, which will yield more results for students as the year goes on. Contrast this with the approach of the CFS, which is to view such partners with derision, and we will take our results over theirs.

When it comes to food services, Mr. Grist’s advocacy assertions are even more problematic. He claims that in 2012, the SGA “opted to not participate in the CFS Food Services Taskforce, despite being provided with materials and offers of support to tailor the survey to the needs of Laurentian students.” The fact is the SGA was already very active on this subject and has been working with Laurentian’s administration on the biggest food services issue on campus; the proposed mandatory meal plan. In fact, we encouraged its delay for a year for further study, and have been working closely on its smooth and fair implementation. These are real results—not surveys, press conferences, or meetings.  Mr. Grist’s public challenge of the SGA is indicative of their overall approach to advocacy — focusing more on rhetoric and bombast than real results. It appears that in the eyes of the CFS, if we attempt to strike our own path, we are somehow wrong.

It is not wrong that we chose a better path for our members, instead of a failed task force.

While the CFS holds its press conferences, and is on the outside looking in, they have opted to spend your money elsewhere. Mr. Grist neglected to mention a problem that the SGA has had with the CFS for some time; that is, the fact that they engage in fly-by-might operations with your money at Laurentian. They didn’t spend it on transportation or food services. For example, this year alone, when continued membership in the Federation was brought up at Laurentian, the CFS flew staffers down to our university, and petitioned students at night, in residence. The staffers were presumably provided with food and lodgings; again, all with your money. This is repugnant as a political practice, but it is also a total waste of student dollars. Couple this with the fact that the CFS is routinely involved in litigation against students, and we expect that far more money has gone towards dinners and lawyers than to students at Laurentian.

All of this banter aside, this issue matters. Your $85 000 matters. Imagine the things we could do if we focused that money on actually improving the student experience at Laurentian.

We will continue to request that the CFS change its approach. We will continue to shed light on their darkened operations. We will demand that they use your money wisely. That is our job as your Executive. That is our commitment to you.