By Leveller Staff

Carleton undergraduate students are going to the polls on Oct. 17-19, to vote in a rare fall semester referendum on whether or not to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The question reads, “Are you in favour of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students?” It was initiated by the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), which has concentrated considerable financial and human resources into a decertification campaign spanning a number of years.

CUSA is Local 1 of the CFS. The founding meeting of the CFS was held at Carleton in 1981. There are currently 64 students’ union members of the CFS across Canada.

CFS referendum campaign materials state that Carleton undergraduate students currently pay $8.37 each per semester, which is collected by the university administration as an ancillary fee, for membership in both CFS and the Ontario Component of CFS.

CUSA referendum campaign materials claim that the CFS costs Carleton students $440,000 each year.

CUSA’s official “CU Later CFS” campaign was launched in September 2017 with a petition.

Although “A Better Carleton” and its successors have been forced to rebrand over the years, responding to scandal after scandal, the same clique of right-leaning students has been groomed for power by the original conservative regime of anti-left ideologues.

“Like any referendum to join or remain members of the CFS, students had to collect petitions from 15 per cent of the student population,” Nour Alideeb, chairperson of CFS-Ontario, told The Leveller. “We received these petitions in May 2018.”

“After those petitions were submitted, they were verified to ensure that the signatures were from registered students,” Alideeb added. “Once we verified the signatures, CUSA and the CFS agreed on dates for the referendum based on our respective schedules.”

The Conservative Connection

The referendum vote is the culmination of a multi-year concerted strategy of a series of CUSA Executive slates targeting progressive campus groups.

The campaign against the CFS and other left-leaning student organizations must be contextualized in the right-wing politics that underlie successive CUSA administrations since the “A Better Carleton” slate took power in 2012.

Although “A Better Carleton” and its successors have been forced to rebrand over the years, responding to scandal after scandal, the same clique of right-leaning students has been groomed for power by the original conservative regime of anti-left ideologues.

In 2009, the Ryerson Free Press exposed a series of leaked audio recordings, photographs and documents from a workshop organized by the Ontario PC Campus Association (OPCCA) and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy at the University of Waterloo. Conservatives described strategies for taking over student unions, defunding Ontario Public Interest Research Groups (OPIRG), and decertifying from the CFS.

The suspicion was  that similar workshops were taking place across Ontario, with a particular emphasis on Carleton University.

Conservatives organized these workshops to build influence on campus – by setting up shell groups such as the “Campus Coalition for Liberty” to push a right-wing agenda – as well as to recruit students into the Conservative Party.

In 2012, writer Glenn Burley attended a campus political activism panel at the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa. Burley said a  speaker identified as Bruce, a former Carleton student, boasted that “from 2009 to present his close-knit group of Conservative students had slowly won position after position, eventually putting them in control of all six student-held seats in CUSA, giving them what he called, ‘full control to battle the CFS.’”

The CUSA Offensive

Once obtaining power, the “A Better Carleton” executive set to work. In 2012, CUSA broke a long-standing contract with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) by withdrawing from their joint not-for-profit health plan and signed with a for-profit provider.

To do this, CUSA changed the definition of “referendum” in its bylaws to mean a vote of the CUSA Board of Trustees — three CUSA executive officers — instead of CUSA’s entire membership.

At the time, GSA president Kelly Black believed that the real motivation for withdrawing from the joint health plan was due to the association with the CFS’s National Student Health Network.

With equal pettiness, CUSA opted to spend money on producing student agendas, a service originally provided by the CFS. The new agendas were purged of all information related to the CFS or any other progressive levy fee-funded organizations on campus, including the CKCU 93.1 FM radio station, whose space was also threatened by CUSA.

CUSA also immediately went after the CFS. In October 2012, The Leveller reported on the first round of volleys fired in a war with the ultimate aim of CUSA leaving the CFS. At that time CUSA ordered that the student service centres be purged of all CFS materials, including those related to anti-Islamophobia, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia/-transphobia campaigns.

Service centre coordinators were put on notice and ordered not to wear any CFS-related paraphernalia, lest they be “written-up.” Three “write-ups” meant dismissal. At least three co-ordinators were either dismissed or did not have their contracts renewed at the time.

In December 2012, CUSA amended its Discrimination Code after arranging a council meeting on a day where less opposition was anticipated. The amendments approved funding for groups opposing access to abortion, removed CUSA’s ban on specific racist groups such as the KKK and Heritage Front, and altered the nature of CUSA’s safe space policy.

Not surprisingly, student “orientation leaders” felt empowered to wear “Fuck Safe Space” tank tops during frosh week in 2014, a few months after CUSA reluctantly cancelled its annual Pandamonium concert featuring rapper Rick Ross after public outcry over lyrics promoting date rape. CUSA organized the event with a company run by a former CUSA president.

The Current Campaign

CUSA’s current anti-CFS campaign is being framed in benign terms of saving students’ money to mask the political and ideological underpinnings. A similar strategy was used when CUSA Executives ran a referendum campaign to defund OPIRG-Carleton in 2013.

In that referendum, despite the absence of a level playing field – CUSA controlled the electoral and appeals offices, did not follow its own election code and tried to shorten the campaign period – students overwhelmingly voted in favour of funding OPIRG. Progressive students also organized to thwart an attempt by the CUSA Executive to evict OPIRG-Carleton from its office space in 326 Unicentre.

Despite CUSA’s ongoing efforts, the CFS believes it has the support of Carleton students.

“Generally, speaking to average Carleton students, they relate and appreciate the work the CFS does,” said Alideeb. “They are taking advantage of the CFS discount card, ISIC, and we have issued the cards since the start of the school year. It’s been great having these conversations with students on campus and we’re glad they are getting the information they need to make a decision at the polls.”

CFS bylaws set quorum at 10 per cent, meaning that a simple majority of over 2,600 Carleton undergraduate students must vote ‘no’ in order to approve decertification.

Voting takes place on campus on Oct. 17-19.

CUSA president David Oladejo did not respond to a request for comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *