By Matt Kwong
For 23 years, Ryerson University has been one of the most active members in Canada’s largest student union.
Next year, that activism could stop altogether. On Aug. 26, RyeSAC voted to hold a referendum on whether it should leave the Canadian Federation of Students. The vote passed 11 to 10 with one abstention.
Come mid-March, Ryerson’s full-time and graduate students will be presented with two choices: Vote to opt out or stay in the Canadian Federation of Students.
In the past, students have been arrested at rallies organized by the CFS. RyeSAC President Dave MacLean called the group “ineffective” and said being affiliated with a radical organization marred Ryerson’s reputation.
“We’re talking about a university that’s looking to elevate itself to a professional image,” he said. “It doesn’t help us get to that image when you’ve got our leaders being arrested because they’re out [protesting].”
This year, Ryerson students each paid $13.27 to be members, but received popular benefits like a free International Student Identity Card (regularly $16) for savings on travel.
The CFS is composed of student administrative councils across Canada and represents 475,000 students. Its purpose is to provide those students with a “united voice” so their interests get out to policymakers.
Yet a number of universities like Queen’s University and York University have left the group in the past, saying too many student dollars were being poured into issues not related to education.
The CFS has a track record for lobbying on issues like the G8 and free trade. CFS Ontario Chair Jesse Greener listed Ryerson among the group’s most active participants, citing the school as “a founding member” since the CFS began in 1981. “Frankly, the move seems to be a bit ill-conceived. None of the [RyeSAC] execs had even expressed any concern to us at the office,” he said.
Given the school’s history with the federation, Greener said hearing about a referendum was surprising. But the August meeting was not the first time RyeSAC debated about its future within the CFS.
The board discussed the issue on July 28 while Vice President Education Rebecca Rose was away on a pre-planned trip to see family. “I was completely blind-sided. I was not impressed, to say the least,” Rose said of the sudden decision to talk defederation while she was out of town. As vice president education, Rose is the chief delegate to the CFS at national and Ontario meetings.
“When I found out about the defed motion, I felt like they left me out of the loop,” she said.”I’m the person who keeps the dialogue with the federation office-this is my portfolio.”
During the July meeting, Rose was forced to participate via speaker phone, which also meant she couldn’t vote. Since nobody informed her about ending a relationship with the CFS, Rose said she only learned it was on the agenda two nights before her vacation. No decision about the CFS came out of the July meeting because RyeSAC didn’t meet quorum.
But Rose said the apparent attempt to skirt the issue past her was troubling. She later found out the chair of the July meeting was Kiley Thompson, a former University of Toronto SAC member known for her anti-CFS views.
In October 2002, Thompson said “the CFS will do nothing to improve the quality of student education.” She also promised to actively promote the anti-CFS position. “The chair is supposed to be fair and objective, and for somebody to come out with those strong statements and chair the meeting, it seems inappropriate,” Rose said.
But MacLean countered that the chair is always neutral, and pointed to the August meeting, which was chaired by former CFS Ontario chair Wayne Poirier. “I think it’s hypocritical to bitch about one [chair], but not the other chair. I didn’t complain about the last chair being the former CFS chair,” he said.
Regardless, Rose said the referendum will carry through whether she likes it or not.In the meantime, she’ll deal with it by campaigning during the weeks leading up to the vote on March 14 and 15.
“It will definitely be an interesting time to be a student at Ryerson.”
|What happens next?
Ryerson’s Board of Governors must approve a proposal to have a student referendum. The board’s next meeting is on Sept. 27.
If passed by the board of governors, the vote will take place on March 14 or 15. Approximately one month after the next RyeSAC executive has been elected.
RyeSAC must formally inform the CFS of the vote. The CFS demands six months notice before a referendum can be held.
In order for the vote to pass, 50 per cent plus one of the 20,000 eligible students must cast a ballot. The vote will not include CE students who are not members of RyeSAC, but will include all full-time and part-time students who are members of both RyeSAC and the CFS.