A 14th school could join the long list lining up to leave the Canadian Federation of Students if an Alberta College of Art and Design Students' Association referendum is successful.
A member since 2002, ACADSA is re-evaluating its CFS membership after a review of the association's budget and bylaws last year. The association pays around $10,000 annually to the national student lobby group and is one of only two CFS affiliates in Alberta, along with the University of Calgary's Graduate Students' Association.
ACADSA communications vice-president Graham Krenz explained ACADSA circulated a petition among its 1,200 students this fall on whether or not they should hold a referendum reevaluating membership.
"It is a very neutral referendum," explained Krenz. "We're interested in learning what position our students have on CFS membership and to do that, we have to abide by [CFS] bylaws."
Krenz noted the petition's strong turnout demonstrated that this is a controversial issue for students. ACADSA will now move to a referendum on whether or not to stay in CFS. If the student body votes against CFS membership, ACADSA would then enter the de-federation process.
"To ACADSA, this is business and we will operate professionally," said Krenz. "We're lucky to be in Alberta in this case, when you're in Ontario, CFS is much more active which, I think, causes a bit more tension."
Last October the Quebec branch of CFS proposed a reform package, aimed at reforming the group and keeping schools in the federation, to be considered at its annual general meeting held in November. The package called for disclosure of executives' salary, financial reforms, creation of a judicial board, the sale of the CFS-Services and the end of all lawsuits. After unveiling the reforms CFS-Q received a letter from the CFS' lawyer asking CFS-Q to stop using the CFS name and to stop collecting student fees because they were "damaging the organization."
Last November at the AGM in Gatineau, three motions from the reform packages were amended and passed, while the others were rejected or ruled out of order.
Chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard said the national executive refused to consider a few motions, such as the minimum wage for the national executives, since it would violate labour agreements.
ACADSA was one of the CFS members that backed the CFS-Q reforms, along with the U of C GSA, McGill Post-Graduate Students' Association and others.
Krenz explained that ACADSA backed the reform package out of a desire to make CFS a strong group again. Krenz said there were some positive motions in the reform package, such as the sale of CFS-Services and CFS ceasing legal actions against other student associations.
"I would like to see CFS focus its time on more direct lobbying rather than running such a large enterprise," said Krenz. CFS-Services owns several businesses such as Travel Cuts, the National Student Health Network and a handbook producing service.
CFS-Q head Gregory Johannson echoed Krenz's sentiments on reforming CFS.
"We endorsed the reforms for two main reasons: first, because they would ensure that the practices of the CFS were consistent with basic democratic principles," he said. "Second, we saw the reforms as being a way to re-enfranchise members of the organization and hopefully discourage the exodus that is potentially underway."
Johannson added that CFS-Q and the national executive is still in court, arguing if the national executive has the right to declare the Quebec wing illegitimate or if the Quebec member schools had the right to make decisions over CFS-Q.
"It is our view that the CFS-Quebec Inc. is now and always was the legitimate arm of the CFS in Quebec," said Johannson. "The national executive does not agree. We are looking at all ways of moving forward, but our efforts at an amicable resolution are being impeded."
The national executives' response is a shock to many students, including Dean Tester, president of Carleton University's CFS de-federation group. Tester said he supported the idea of a national student lobby group, but thinks that serious reforms are necessary to make CFS work again.
"I find it disturbing that the national executive is attempting to dis-enfranchise the entire province of Quebec. Students are trying to exercise their democratic rights, and the CFS has responded by taking away those rights," said Tester.
Tester is also alarmed about a motion recently brought forward by the Carleton University Graduate Students' Association at CFS' AGM. The motion seeks to limit associations, so they could only hold a de-federation referendum once every five years.
It would also allow for only two associations to hold a vote on de-federation in any three-months. Finally, to initiate a referendum, the number of signatures required would be doubled to 20 per cent of the entire student body. The motion passed with 44 votes, with 19 schools in opposition.
Tester shared a warning with ACAD students, pointing out that de-federation could be costly.
"I would suggest you have to be prepared to fight for what you believe in," warned Tester. "The CFS will not give up without a fight."
CFS' national executive acknowledged they have received membership review petitions from ACADSA and the U of C GSA.