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Can we take CFS seriously?

Recent Haanim Nur situation doesn't inspire confidence

Kevin Menz
The Sheaf (University of Saskatchewan

SASKATOON – The Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Federation of Students recently revamped its cheque-signing procedure, but that isn’t enough to convince me that the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union should rethink its position on membership in the national student lobbying group.

CFS simply gets into too much shit to be taken seriously.

After the widely publicized embezzlement debacle last month, CFS SK national executive representative Kent Peterson says financial procedures have changed.

“The new procedures are much more vigorous,” Peterson wrote. “To make a payment, proper receipts and invoices will be sent to the national treasurer, and a cheque will then be issued and signed by two national signing authorities and sent to the appropriate vendor.”

Prior to the incident, CFS-SK had its own bank account separate from the national organization. According to CFS’s national chairperson, Adam Awad, the Saskatchewan chapter should not have had its own bank account in the first place, because it is not a separate body from the CFS.

While I’m glad that these new procedures ensure a stronger system of checks and balances for the CFS, the national body never foresaw a problem with an account run by two students with no national oversight — which is obviously worrisome.

Awad said the account was started by the URSU on behalf of the federation’s Saskatchewan chapter a few years ago, though he couldn’t give an exact date.

Now, ironically, the URSU has filed an audit request with CFS-SK.

The entire situation illustrates why the CFS is not worth the USSU’s time and money.

According to the University of British Columbia student newspaper, the Ubyssey, the CFS requested over $100,000 from three separate student unions as they attempted to leave the organization.

“On one occasion, they told the Concordia Student Union that they owed over $1 million, and when asked to explain, produced a signed agreement with the CSU’s past president that said the student union should be responsible,” the Ubyssey wrote.\

The USSU, which was a founding member of the CFS in 1981 but left in 1993, went through its own legal battle with CFS in 2005 after former USSU president Robin Mowat challenged the results of a referendum to rejoin the CFS.

Students had voted to rejoin the CFS, but according to Mowat, the results were skewed because the referendum did not follow USSU or CFS bylaws.

For instance, the referendum question was not verified two weeks in advance of the ballot and the question did not notify students that their fees would increase with membership into the CFS.

Mowat won the case and the judge ruled the referendum invalid.

At the time of the ballot the USSU was nearing the end of a one-year trial membership with the federation. The CFS insists that because no referendum was technically held, the USSU is still a prospective member of the CFS.

The USSU argues, however, that they separated entirely from the organization when their trial ran out and that they, in fact, were never actual members.

“I think we’ve spent over $60,000 on lawsuits to not be a part of it,” USSU president Jared Brown said. “They say that they represent [students] yet you see them spending a lot of that money on lawsuits from students’ unions trying to get out of the CFS.”

CFS-SK is too small and requires too much supervision from the national body to be more effective for U of S students than the USSU.

Aside from representatives from each of the provincial chapter’s three members, which are the URSU, the First Nations University of Canada Students Association and the U of S Graduate Students’ Association (there are four members if you count the USSU), the Saskatchewan arm only consists of a chairperson and a national representative, both of whom are students working on one-year terms.

There are no full-time staff members working out of the Saskatchewan office to keep the likely inexperienced workers in check — and as Nur showed, sometimes when students are handling thousands of dollars, they need supervision.

The senior managers at the USSU, unlike the staff at the CFS national offices, are in the same offices as their student executives every day. They can keep a close eye on spending and can keep the executive, which changes nearly every year, up-to-date on what was effective and ineffective in years past. They provide continuity.

CFS Saskatchewan is simply does not have the numbers (both in terms of staff and members) or the structure to significantly benefit U of S undergraduates. I don’t see any point in the USSU reconsidering its position that it is not part of the CFS.

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