UMSU settles three-year dispute with student federation

More than $990,000 in outstanding fees remitted to Canadian Federation of Students

Graphic by Bram Keast

The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) has settled a more than three-year-old dispute with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), paying the lobbying group nearly $1 million in outstanding fees.

The dispute dates back to the 2013-14 academic year, when the then-UMSU executive questioned its membership in the federation and began withholding the fees it collects from University of Manitoba students on behalf of both the national and provincial CFS bodies.

At UMSU’s monthly council meeting June 16, council passed a motion to deliver $397,516.04 to the Manitoba chapter of the CFS (CFS-MB). A second payment of $596,046.14 has also since been submitted to the national body, clearing the union of all outstanding fees, according to UMSU president Tanjit Nagra.

Nagra, whose first term on the executive began in May, said she took on the issue herself in hopes of quickly resolving the outstanding fees, which UMSU continued to collect from U of M students during the stalemate.

“It’s been three years. I think this issue needs to be resolved,” she said. “That’s why I took it on myself as president of the organization. I did make that a priority and I did want this issue resolved.”

Nagra added that she hopes to restore a relationship between UMSU and CFS-MB and realign the two organizations’ lobbying efforts, saying “the issue is resolved and we have to move forward from here.”

“At the end of the day, we are a lobbying group just like the CFS-Manitoba and we want to ensure student’s voices are heard and we’re doing what students want us to,” she said.

CFS-MB chair Michael Barkman said he is “very pleased” that UMSU has paid its fees.

“I’m very optimistic for a positive and productive year and really look forward to working with the UMSU executive and students at the University of Manitoba over the next year.”

Nagra noted Barkman has already reached out to set up a meeting and said the next UMSU council meeting will take time to explore what priorities the U of M students want to see the organizations jointly lobby toward.

For his part, Barkman said CFS-MB is “committed to working with UMSU for the best interests of students in Manitoba over the next year.”

“We’re working to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of post-secondary education in the province, ensure the safety of students from sexual and gender-based violence, and fight back against austerity measures at the university.”

UMSU’s repayment came less than two months after representatives from the Brandon University Students’ Union (BUSU) spearheaded a motion at the CFS-MB annual general meeting in April calling on UMSU to settle its accounts.

Nagra added she doesn’t expect any repercussions coming from a motion passed by the previous UMSU council in March condemning CFS-MB for expressing what it called political favouritism toward the provincial NDP during the spring provincial election.

“It’s a new council, a new executive as well,” she said. “I would look past that […] I have had a good relationship with Barkman and I don’t think that will deter the relationship moving forward.”

Years of tensions

The vote to denounce CFS-MB capped off a third year of tensions with the national lobby group and its Manitoba branch.

In 2013, UMSU conducted a review of its membership in CFS and ripped CFS-related pages from 20,000 free student daytimers over a business dispute.

Since that time, UMSU’s dispute with CFS has shifted to the federation’s alleged refusal to turn over certain web hosting information and legal documents, and then to determining the precise amount of outstanding fees.

The June 16 motion said CFS-MB had satisfied all UMSU concerns and authorized the executive to remit the outstanding fees.