Saturday, November 28, 2009

Quick Written Guide Against CFS Motion 6

Why Motion 6 Must Be Stopped (a quick and rough guide for delegates)

The CFS has submitted a motion to change referendum rules at their Annual General Meeting. Being a member of the CFS, I quickly read up on them... and they are terrifying. Instead of using this upcoming AGM to fix problems to retain member locals campaigning to leave (over a dozen), they have submitted Motion 6. Motion 6 turns your schools CFS membership into a life sentence.

There are three changes, all in different operative clauses, listed here in order:

  1. Raising the petition requirement from 10% to 20% of students in the member local.
  2. Limiting refernda to no more than 2 Referendums per any 3 month period (meaning no more than 4 referendums per year when you look at which months are permitted)
  3. Forcing student unions to wait before holding another vote. They are proposing a 3 year wait for colleges, a 5 year wait for Universities.

Since I'm writing this post quickly for AGM delegates, I will got very point form about all of this. First:

Potential Arguments For Motion 6 (from various sources, responses below)

  • This approach, aimed at greater grassroots democracy within our Federation seems to be open to abuse;
    • So basically we're saying that we don't think your efforts to leave constitute a legitimate use of grassroots organizing tools because we disagree with how you're using it.


  • As few as 12,000 signatures could result in 10 referendums!
    • Or in other words, the petitioning of 10% of the population on 10 different campuses can result in 10 referendums. How is this an argument?


  • Evidence indicates that this is a coordinated plan to destabilize our Federation by a small group of individuals, including some non-members;
    • What evidence do they have for this? There are no clear political ties between any of us, despite the smearing that we're all conservative hacks.
    • Where in the bylaws does it state that the petitioners must be greater than X number to count as legitimate group of individuals acting political?

  • They submitted all the petitions at the same time to make it impossible for us to campaign at all of the campuses at the same time!
    • The current bylaws give great leeway to the National Executive for scheduling (about a whole semester in fact). Is that not enough?

    • Furthermore, the timing of the referendums doesn't matter. Why? Because the right of students to have a timely referendum should trump the right of the CFS to delay membership referendums for their own personal campaign advantage.

  • Forcing all referenda to be held within the same, small window of time is fundamentally anti-democratic because the Federation and its members would have no reasonable opportunity to present a case for continued membership in the Federation;
    • Isn't forcing students to wait years on end to have a referendum set at the whim of the schedules of the National Executive also fundamentally undemocratic?

    • Since a CFS referendum is a local decision, surely those from the local should be responsible for all pro and anti campaigning? If that's the case, then why does it matter how many are held at one time?

    • The 2nd clause of Motion 6 actually entrenches and legitimizes interference into a school's local autonomy. And that's because apparently the fairest referendums are those where students from across the country get to fly in to "present a case for continued membership." You know, because having people fly in to campaign from other schools to influence your vote is exactly what grassroots politics at the student level should be about.

  • The Federation can't focus on Services and providing representation if its too busy fighting referendums!
    • Then don't fight them, or involve yourself in them. We'd much rather prefer if you lobbied instead.

  • The interests of students in Canada are best served by having a strong and stable national association!
    • Or we can rephrase this to mean what it's actually implying: We know what we're doing is right, so if you still don't want to be a member it doesn't really matter. We'll just keep changing the rules to make it harder and harder until you give up. Remember, when it comes to creating a strong and stable national association, the ends justify the means.


  • If you're going to waste students' time, it should be hard to conduct a vote!
    • We can argue about the ideal system, but a look at the facts of Motion 6:
      • There's a difference between preventing referenda that lack popular support, and manipulating bylaws to stop or affect votes that you know you're going to lose. The changes in Motion 6 target the latter. Some of the schools trying to leave right now have very strong movements to leave, Concordia for example.

      • Denies students to the guarantee and security of a timely referendum by putting their vote in jeopardy if other schools submit petitions.

      • Ups the petition requirement higher than any student society requirement, and even pushes the threshold used in real governments to certify petitions.




Arguments Against Motion 6 (assorted criticisms):


  • Regardless of who you blame, the current membership referendum rules have led to many lawsuits, and Motion 6 makes them even more legally problematic.
    • For example, if more than two schools submit petitions to conduct a referendum in the same semester, then based on Rule Change 2, one of these schools must wait. Leaving these questions:
      • Who determines which school waits? The National Executive?
        • Are we opening ourselves up to a lawsuit by denying a school the right to conduct a vote because other schools also submitted a petition?
        • Are we opening the door for small colleges to hold continuing membership referendums in a ploy to prevent big schools from leaving?

      • All membership referendums must be scheduled within a certain time frame after a petition is submitted. If a student union was denied a referendum because of Rule Change 2, and thus break the 60-90 day timelines set out, is their petition now void? Or do they have to submit another one?
        • This could result in a perfectly legitimate petition being thrown out as a result of matters outside of the control of those who collected the petition for a referendum.

  • Motion 6 will scare away new members. Affiliation rules must balance the needs of both those wanting to join and those wanting to leave. Motion 6 breaks that balance.

    • The vote to enter is now different than the vote to leave.
      • Last time we changed membership petition requirements from 5% to 10%, the vote to federate requirement was also raised from 5% to 10%.
      • The failure to keep membership rules consistent breaks with past amendment practices.

    • Motion 6 makes it so difficult to leave that no school will ever voluntarily pursue membership. We are hurting our chances of growing--especially in Quebec where we may need to rebuild if the current group so upset with us succeed in leaving.
      • Also, any school who joins the CFS is forced to be members for at least five years, if not more. Unlike before, there is now no turning back, and that will be on the minds of many potential new members.

  • By making it harder to leave, we're ignoring the underlying problems motivating these petitions in the first place.
    • Since the CFS began in the 80's, and continuing to even as late as 2008, student's have passed amendments that make it progressively harder to leave the CFS. In 2008 we raised our petition limit from 5% to 10% in response to three successful referenda to leave.
      • Rather than the new changes preventing future attempts, a year and a half later we're in a situation of thirteen student unions submitting petitions to leave, by far the most in the last 15 years. This year is evidence that making the rules harder to leave is no bandaid to ignore reform--and arguably only makes things worse.

  • With the CFS being a force for societal change, moves like Local 78's do more harm to the CFS image and reputation than anything that political opponents of the CFS do.
    • Delegates need to understand that to every campus paper in Canada, passing Motion 6 looks like we're doing nothing (and we really aren't) to respond to the problems raised by those wanting to leave.

    • We're unfairly changing the rules of the game, right in the middle of the game, to help us win the game.
      • Justified or not, students' complied with our bylaws when the petitions were submitted. It's not fair for us to change the rules of the game because we don't like how people played within them.

    • Instead of changing our membership rules out of fear that we may lose, the boldest thing we can do against those pressing to leave is prove to them student support for the CFS is high--by being open to democratic votes that increase our legitimacy.

Ok onto each bylaw change and why its terrible:

Change 1: Petition 10% to 20%

  • I challenge members here to name me one student society who requires its members to collect 20% of its membership to comply with anything, including funding or constitutional changes.
  • Most student unions are lucky to even get a voter turnout close to 20%, why should our petition limit be that high?
  • When looking at the practices of petitions in real governments that use petitions, both in Canada and America, a 20% petition requirement is considered very high for even official government practices. Why should the average student be subject to such high standards to carry out a student referendum. Surely the stakes in a student referendum are not as high as the passing of government law!
    • California Gray Davis was recalled (where Arnold won) with a petition that required 12% of registered voters, since half the population voted, this only meant 6% of the population.
      • To initiatiate a referendum in BC, you only need 10% signatures (granted across every electoral district.)
    • The highest petition ever collected to recall a BC MLA that met the quota (they resigned before it became valid) was at 9999 signatures (40% of the electorate), which equals about what students at York would need to comfortably collect to conduct a continuing membership referendum with a 20% petition requirement. How is collecting a petition that large accessible to your average student?


Change 2: 2 Referendums per 3 months.

  • If more than two schools submit petitions to conduct a referendum in the same semester, then based on Rule change 2, one of these schools must wait. Leaving these questions unanswered:
      • Who deteremines which school waits? The National Executive? Is it appropriate for the National Executive to get to pick and choose which schools get vote when? Does this not place them into to a conflict of interest based on the politics of each student union at different times
        • Are we opening ourselves up to a lawsuit by denying a school the right to conduct a vote because other schools also submitted a petition?
        • Are we opening the door for small colleges to hold continuing membership referendums simply to delay a big school from having one?
      • All referendums must be still scheduled within a certain time frame after the petition was submitted. If a school was denied a referendum because of BIRT 2, and then break the timelines because they had to wait, is their submitted petition now void meaning the have to do it all over again? This could result in a perfectly legitimate petition being thrown out as a result of matters outside of the control of those who collected it.

  • This bylaw change literally makes it impossible for members to leave en masse if internal problems ever come up. With 4 referendums per year maximum, it could take way over 10 years for members to get a chance to leave.

  • The right to leave is a basic right of being a member. With this change, unpopular attempts to leave the CFS will be more advantaged than justified en masse attempts to leave that result from serious internal problems (as the problems get bigger... the longer the wait to hold a referenda will be due to other student unions trying to leave). This does not follow with any basic logic of fairness.

  • If 20 student unions submit petitions to conduct a continuing membership referendum, then during the 5 year period that the referendums occur, it is guaranteed that some of the original students wanting a vote on continuing membership will graduate before the referendum gets scheduled.
    • Given the quick turnover at any educational institution, it is unjustified to pass a rule that may deny students the right to ever vote on CFS membership because of a buildup in too many referendums.
    • And that's because the convenience of fighting CFS referendums 1 by 1 should never trump the right of students to have a timely vote on membership.


Change 3: 5 year wait for University, 3 year for wait College

  • A four year student could enter and graduate without ever being able to vote on membership.

  • Campus demographics shifts dramatically ever year. After two years, the opinion and makeup of a school is often completely different when it comes to student politics issues.

  • This rule change makes it impossible for members to leave immediately when serious internal problems occur. It has been proposed, like the rest of Motion 6, as a way to keep members in without reacting to improve internally.


Motion 6 needs a two-thirds vote to pass... and a two-thirds to remove. I think you know which one is easier to get. We must stop Motion 6 from passing. RIGHT NOW.

1 comment:

  1. Also check out: www.studentsforprogress.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete