Loose Cannon: Whose side are you on, Denise?
Wednesday, June 16, 201015 Comments
After all the trouble the CFS caused, it’s appalling that External Affairs Commissioner Denise Martins would help to imp
More than two months after University of Guelph undergraduates voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the Canadian Federation of Students, we remain unable to leave the organization. Like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, the more the Central Student Association struggles to remove itself from Canada’s “united student movement” the more trapped it seems to become.
After all the trouble the CFS caused, it’s appalling that External Affairs Commissioner Denise Martins would help to impose their ridiculous standards on other schools that want out.
But I digress. The CFS held its semi-annual general meeting in Ottawa at the end of May. According to Federation bylaws, a majority of member unions must ratify the results of our referendum before we can finally be free of the CFS.
Sadly, U of G didn’t make it on to the agenda. The CFS and CFS-O won’t even consider our request to leave until its members on the Referendum Oversight Committee endorse the results, which they have refused to do.
Since the CSA remains a reluctant member of the federation, it was entitled to send a voting delegation to the meeting – but only one person could attend, the CFS National Executive decreed, because the delegation request was submitted past deadline.
Martins chaired the campaign in favour of staying part of the CFS and was in opposition to the majority of CSA Board members, who voted to endorse de-federation. Regardless, as External Affairs Commission she is our official representative to the federation. She was sent to Ottawa, entrusted with voting in the best interests of the CSA.
Instead, Martins made a mockery of the CSA and students on this campus, endorsing a series of restrictive referendum bylaws that put even more power in the hands of CFS. If these bylaws were in place prior to Guelph’s referendum, a vote would never have happened.
Martins voted in favour of Motion 7, making paper ballots the only acceptable method of voting in CFS referenda (it passed).
It was a bizarre decision, considering that the CSA uses electronic ballots in its own general elections. The CSA also spent $70,000 in court, fighting for the right to use email balloting during the referendum vote. The court steadfastly upheld that right, as well as the right to have a neutral third party conduct polling.
Undoubtedly, email voting played a key roll in increasing voter turnout. Nearly 45 per cent of undergraduates cast ballots in the referendum – roughly the same estimated turnout for young voters in the last federal election. It should be considered a positive step for student democracy.
Yet according to Canadian University Press Ottawa Bureau Chief Emma Godmere (the only reporter allowed to attend the meeting) a group of supposedly progressive student delegates was suspicious about using technology in an election. Citing a handful of security breaches in the past year, they warned that email voting could not be trusted.
Those breaches involved private companies conducting online polling, whereas Guelph’s vote was overseen by the university administration. Further, student unions across Canada have used online voting for years without any serious problems.
Passing an amendment based on such sweeping generalizations was nothing more than a cynical attempt to keep turnout low, which favours CFS supporters. Martins, who once told The Ontarion that she found the high turnout for the referendum “suspicious,” played right along.
It wasn’t the only vote cast by the CSA delegate that students would find remiss. Martins also voted in favour of other regressive bylaw changes, including:
-Motion 30, which implicitly recognized counter-petitions that remove students’ names from a de-federation petition.
- Motion 32, requiring member locals to submit a voters list the Referendum Oversight Committee (and therefore the CFS), or else use a double-envelope system for voting.
Martins also abstained from voting on Motion 29, which tightens the requirements to submit a de-federation petition and gives the CFS National Executive the “sole authority” to determine whether a petition is valid.
The CSA fought all of these in court for the simple reason that the CFS abused them to prevent a democratic referendum from happening. Simple common sense would dictate that the CSA wouldn’t impose standards on others that it wouldn’t accept for itself. Yet, all of the above motions passed with Martins’ support.
At its last meeting, a flabbergasted CSA Board voted to re-affirm its support for the electronic ballot system used during the referendum, but the damage was already done.
The External Affairs Commissioner is supposed to represent the CSA to outside organizations like the CFS. Through her voting record, Martins instead supported her own interests in the CFS, betraying the trust of her colleagues and students who elected her.
The Loose Cannon published in the Ontarion stated that Motion 32 would require that a voters list would be submitted to the CFS. This was clarified to state that the voters list would be submitted to representatives on the Referendum Oversight Committee, including those representing the CFS.
Based on preliminary information provided by Martins, thecannon reported that she voted in favour of Motion 29. This turned out to be incorrect. Martins abstained from voting. thecannon regrets the error.
Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.
The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.