The Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba (CFS-MB) recently hosted their annual general meeting (AGM) at the Université de St-Boniface, with a large delegation of University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) members in attendance despite past disputes between the two organizations.
In total, at least 17 UMSU members were present at the Apr. 26 meeting, including two UMSU executives and several students from the University of Manitoba Student Action Network – a group founded with support from CFS-MB that has been active in the ongoing ‘Stop the Cuts’ campaign on the U of M campus.
In the afternoon, CFS-MB elected a new executive for the 2015-16 year. Michael Barkman, a University of Winnipeg student, was elected as chairperson and Mitchell van Ineveld, the executive’s only returning member, was re-elected as deputy chairperson.
Ben Bawdon, Niall Harney, and Alex Paterson ran for treasurer – the executive’s only challenged position – with Harney, a U of M student, winning the position.
Two other U of M students, Jaron Moen Gun Hart and Muhammad Jazim, were also elected as Aboriginal commissioner and international students’ commissioner, respectively.
With Astitwa Thapa (the Local 103 representative and UMSU’s vice-president external), Harney, Hart, and Jazim serving on the executive, UMSU now holds four of the 14 seats on the CFS-MB executive – second only to the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), which holds five.
Filling out the rest of the elected executive positions were women’s commissioner Laura Garinger, racialized commissioner Alexa Joy Potashnik, LGBTTQ* commissioner Eric Friesen, and francophone commissioner Beydi Traoré.
Additionally, each member local has since appointed a representative to serve on the executive. These include Thapa, UWSA vice-president external affairs Kevin Settee, Brandon University Students’ Union president Aaron Thompson, and Association Etudiante de l’Université de St.-Boniface vice-president Brenda Arlène Arakaza. The University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association, which still disputes their membership in CFS, didn’t send any delegates to the meeting and have not appointed anyone to represent them on the executive.
Barkman said he was happy to see the number of UMSU members who came to the meeting.
“It is always positive to see increases in student representation at the AGM. Conversations were positive and productive between CFS-MB, UMSU, and members from other locals in Winnipeg and Brandon, and we are looking forward to the year ahead working with all member locals,” he said.
“The CFS-MB AGM was an incredible day, with excellent and engaged conversation from students across Manitoba. We were very pleased with the increase in engagement from international students and students from all member locals throughout the province. There was also a heartening increase in non-executive student engagement.”
The meeting marked a change in relations between UMSU and CFS-MB, which have been strained over the past two years – dating back to Al Turnbull’s defeat of incumbent president Bilan Arte in the 2013 UMSU election, and Arte’s subsequent election as chairperson of CFS-MB, then national deputy chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
Last year’s sole UMSU representative on the CFS-MB executive was Christian Pierce, who held the seat as part of his responsibilities as UMSU vice-president external.
Pierce did not attend meetings of the CFS-MB executive in the 2014-15 academic year. His absence was defended by former UMSU president Al Turnbull as a response to ongoing disputes between UMSU and the national branch of CFS over control of their website domain and other issues.
However, former CFS-MB chairperson Zach Fleisher suggested in January that the absence of a representative from UMSU weakened the member local’s ability to raise issues through the organization’s formal channels.
The issue of UMSU’s outstanding fees to CFS, now amounting to roughly $640,000 after two years of non-remittance, was raised by delegates during the AGM’s budget session – during which Fleisher explained some cuts CFS-MB had made in the past year to cope with the missing funds.
Barkman has denied that the fees caused any tension at the meeting.
“The relationship between CFS-MB and UMSU is only strengthening by the day, and the AGM was critical for creating strong connections between students from around the province,” he said.
Although Barkman acknowledged that the fees had yet to be paid, he refused to provide any further details related to the unremitted fees, only saying that CFS-MB was “optimistic about seeing positive change in the future.”
“Conversations are continuing, and I’m looking forward to building and strengthening the relationship between CFS-MB and UMSU over the next year,” Barkman said.
Thapa explained that the outstanding fees had not been paid as a result of disagreement over the amount owing.
“CFS’s calculation of fees owing does not match up with what our financial department has advised that the correct balance is,” he said.
Thapa added that UMSU was still in discussions with CFS related to the fees.