Another chapter has begun in the UMSU-CFS saga that has been a major theme in the University of Manitoba’s student politics since this past July.
Last Wednesday saw the first meeting of an ad hoc committee, called at the request of the UMSU executive earlier this year, to review the relationship between the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
The meeting, which will be the first of many for the committee, was not open to the public. UMSU vice-president external Christian Pierce explained that this is standard practice for UMSU committees.
“Every committee meeting is closed unless the chair permits special presentations to be made [ . . . ] this is not an anomaly and it should not be implied that this specific committee is having [ . . . ] ‘closed door’ meetings,” said Pierce.
In a statement to the Manitoban, Pierce said that UMSU formed the committee as a means to objectively assess the value of CFS membership for U of M students.
“Our executive believes it is important to make sure that all the organizations that we are members of and do business with are the best ones available to our students,” said Pierce.
CFS provincial chairperson and former UMSU president Bilan Arte explained in a statement to the Manitoban that officially, CFS had no knowledge of the ad hoc committee’s formation.
Arte went on to say that UMSU president Al Turnbull, who also serves as a member of the provincial executive committee for CFS-MB, has not in his time as a liaison between the provincial branch of CFS and Local 103 officially reported any issues that U of M students or UMSU may have had with the federation.
Tensions arose between UMSU and CFS earlier this year over a contract signed by last year’s UMSU executive, which committed the current executive to purchasing student day-timers with CFS.
Turnbull claimed that purchasing independently of CFS could have lessened the expense, which worked out to a total amount of $60,000. Turnbull and his executive later removed all CFS promotional materials from the day-timers in an act of protest.
“The issue with the handbooks was possibly further confirmation as to why it is important to regularly do these reviews,” commented Pierce. “It was clear that through the RFP process that UMSU was not receiving the best and most affordable product for our members. It is our responsibility as executives and members of UMSU to do these sorts of reviews.”
He specified that the committee will assess how U of M student fees are being used at the provincial and national levels of CFS, as well as the efficiency of their services when compared with other providers.
Pierce also responded to Arte’s concerns regarding a lack of CFS representation within the committee, saying that to bring in a CFS employee would “undoubtedly bring in an unwanted bias.”
The ad hoc review committee sits during a period of what some might call uncertainty for the federation. According to a press release this September, 15 student unions across Canada began taking part in a movement to support defederation from CFS.
It remains to be seen just what recommendations will result from the committee. Even if UMSU decides that CFS has failed in its duties to U of M students, the decision to defederate can only be made through a public referendum as per the federation’s bylaws.