So much for solidarity.

Posted on December 1, 2009

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When I started this blog a few months ago, I wasn’t sure how to begin. While I’ve been fascinated for some time with the new role of the blogger as a citizen journalist, I have never been quite sure how one actually finds a niche and starts writing.

That is why I am happy to report that I’ve found a controversy to get me good and riled up, so that I should have at least enough material to get this blog off the ground and perhaps even secure a reader or two.

That controversy is the CFS.

Specifically, the growing national grassroots movement to either reform or leave the organization. As of this writing, thirteen schools are scheduled to have defederation referenda this coming semester. I suspect that at least a few of them will succeed, assuming that they can weather the inevitable storm of CFS lawsuits.

At this juncture, I will not go into my reasons for agreeing with these movements. For that, I simply refer you to Lex Gill’s An open letter from the Left to the Canadian Federation of Students.

What does interest me is the incessant comments from all over the internet which suggest that these reformers are conservative activists. Clearly, this conviction has spread easily among the delegates attending last week’s CFS AGM in Gatineau, Quebec. They were able to be convinced into voting for a motion which would make it essentially impossible for any school to leave the organization.

A brief summary: It is a complicated process for a school to leave the Canadian Federation of Students. First, a petition comprising ten percent of the union’s members must be submitted to the CFS national office. This will initiate a referendum on membership. After a few months of the CFS’ national and provincial offices flying representatives in from all over the country to aggressively campaign against defederation, the vote is held. If the students vote to remain in the organization, then nothing changes. If the students vote to leave, then the CFS will generally sue the union which ran the referendum.

The reform motion, ominously referred to as “Motion 6” throughout the meeting, was ostensibly drafted to protect the CFS from coordinated attacks. It makes three changes to the rules for defederation:

1) The petition requirement was doubled to 20%, an amount that is virtually impossible at a large school.

2) A maximum of two defederation referenda may happen within a two month period. This allows the CFS national executive to pick and choose which schools they will allow to have a vote.

3) After a union votes to remain in the CFS, they must wait another five years until they can have another referendum. This gives the CFS executives a five year consequence free period with any school that they persuade to stay.

Why should the CFS interfere with its members’ autonomy like this? Because of a Vast Conservative Conspiracy, of course! According to some of the motion’s supporters, the thirteen schools have been taken over by agents of the Young Conservatives, devoted to removing all traces of progressive thought from their campus. This is the smear that is applied to anybody who suggests CFS reform, as a brief survey of the three links I provided above will show. For further evidence of this, have a look at this Facebook exchange, in which Rick Telfer continually fails to come up with any good argument against the reformers, other than simply stating again and again that they are conservatives.

What really worries me here is that the CFS supporters seem to have adopted an absolutist logic which derives from two dubious assertions:

1) Anyone who is against the CFS must be affiliated with the Conservative Party.

2)  Nobody affiliated with the Conservative Party should have any say in student politics.

The first assumption is the classic case of the false dilemma, and it has been used very effectively by many organizations and governments to ensure political conformity. It is the same flawed logic that President George W. Bush used when he declared that every nation must align itself either with the United States or the terrorists. I don’t even feel a need to explain why it is fallacious, but I’ll briefly go into it. There is a whole spectrum of political opinions which fall well outside the left-right dichotomy that the CFS seems to love so much. There are red torys, libertarians(both social and fiscal), anarchists, and people like me, who prefer to decide their allegiances on an issue-by-issue basis. Each of these positions can be strongly against both the CFS and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The second assumption is an equally obvious logical fallacy. This one is called argumentum ad hominem, or an attack on the person. You are in league with Stephen Harper, says the CFS zealot, therefore nothing you say can have any value. Why should somebody’s opinions regarding national politics have any bearing whatsoever on the validity of their opinions regarding the organization of the CFS. If these people really have nothing of value to contribute to the organization, then perhaps their membership fees should be given back. Being evil, greedy, conservatives, I’m sure they would be quite happy with this solution.

So to sum up: the CFS has invoked a conspiracy theory grounded in an oversimplified view of Canadian politics in order to justify a motion which effectively shackles their members to them. Nice one.

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