By Patrick Szpak
This week, The Eyeopener takes a close look at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The CFS has long been the champion of causes that need a voice – the student mired in debt and those suffering from the injustices of discrimination.
But lately, as a whole, it has developed an arrogance of power that is intolerant of criticism and resistant to change. Student journalists who have dared to write articles critical of the CFS have been menaced by its lawyers, stifling discussion that may be needed to rejuvenate the Federation.
The CFS has become a strange hybrid of political party and national lobby group, and this has mean that its members and paid staff have developed the petty interests and projects of a large institution. These interests are galaxies removed from those it says it represents, namely the oppressed and indebted.
The CFS is beginning to look like the government and university administrations it fights against. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of student money on propaganda, including placards, buttons and other knick-knacks is an insult to paying students. Such merchandising campaigns do nothing but spread the CFS’s brand and slogans. The idea that they will lead to lower tuition or other positive change is laughable.
Hearing how the CFS executive chose to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a black-tie gala at the Musée de Civilization in Hull doesn’t help.
It does nothing but breed continuing cynicism in students and makes the union the object of scorn, leaving it wide open to allegations of rank hypocrisy.
Students should rightly ask: What good has the growing and increasingly institutionalized CFS done for them in the past 20 years? Have they changed government policy, or is it just a conduit for students with political ambitions? According to Statistics Canada, tuition, probably the CFS’s biggest issue, is up nearly 200 per cent since 1990, despite the Federation’s constant battle to roll-back or freeze the cost of school. The proof, it seems, is in the pudding.
This is not a call for the CFS to disband or give up. The alternative, young Liberals and Conservatives born with silver spoons up their asses, who make things needlessly tougher for the have-nots, is certainly worse.
But new ideas are needed, and that means being responsive to the poorer students and those who lack a voice. The CFS needs the ability to respond to criticism, reflect on it and grow. To do otherwise is sheer folly.