A group of Laurentian University students is circulating a petition aimed at disassociating the university's four student associations with the Canadian Federation of Students.
Neuroscience graduate student Brendan Lehman, one of the movement's organizers, said he's unhappy with the national student organization's reluctance to engage in actions similar to the student protests in Quebec last year.
After the Quebec government announced a 75-per-cent tuition hike in the spring of 2012, students went on strike and organized a series of massive protests.
The Parti Québecois was voted into power that fall, and university tuition fees in the province are now indexed to the cost of living.
Lehman said attempts were made to reform the Canadian Federation of Students into an organization which would be more receptive to Quebec-style tactics.
“But when we entered the debate in their meeting space, everything was shot down,” Lehman, who is the vice-president of Laurentian's Graduate Students' Association, said. “Nobody wanted to have the discussion, and it rubbed us the wrong way.”
He also alleges the organization has ceased to be a student-run organization, as it's dominated by permanent staff members.
“If they are students, they're former students, or they're students hand-selected by these staff people to run for the student positions of the federation, and there's no attempt at making it a grassroots thing.”
While the Canadian Federation of Students is supposed to be a lobbying organization, it's not even good at this task, given the tuition increases in Ontario in recent years, Lehman said.
To quit the Canadian Federation of Students, 20 per cent of each student association's membership at Laurentian must sign the petition. Then there would be a formal referendum on the subject.
Lehman said he's working with about a dozen like-minded Laurentian students to oust the Canadian Federation of Students.
He said the same thing is happening at about 15 universities in Canada, and several universities in British Columbia and Quebec have already quit the organization.
There are plans underway to form a new, grassroots-based, left-wing national student organization in the spring, he said.
Canadian Federation of Students internal co-ordinator Brent Farrington said his organization has lost two member organizations and gained three in the past two years.
But the Canadian Federation of Students is the biggest it's ever been, representing about 600,000 students, he said.
Farrington said he hasn't heard directly from the movement's organizers, so he can't be sure of what their motives are.
He said two of the movement's main organizers – Ashleigh Ingle and Nicholas Di Penna — did recently run for senior student positions with the Canadian Federation of Students, but their election bids were unsuccessful.
Ingle also submitted a number of changes to the organization's bylaws, some of which passed, and some of which were defeated, Farrington said.
“We know these particular individuals were disenfranchised,” he said.
Farrington said he's received phone calls from confused student union leaders at universities where the anti-Canadian Federation of Students movement has supposedly gained traction.
“We've gotten calls from student union execs at some of the schools named saying 'What's going on? I don't know anything about this.'”
Northern Life did attempt to contact the president of the Students' General Association at Laurentian, but calls have not yet been returned.
Farrington said under the Canadian Federation of Students' bylaws, student unions do have the right to leave if they vote to do so in a referendum.
“It's the same process for joining our organization,” he said. “The same question is even asked: 'Do you wish to be a member of the Canadian Federation of Students?'”
Anyone who wants more information about the movement to oust the Canadian Federation of Students is asked to talk to those circulating the petition at Laurentian — Lehman said they'll be in classrooms, student lounges and residences.
They can also email email@example.com.
For more information about the Canadian Federation of Students, visit www.cfs-fcee.ca.