University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) president Tanjit Nagra lost her bid to become national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) last weekend at the federation’s annual general meeting in Ottawa.
The election took place Monday evening during the closing plenary session of the general meeting. Nagra ran against Coty Zachariah, current chair of the CFS National Aboriginal Caucus.
Nagra lost the election by a vote of 35-24, with each student union local casting a single ballot.
The current CFS chair, Bilan Arte, was UMSU president during the 2011/12 academic year.
Following the session, Nagra said she fully supports Zachariah in his win.
“During our speeches, it was pretty clear that we had similar goals in mind for the federation and that we were both able to address divisiveness amongst the locals within the federation and vow to fix those issues,” she said. “I think that he’ll be great.”
Despite signalling support for the new chair, Nagra said strained relations between UMSU and CFS going into the weekend were not eased.
“I still think it’s quite tense,” she said.
“It’s clear that there’s a divide not only with us, we’re not the only ones. Folks that are from locals that don’t necessarily agree with all of the values that CFS upholds are kind of on the outskirts, which is unfortunate because I think that the body should be to unite students across Canada and not divide them.”
On Nov. 17, before traveling to Ottawa for the meeting, all four UMSU executives issued a joint press release claiming they were willing to work with CFS despite experiencing an unpleasant relationship with the federation since taking office in May.
“We started our term with the goal of improving the relationship and rapport between our two organizations for the betterment of the student movement,” states the release.
“During the summer, we continued attempts at developing a working relationship with [CFS-Manitoba] with little to no avail,” it stated. “Unfortunately, our good intentions were not reciprocated and yet again we find ourselves at odds with the CFS entities.”
Disputes between UMSU and CFS are nothing new.
In 2013, UMSU held a review of the union’s membership in CFS following a dispute regarding day-timers .
Members of the then-UMSU executive ripped pages of CFS promotional material out of 20,000 student day-timers after learning they were unable to cancel a contract signed by the previous executive for the purchase of the promotional materials.
In June, UMSU council finally agreed to pay CFS nearly $1 million in outstanding fees.
In March, UMSU council voted to condemn CFS-MB for expressing what it called political favouritism toward the Manitoba NDP during the spring provincial election after the lobbying group made statements praising the party’s education-related campaign promises.
At the last CFS general meeting in July, UMSU vice-president external Wilfred Sam-King and Brandon University Students’ Union president Nick Brown got into a verbal altercation over UMSU’s unpaid membership fees to CFS, according to UMSU’s Nov. 17 release.
“Despite anti-harassment officers being present at the conference to ensure a ‘safe space’ and staff members of [CFS], along with CFS-MB chair Michael Barkman, all witnessing the altercation as passive bystanders, it was not until the altercation had ended that someone approached our vice-president external to check on his well-being,” it stated.
On Nov. 2, Sam-King was allegedly prevented from addressing students at CFS’s National Day of Action at the Manitoba legislature, where students from all of the province’s major university’s rallied, demanding free post-secondary education.
Motions brought to the meeting
UMSU introduced three motions at the general meeting’s closing plenary that were drafted to “advance the student movement in Manitoba.”
The first motion would amend the schedule of future general meetings to give more time for “proper debate” on proposals.
Another motion would require CFS to publicly release its approved budget within a week of the closing of any future general meetings. It also called for CFS and CFS-Services – a separately incorporated entity that provides services to members of CFS – produce separate, independent budgets.
According to Nagra, the federation’s financial accountability is “questionable” and these reforms are vital to the trust students place in the federation.
“They have a huge transparency issue,” she said. “It’s super hard to look at the finances of the auditor reports – why aren’t they available online? Why is it that CFS and CFS-Services are two separate entities, but they combine the budgets?”
“In the June meeting, as well at this meeting, [CFS] reported on finding bank accounts that they didn’t know existed,” Nagra said. “I think things like that are super corrupt and I think that there needs to be serious overhaul and an audit on what exactly is happening.”
National CFS deputy chair Anne-Marie Roy disagreed with Nagra’s comments, noting that while financial documents were not previously made available online, the federation has always been transparent.
“Our budgets and our financial audits have always been made available to our members at every meeting,” Roy said. “So while they haven’t been online [in the past], they have been available to not only member locals but individual students on campus who are interested in seeing that information. That information has always been available in different mediums.”
The third motion UMSU presented would obligate CFS to support a motion passed at UMSU’s Oct. 12 meeting calling for the Manitoba provincial government and U of M board of governors to lock any future increases to international student fees at the same rate as domestic students.
Following a heated debate, in which Nagra claims she was verbally harassed by University of Winnipeg Students’ Association vice-president student affairs Laura Garinger regarding union fee increases previously passed by UMSU, UMSU executives decided to table the motion until CFS’s next general meeting in June.
Numerous attempts to contact Garinger went unanswered.
The two other motions introduced by UMSU were also tabled by CFS until June.
Roy said that although the federation’s executives were hoping to discuss every motion that locals presented during the meeting, there just wasn’t enough time.
“We had about 30 motions adopted at closing plenary and it’s unfortunate that we ran out of time to go through the agenda,” she said, “but for us at the national office, we’re looking forward to planning our June national general meeting and continuing the discussions that were started at this meeting.”