February 12, 2015

Board of Directors,

Member Local Association of Canadian Federation of Students

To Whom It May Concern:

Please forgive the anonymity of this message. It is not the authors’ intention to be deceitful, quite the opposite, but it is necessary to maintain a distance from this message for what will become obvious political reasons.

This message concerns an ongoing, hostile, and dangerous attack on the fundamental principles of the Canadian Federation of Students – an attack that threatens to undermine the organisation at its foundation.

The timeline for this attack is not even entirely clear to the authors, but it is laid out here with as much detail as possible. It is the author’s intention is to provide member local associations all the information available, so that justice might be evoked in the name of the informed majority. It is the responsibility of member local associations to investigate the claims laid out here. If they are false, so be it – if they are true, then action must be taken.

Some background is required to express why actions on the part of some have resulted in a given response by others. Specifically, the election of the National Chairperson, National Deputy Chairperson, and National Treasurer and the historical process for the selection of candidates. For about 20 years, the selection of candidates for these positions has been, for the most part, the work of a core group of staff and elected students. This is a normal process, replicated in any vast representative body that exists such as the Federation. Knowledgeable students and employees discussed possible candidates and came to an arrangement that often sought to maximize regional representation and gender representation, and – most importantly – to promote those best qualified.

The timeline for the attack, as it is known to the authors, is this:

  1.         33rd Annual General Meeting

(October 2014) The 33rd Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students is held in Ottawa, Ontario. Prior to this meeting, the regular process for the selection of candidates for the three full-time positions on the National Executive took place. For those “in the know”, including the staff of the Canadian Federation of Students and many who work in regional and member local association offices, there was a set of candidates set out through discussion. These candidates were included Anna Dubinski for National Chairperson and Bilan Arte for National Deputy Chairperson.

It is important to note that, while Bilan Arte had more experience in the National Office, having already served one term as National Deputy Chairperson, she was not deemed competent or trustworthy enough to assume promotion to National Chairperson.

At the general meeting, the morning of that election nomination forms were due, candidates handed in their nomination forms and it became clear that somehow the plan for the candidates had been changed. It quickly became clear that an acute divide had emerged through the candidate selection process. Amongst those “in the know”, there were hostile exchanges about the election process. The two people most obviously orchestrating the change in candidate selection were National Chairperson Jessica McCormick and CFS-Ontario staff person Toby Whitfield, along with a number of other CFS-Ontario staff persons.

Many delegates voted “No” or spoiled their ballots for the election.

  1.         National Office Union Busting

One day after the 33rd Annual General Meeting a meeting of the National Executive was held. At this meeting, National Chairperson Jessica McCormick was appointed staff relations officer.

Within a few weeks, McCormick began an attack on the rights of the employees of the Federation, including hiring a well-known union busting firm. Without cause, staff of the Federation were put on “administrative leave” and told they were not to return to work, or engage in work, for any reason whatsoever.

As staff were being put on leave, McCormick contracted a private security firm to guard the National Office. The firm has acted threateningly to members of the National Executive, Federation staff, and random strangers that walk too closely to the office door. For a time, when the National Office was approach, a plainclothes private security officer would approach and ask “are you with Jessica?” before asking to see identification.

At the same time, McCormick has hired a private media firm that engages in work that should be reserved for Federation staff, per the collective agreement. This firm, MediaStyle, has both undermined the Federation’s unionized employees and led the direction of public relations decisions in recent months.

Oddly enough, although the staff of the CFS-Ontario are also unionized through the Canadian Union of Public Employees, they too have participated in the union busting of the National Office. The Federation’s 2014 National Lobby Week was run entirely by staff of CFS-Ontario.

During the 2014 National Lobby Week, Thomas Mulcair refused to meeting with representatives of the Canadian Federation of Students on the basis that the Federation had clearly lost its way. In quiet, solidarity partners of the Federation have begun to question these partnerships.

At a time when the enemies of the Federation are at the gates, what have the leadership in the National Office done? Sadly, instead of focusing on challenging the Harper Conservative government on principled and strategic maters of education policy, National Chairperson McCormick and her cronies have decided to forsake the goals of the Federation entirely. Union busting, pet projects (such as the upcoming national forum), and divisive personal jockeying have replaced hard work and clarity in the National Office.

There are a number of priority issues that for supersede inward-thinking and union busting:

  1.         Services
  2.         The Federation’s year-round bulk purchasing service is no longer functional, as it has not run for two years.
  3.         The Oohlala mobile application, in which the Federation has invested significant time and money, is an abject failure.
  4.         The National Student Health Network has failed to maintain service standards, and member local associations are leaving the service network in favour of for-profit health plans.
  5.         The Students’ Union Website Service consistently fails, erasing emails and causing work stoppages for member local associations.
  6.         The International Student Identity Card does not offer significant discounts outside of the Greater Toronto Area. For the time and money spent on this program, the ISIC is a waste of time.
  7.         Campaigns 
  8.         For many years, there was no campaign for improvements for post-secondary education at the federal level. The Its No Secret campaign looks terrible, has no coherent audience, and wastes valuable campaign money.
  9.         Instead of focusing on education policy, the Federation is investing its time and money in pet projects. Social issues have come to dominate the Federations work, not the educational issues that are the constitutional mandate of the organisation.
  10.         Member Local Associations

The survival of the Federation depends on progressive students being elected at students’ unions across the country. When schools like Carleton University get taken over by right-wing students, they threaten the Federation and progressive student organizing across the country.

It is up to member local associations to verify what the authors have written here. There is still time to save the Federation from the clutches of a small group. The democratic structures exist in the Federation to oust the union busters from the National Office. It is up to regular students to make it happen.

In Solidarity,

names withheld