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Opinion: The NO campaign on CFS membership

Friday, April 2, 2010

22 Comments

Written by John Sakaluk

We are the “No” campaign. We are a local group of students—each and every one of us is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, and we are encouraging you to vote “No” to the Canadian Federation of Students. While there are certainly UoG students involved with the “Yes” campaign, there are many involved who are not; our campaign is 100% UoG student-run.

So why should you vote “No” to the Canadian Federation of Students? Let’s start with the lack of value and output for what it costs us to be a part of CFS. Yearly, we pay approximately $225, 000 to be a part of CFS and CFS Ontario. Prior to this referendum, when was the last time we had heard anything about CFS? They purport to represent students, lower tuition and provide countless necessary services.  Considering UoG students pay approximately $225, 000 in membership fees annually (that’s a lot of money over four years), we implore you to think about what you have gotten for your money, and what else you would rather have seen that go towards. The situation we’re in is unacceptable.

The majority of us don’t even use the services they offer. There are 5 main services that CFS offers: ISIC, Travel Cuts, Studentsaver Card, SWAP, and StudentPhones. This year, the CSA conducted a survey looking at how many of us use these services (amongst others), and over 2400 of us responded:

  • 65% of us had never used ISIC cards
  • 67% of us had never used Travel Cuts
  • 88% of us had never used Studentsaver cards
  • 94% of us had never used SWAP
  • 95% of us had never used StudentPhones

As University of Guelph students, we are paying a ton of money for services we don’t even use!

Sadly, the Canadian of Federation of Students isn’t just taking our money in membership fees. The Central Student Association (our undergraduate student representatives) had to pay approximately $70,000 in legal fees, to force the Canadian Federation of Students to let us have a vote on our membership. As members of the CFS we find it incredibly challenging to understand why they resisted so hard to have us ask this question, or why they resisted allowing us to practice our democratic rights. We have the right to choose what we want or don’t want to do with our money; a student movement that purports to represent us shouldn’t have to be taken to court to allow us our basic rights.

Our Central Students’ Association is a group of students that we elect or appoint, to represent us here at Guelph —sometimes this requires them taking a stand on a contentious issue. This week, the CSA Board of Directors had a serious debate as to whether they should take a side on this referendum. Individually, some directors wish to stay neutral, some directors support the “Yes” campaign, and some directors support the “No” campaign. However, a clear majority of the CSA Board voted in favour of supporting the “No” campaign. A majority of our Guelph student representatives at the CSA are encouraging us to VOTE NO.

We are not, however, asking you to blindly follow our lead; we want you to make an educated decision! We want to you inform yourselves regarding the issue—read, talk to the CFS supporters and come talk to us! You can identify us by our purple t-shirts that say “Vote No, Just No, Only No”. Come visit us in the UC on Monday & Tuesday. We don’t carry clipboards, and we want you to ask us about this issue—we respect your space, and don’t think it’s right to come up to you.

After talking with us, we will ask you to do two simple things:

1)   VOTE NO between April 7-9, and

2)   Tell 5 reasons to 5 friends for why you should vote no —we’re calling it our Guelph 5-4-5 campaign

This vote is one of the most important decisions on our campus this year. We believe that it is a decision to be made by our community and our students, not to be influenced or biased by outside influences from other schools. Make sure you’re getting information from your peers. If someone wants to talk to you about the campaign, ask to see their student cards! We’ll proudly show you!

At the end of the day, we are running this campaign because we care about our peers, friends and community. So remember:

VOTE NO

ONLY NO

JUST NO

April 7th, 8th & 9th

Think about it, when was the last time CFS actually “dropped fees” for you? It’s time to demonstrate our own strength and effectiveness as a Guelph community. It’s time to show CFS exactly how to “drop fees” – their fee!

John Sakaluk is a CSA Board Member and Student Senator.

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

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  1. Posted by: Brian Poel on Apr 3, 2010 @ 12:32pm

    I'm voting no, but you want me to give 5 friends 5 reasons? You gave me 2, maybe 3.

  2. Posted by: John Sakaluk on Apr 3, 2010 @ 12:37pm

    Right you are Brian; the full rationale of our campaign isn't posted here. In the article we say "after talking with us", and then mention the 5-4-5 campaign, so definitely come see us in the UC on monday or tuesday and we will give you a full list of reasons :)

  3. Posted by: Kaley on Apr 3, 2010 @ 8:24pm

    "Think about it, when was the last time CFS actually “dropped fees” for you? It’s time to demonstrate our own strength and effectiveness as a Guelph community. It’s time to show CFS exactly how to “drop fees” – their fee."

    I am a student from Ontario, currently studying in Nova Scotia and I can think of countless times that the CFS saved me and my students' union money:

    1. When I got my ISIC. There was $20 I didn't spend.
    2. When I needed dental work, and the National Student Health Network, my student union, and Greenshield had my back.
    3. When the student union handbook service meant that my student union could purchase affordable, environmentally sustainable handbook made with union layout, so my students' union could give them out for free.
    4. When my student union saved money on orientation week, promotional materials, and their website, and was able to increase the number of student union travel grants with the savings.
    5. When after the 2007 National Day of Action, when students in my town rallied, marched, and demanded lower tuition fees, and we saw four years of tuition fee freezes and some reductions after over a decade of steep increases.
    6. When after years of lobbying students won a national system of needs based grants.

    If you feel like your students' union members are not using your students' union services, including those provided through cooperation in the Canadian Federation of Students, then you should talk to your directors and executive committee members about better promotion.

    I think that as students we should be working together, and I hope that students at Guelph also see the value in that. I hope that this week, Guelph students will vote in favour of continuing to work with students from Halifax to Victoria to provide better services to students' union members and fight for an accessible, affordable, post-secondary education system.

  4. Posted by: Kaley on Apr 3, 2010 @ 8:26pm

    This should read:
    *3. When the student union handbook service meant that my student union could purchase affordable, environmentally sustainable handbooks made with union labour, so my students' union could give them out for free.

  5. Posted by: on Apr 3, 2010 @ 10:36pm

    Hi Kaley,
    Here's my response to your list you created in support of the CFS.

    1. An ISIC card is only good for students who can afford to travel in the first place. Even after the discount, many students cannot afford to travel. In this situation, it would appear that students who do not get the most out of their ISIC card are in fact subsidizing those who use it to save money for themselves. If a student can afford to travel they can afford the extra $20 it costs. It's not like they won't save that much later anyway.

    2. The University of Guelph has it's own health/dental insurance policy for it's students. The Dental portion is optional and can be refunded if the student is already covered.

    3. "Concordia University put the handbook contract up for an open bidding process this year, and found a better deal that was locally produced and wasn't filled with ads for CFS-Services. Not only were the handbooks printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, but they were also made with vegetable oil based ink. In fact, even the spiral binding was corn-based." Vote NO CFS 4 Guelph, Facebook Group

    4. The same concept can be applied as above. This year our Orientation Kits included some materials purchased from the CFS (which has been proven to be cheaper and comparable in quality through private and local suppliers), private additions (American Eagle, Galaxy Cinemas) and promotional material for organizations on campus.

    5. Ontario tried a tuition freeze a few years ago and it failed the students because in the end the government couldn't hold up their end of the bargain and continue to fund the universities. The only way to save money in a situation like this is to increase tuition or eliminate costs.

    6. Ontario has had OSAP, a needs based grant system, for many years. The problem is that many students, many of whom are close friends, can't apply for OSAP because of the money their parents make. Instead these students rely on scholarships and bursaries, such as the Millennium Scholarship, which the CFS opposes. The Millennium Scholarship could "on average gave out $3,000/year to qualified students. The CFS touts the National Student Loans and Grant program as an amazing development but it will result in less money being distributed to students." because it is now a needs based scholarship and not a merit based scholarship, you will only receive that money if you can demonstrate financial need. Since many students don’t qualify for OSAP/financial need due to fitting into a middle income tax bracket, the most many of you can expect to receive is now less than $1,500. And because there is no new money going into the program, this money is now spread over an extra 100,000 students, diluting these quotes even further.

    Nothing here looks like it is helping UoGuelph students. There are endless possibilities that could be achieved if we vote NO to locking the UoGuelph student body into another $1.125 Million dollar deal with the CFS.

  6. Posted by: Brianna on Apr 4, 2010 @ 9:49am

    Hi Kaley,

    To add to D'Arcy's response: You also have to be a full time student to benefit from the "free ISIC card," carrying 2.0 credits or more per semester. So, if you go to school part-time you still have to pay the additional $20 on top of the CFS fees.

    "I hope that this week, Guelph students will vote in favour of continuing to work with students from Halifax to Victoria to provide better services to students' union members and fight for an accessible, affordable, post-secondary education system."

    It seems to be a common misconception lately, but we here at UofG are voting in regards to our membership with the Canadian Federation of Students, NOT voting to turn down student unity. There are many other organizations that represent thousands of students across Canada (ie. the Canadian Alliance of Students or OUSA). The CFS is not the only "student unity" based organization.

    And again, if student unions want to communicate, there are emails, telephones, postal mail, and so many other ways we can stand free of the CFS and still contact student governments at other universities. There is no mandate saying you need an expensive middle man to communicate with another university.

    I hope students here at Guelph will vote informed, and only on the issue at hand - the membership of UofG with the CFS.

  7. Posted by: Kaley on Apr 4, 2010 @ 10:35am

    To address some of these concerns (but not all), I would just like to point out a few things.

    I imagine many Guelph students could benefit from ISIC discounts on train and bus travel within Ontario to go to visit their families/friends/parents, which is likely travel they are already doing. Part-time students don't have access to the ISIC, this is true, but they do have access to discounts through the Studentsaver program. The part-time student exemption has to do with the international standards of the card, as far as I know, and I know that there has been discussion at National General Meetings about this. The Studentsaver card is also a way to make sure that both full- and part-time students can access discounts.

    Maybe Concordia got a comparable price to handbooks with post-consumer recycled paper and vegetable based inks (both features of the CFS common handbook project), but were they union-made? What about the number of pages? Did they have colour options? Concordia also has about twice as many Undergrads as Guelph - so what kind of volume where they ordering? Just to say it's more complicated than that.

    As for Orientation Week materials, by only purchasing ethically produced materials, students are putting their money where their mouths are. By purchasing materials from Just Shirts produced by a single-mothers cooperative in El Salvador AND pressuring administrations to have "no sweat" policies, we are showing that it is possible to have sweat-free campuses.

    On the subject of tuition fees. Budgets are about priorities - and a tuition fee freeze doesn't "fail" students.The 2 per cent GST clawback, for example, could have eliminated tuition fees in Canada. By protecting students from increases in those years, the tuition fee freeze has saved current students money. I don't have time to dissect all of the problems with this type of argument, but you might want to check out the CFS research section - it has well researched, clear information on why tuition fee increases are bad for the economy, not just students.

    As an OSAP borrower, OSAP is not a needs-based grants program. It is a provincial student loan program. This means that low-income borrowers, from low-income families take on large amounts of debts. After my undergraduate degree, I will have a student loan of about 35K, but after the 10 years I will spend paying that off, I will have paid about 47K, meaning that my university education will have cost me, a woman from a poor background, $12,000 more than people who did not require loans.

    I agree that middle income students face intense struggles because of high fees and inadequate financial aid, but it's also important to recognize that poor and marginalized students won't necessarily qualify for merit-based scholarships because they spend all of their extra-curricular time in high school working, raising children, caring for family members, or struggling with a disability.

  8. Posted by: Kaley on Apr 4, 2010 @ 10:48am

    To add, the Millenium Scholarship Foundation was created with a single, upfront payment, as I understand it. This is not a sustainable way to fund grants and bursaries. The new program, while not perfect, is a government program. It doesn't have a sunset clause. It doesn't have an expiry date. It will continue as long as the political will to maintain it exists. It's a lot more difficult from the government's view to cut a program, than to simply not review it.

    Also, this statement "And because there is no new money going into the program, this money is now spread over an extra 100,000 students, diluting these quotes even further" is misleading. There is a estimated budget figure for the program, but that will rely on how many people qualify. So, the actual budget figure could be more than what was initially budgeted for. Also, when the program was announced the funding it received was set to increase each year.

    Everything I've said here, the services, the campaigns, the lobbying is all part of membership benefits in the CFS - all for about $7.50 per semester. Seems like a good deal to me. Working together works - and the Federation is the largest, most diverse, student organisation in the country. It is the only organisation that represents students in all ten provinces. It has its roots back to student organising that began in 1927. It is Canada's internationally recognized National student union. For some inspiration about the kind of work that can be accomplished when we work together, check out the successes of the CFS - Newfoundland and Labrador.

    My interactions with students from the Guelph Central Student Association have always been some of the most passionate and active within our federation, and I hope Guelph students will choose to continue to work with their peers across the country within the framework of the CFS.

  9. Posted by: Brianna on Apr 4, 2010 @ 2:17pm

    Kaley:

    It is great to see the CFS in Newfoundland and Labrador is working really well for your students, but the facts are all pointing to an inefficient use of Guelph students' money within the CFS-Ontario. Our student union in Guelph is proving a point that we can sustain ourselves without outside help from the CFS, and doing so by leaps and bounds.

    The stats outlined in the argument by John Sakaluk show that the majority of our students just do not use their services. It is great if they offer a multitude of services, but if our students do not use them, at what point do we say "enough," and with the vast majority not using even ONE service, that low cost of $7.50 per semester adds up to a lot of wasted green.

    Our CSA and school administration has also worked tirelessly to ensure our student cards alone give us many discounts within our community - some that match or better those given by the Studentsaver card.

    Our CSA representatives are passionate, as is our community as a university. We care about sustainability and eco-friendly products, and we do not need help from the CFS to demonstrate that. The President of the University of Guelph has recently put together a "Presidential Task Force on Sustainability" - surely you are not going to say that was the CFS' efforts?

    "On the subject of tuition fees. Budgets are about priorities - and a tuition fee freeze doesn't "fail" students." - If you continue to read the SAME sentence, it says clearly that the failure was not a freeze in tuition, it was the fact that the government could not continue to keep tuition at the frozen level, thus failing us.

    "...[I]t's also important to recognize that poor and marginalized students won't necessarily qualify for merit-based scholarships because they spend all of their extra-curricular time in high school working, raising children, caring for family members, or struggling with a disability."

    I actually find the way you have assumed that all marginalized students live this way to be offending. Is there any evidence from studies to prove it? Perhaps, but I am a student from a family that fits into the "low-income bracket" and found a way to volunteer over 400 hours in high school, while playing on at least one sports team each season (most often two), graduated at the top of my class with many honours, all while holding down a part-time job and steady 5-year old relationship. So, please don't insinuate that students that come from a low-income house can't win merit based scholarships, because I won 10 at my graduation and have continued to volunteer and work hard to keep Dean's List through university and working when I can. I continue to depend on support of donors from the University of Guelph and the QEII Reaching for the Top Scholarship to get through university -- neither of which relate to anything the CFS has done for me.

    There are always exceptions to "the rule."

    ...

  10. Posted by: Brianna on Apr 4, 2010 @ 2:21pm

    Oh, and if that is not enough for you, I helped support my brother who had both mental and physical disabilities until the day I watched him take his last breath. The point is that the amount of money your family brings in does not define what you can do with your life. If the CFS was doing anything good for us here, or enough to keep them around, then you would see Guelph students rallying for the cause.

    But you do not.

    The CFS may be beneficial to you, in NEWFOUNDLAND, but it is not helping the majority of our students here in GUELPH. Please keep that in mind as you respond to posts by our students.

    Hope the weather is just great out East.

  11. Posted by: Evan Bell on Apr 4, 2010 @ 6:39pm

    I think the fact that some people are arguing YES in this case, using their personal experiences as an argument is ridiculous. Look at the numbers, you are clearly in the vast minority of people if you have used even more than just one service. This should not only be about individuals travelling, but should appeal to the MAJORITY of students, not just the ones who are vocal and protest everything they disagree with. I am not saying we should not listen to social minorities around campus, but when concerning ourselves with a decision of this magnitude, it MUST be the greatest good for the greatest amount of people which would be voting NO.
    There are other ways to unite people across campuses, other unions to join, all who share similar experiences around their home universities (eg: program cuts). I think we should find a way that is worth what we pay, allows us our democratic rights and stops harassing our students with out of towners with clipboards who don't know the first thing about being a Guelphite.

  12. Posted by: on Apr 4, 2010 @ 8:01pm

    Here's just a small tidbit of information that I found rather interesting in my travels. According to the statistics above, 65% of respondents had never used an ISIC card. I have one, but the first time I tried to use it, the cashier at Grey Hound said it was actually less expensive to get a student discount than to use my ISIC card. So basically, there's no point to it. I'm sure there are many other stories out there of Guelph students who don't even know about the "services" available. It seems only when we want to get rid of them, do they come out in full force to interact with the students that they're suppose to be representing. Where are they the rest of the year?

  13. Posted by: eroteme on Apr 5, 2010 @ 8:27pm

    There have been a lot of good points raised above and I don't mean to be dismissive when I say the following, but I do mean to be blunt.

    I frankly don't give a shit about any of it. (when it comes to my vote)

    I made up my mind over the past year as I read article after article about how the CFS stonewalled and seemingly actively opposed the efforts by Guelph representatives to have a referendum. I won't go into details since I think they're well known to those keeping up with this process, but I want to discuss how this appeared to me, a lay-student.

    There seemed to be two possible explanations:
    First, if indeed the multiple roadblocks the Guelph party encountered were NOT (it is my understanding that this is the CFS stance) intentional efforts on the part of the CFS to keep UoG locked into membership, it indicates that the CFS is an astonishingly ineffective organization in terms of administration.

    Second, and seemingly the actual situation (if it were the first I might cry...), is that it was underhanded and disingenuous manoeuvering by the CFS to shut down Guelph's attempt at a referendum. If the CFS was confident that Guelph students wanted to be members then they would say "Go ahead, have a referendum, it'll be in our favour because we're good for you and you know it." But they pulled all those ridiculous hijinks and general dickery, with complete disregard for the confirmed interest by UoG students and the CFS' own rules, then it ended up in court, and FINALLY they're campaigning here on campus. The way they have conducted themselves started as childish and proceeded through desperate, embarassing, and at last legitimate.

    I for one, certainly will be voting in favour of THE OPTION OF ALTERNATIVES.

  14. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 12:28pm

    A lot of these same arguments can be made regarding our CSA. We pay much more to them in our student fees, most students don't use and have never heard of many of their services. They weren't able to prevent the fee for our bus pass from rising again, and they haven't done anything in regards to the university dropping several scholarships this past year. They take space away from clubs on a whim, they stonewall students who have any questions about thier actions, and a whole lot more. Can we hold a referendum to get rid of them? And find something else to take thier place on the few benefits that we do get from them (which are very few in comparsion to where they cause trouble).

  15. Posted by: John Sakaluk on Apr 6, 2010 @ 12:37pm

    Actually Grace, results from the same CAP Comm survey of UoG undergrads indicate that attitudes towards the CSA are, for the vast majority, positive. While some of the CSA's services are not used very much, there is a group of "major services: (thecannon, transit, and the bullring) which are used by many people, and are very highly rated.

    That being said, the referendum process is there for students to be able to have a say and exact some change; if you think a referendum to dissolve the CSA is the way to go, and believe they don't do the student body much good, go for it.

  16. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 12:39pm

    Regarding the Millenium Scholariships.

    Yes they were based on "Student Merit" but what that meant wasn't just good marks. To get one of the Millenium Scholarships (There were 900 and over 9000 students apply), you had to have extreme top marks (over 95%) and a large amount of extra curricular leadership activities. When you are working a job and trying to do school to afford to go to university, you don't have the time to spend on enough extra curriculars to even be elligible. And if you have the marks then you are already automatically recieving comprible scholarships from the university each year.

    Also a parent's income might put you out of OSAP, but it wouldn't nesecarrily out of other need based awards, the criteria is different, some only look at your personal income, also if you work for a year between highschool and university, then your parents income is no longer counted.

  17. Posted by: on Apr 6, 2010 @ 12:52pm

    The cannon, the transit passes, and the bullring are the only things that most students know about the CSA. I can't speak of the CSA as a whole, but I know that there are many things that this years CSA executive did in respresentation fo the student body that was not disclosed to students and that many students (finding out now) are very opposed to. However from talking to people I know there has been a general good opinion of the incoming CSA executives for next year.

    Thats the thing with goverment, especially student government. The leaders are always changing. It was only a few years ago that U of G held a prior referedum and joined CFS, even if the vote goes through as no this time, in another few years when the CSA board consists of different people and new issues are being addressed, I don't doubt that there will be a vote to join the CFS again when it seems it might suit our needs. Should we join something only to try and get something out of it (such as Drop Fees) then quit when it doesn't produce the result we want?

    I want to encourage students considering this to look at the over all larger issues and not get caught up on current little things. I'm saying yes or no to the issue, but aside from whatever the current campaign is and whether or not is succeed, what does the CFS stand for? What is the big picture of what they do? Don't just take the information you are given here and use it as the sole basis for your decision, investigate the issues and the organisation for yourself. What are its values. You might not agree with every little decision, but never will you find anyone who's ever signal move you support. What overall factos are there to consider?

  18. Posted by: SandyAnger on Apr 7, 2010 @ 6:56am

    I keep reading condescending comments about how people should be researching the facts before deciding what they're voting, trying to convince people of their opinion, etc. yet, by being here reading this that's is either what they have done or are in the process of doing, no?

  19. Posted by: SandyAnger on Apr 7, 2010 @ 6:59am

    I've also noticed that they poll on the right side of the page has the exact same number of votes on the YES page as the NO page. That would make me assume that people are reading up on both sides. If you have a valid point, make it, and stop condemning people for doing their research.

  20. Posted by: on Apr 7, 2010 @ 10:43am

    The real question is "What are we paying the CFS to do?"

    I think the answer is that we are paying them to lower student fees. Are they doing the job we are paying them to do well?

  21. Posted by: on Apr 7, 2010 @ 3:38pm

    On Grace's Millenium Scholarship post...
    "Yes they were based on "Student Merit" but what that meant wasn't just good marks. To get one of the Millenium Scholarships...you had to have extreme top marks (over 95%) and a large amount of extra curricular leadership activities. When you are working a job and trying to do school to afford to go to university, you don't have the time to spend on enough extra curriculars to even be elligible. And if you have the marks then you are already automatically recieving comprible scholarships from the university each year."

    I received the Millenium Scholarship with almost no extracurricular activities. I got it because I come from a low-income family. End of story. Even if marks were taken into account, I had decent marks, but most definitely not 95%. Try 80%. And I only got one entrance scholarship, that was it. Not enough to rely on.
    As well, I know plenty of people, friends and family members, who managed to work part-time jobs AND participate in extracurricular activities WHILE maintaining decent marks. One friend even moved across the province in the middle of her high school career and managed to keep up with everything.

    Now I'd like to comment on Grace's parent income quote
    "Also a parent's income might put you out of OSAP, but it wouldn't nesecarrily out of other need based awards, the criteria is different, some only look at your personal income, also if you work for a year between highschool and university, then your parents income is no longer counted. "

    Not everyone has the luxury of taking a year off. Many people don't want to waste that time, when they have 10 or so years ahead of them of school, and many others simply can't. I for example, was not allowed. I supposed I could have argued to, but I would have cost my mum over $6000 in that year, since she would no longer receive support for my from my father. Other people have other reasons, but you can't just say that taking a year off is an easy and acceptable option in order to find ways to pay for school.

    I think we ALL need to accept the fact that tuition fees are high and not dropping, and most of us will have substantial debt when we graduate. Such is life. Society is changing, we aren't in the 70s and 80s anymore. What our parents paid can't even compare. I agree school is too expensive, but this isn't the University's fault or the CFSs business. I have survived by saving up in high school, applying for scholarships and grants, utilizing OSAP when I can, and working part-time. I've even had to take out a line of credit from my bank. I don't complain all the time, I simply feel relieved that I can afford to come to University, because there are so many people out there who can't.

    $7.50 isn't much, but from all students over 4 years, it's too much money to spend on an organization who doesn't consult us, advertise their business, or even let us decide whether or not to be a part of them.

  22. Posted by: eroteme on Apr 8, 2010 @ 12:57pm

    SandyAnger, regarding your comment on the polls, I assume the two pages have the same number of poll responses because it is the same poll.

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