Above: Microphone via Canadian Federation of Students Facebook page
By contributor Chantelle Spicer
Membership is something we take very seriously in our society. categorize or label ourselves to find our place in the world. Where would we be without knowing our place in a crowd? It provides us with protocols of behaviour, boundaries, and expectations. We navigate all our lives by this, identifying our alliances, potential friends and enemies through a variety of ways that signify our memberships: clothing, language, gender, secret handshake, something as simple as a button, or as grand as an official title.
Here on campus, we find ourselves in many kinds of clubs or friend groups, but we are all a part of one thing together – the Students’ Union. This membership extends beyond our university—across BC we are joined with 13 other universities and colleges through the BC Federation of Students (BCFS), and across Canada we are members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
The CFS was formed in 1981 with the BCFS as a founding member, headed by an optimistic and democratic voice hoping to make students’ lives better across the country through unity. This coalition of unions has brought us a variety of services and campaigns under the direction of various leaders ever since, all working in the best interest of students.
Things changed in October 2014. At a CFS national general meeting, staff and student leaders of the Ontario Component took over the elections and took power of the national office. Since Ontario has nearly half of the votes of the country, an Ontario-centric perspective has rapidly consumed the organization. More troubling, there has been an absence of accountability and transparency of the new leadership of the CFS over the past two years. For example, audited financial statements—confirmation that the money we pay to the organization is being used properly—have not been provided since summer 2014. Directors on the National Executive have been consistently denied access to budget documents and decisions are being made by a small circle of individuals. BC delegates at national general meetings, when demanding access to the information they have a right to, are bullied and harassed.
Students in BC are greatly impacted by being ignored by our national union. Two years ago the Harper government eliminated funding for English Second Language (ESL) programs, but since that didn’t affect most of the member schools in Ontario and Eastern Canada (it primarily affected colleges, which aren’t members out there), there was no support to fight back against this cut. Eighteen months ago the Christy Clark government eliminated funding for Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs and allowed for tuition to be charged. Yet again, we didn’t hear a peep. Students in BC have worked together through the BCFS to fight these cuts and bring public awareness to the plight of students, completely without the help of our national union.
There can be no democracy without the information needed to form judgements and cast informed votes. Without it, ignorance prevails. With the relationship between the national and provincial leadership growing, students in BC have been focusing on keeping our own unions strong.
VIUSU has been a part of this movement, this summer striking a committee of three Board members and two students who are not on the VIUSU Board, under the directive of the Board of Directors. After several meetings over the summer semesters, the committee has recommended to the VIUSU Board that the referendum process be initiated to allow VIU students to make their choice if they wish to continue to be members. “After reviewing the actions of the National Executive over the past two years, we have seen a lack of financial accountability, failing services, and a lack of campaigns that affect BC students,” said Phoebe Lo Patigdas, Chairperson of the VIU Students’ Union. “As directors elected to work in the best interest of VIU students, the Board has decided that it cannot in good conscience tell students that the CFS is an organization they should be a part of.”
Finding our own voice as students is important for not only our individual selves, but for all students in the provinces —the current ones and those yet to come. The province at the time faces many hardships under the current provincial government, and students must work together to make change with the impending election in 2017. Our membership as students is powerful, made all the more so by leaders who acknowledge and contribute to it.
If you would like more information on this matter or to become involved with this action, please visit the Student’s Union office (bldg. 193) or email our Chairperson, Phoebe Patigdas at firstname.lastname@example.org.