Former student politicians eyeing jobs in PMO

Many of you are likely aware that we are currently in the first leg of one of the longest federal elections since Confederation. And, for the first time since the existence of the New Democratic Party (NDP), the party has a realistic shot at forming government. This means that former student politicians and post-secondary education activists who were involved with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and who have supported the party could soon find themselves working in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Who might end up working in an NDP PMO?

Let’s start with former CFS chairperson, George Soule who has been working for Thomas Mulcair in the Leader of the Official Opposition’s office as Associate Director of Media. Before that, Soule was an NDP campaign spokesperson during the 2011 federal election which saw Jack Layton’s NDP thrusted into official opposition. Another longtime CFS staffer Lucy Watson also joined the Dippers earlier this year as National campaign co-ordinator (it remains unclear if she is on leave from the CFS, if she has left the organization altogether or if she was one of the employees who was caught up in the alleged internal labour dispute within the Federation). Former CFS national treasurer and Director of information technology Ben Lewis is currently a national NDP communications officer. Brad Lavigne, former CFS chairperson and close advisor to the late Jack Layton, returned to the NDP a a senior campaign strategist following his short stint in the private sector as a consultant with Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

While others from labour unions and left-wing activists will likely come out of the woodwork, it’s hard to know whether Thomas Mulcair will want to surround himself with those on the more extreme left. Regardless, this piece gives you some food for thought on who could very well be walking the corridors of power in the event that the NDP were to form government once the votes have been counted on October 19, 2015. 

UPDATED: CBUSU suffers major blow in legal defeat against CFS

The Ontario Superior Court rendered a decision in a case pitting the Cape Breton University Students’ Union (CBUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). This long-standing legal battle stems from a dispute of the legitimacy of a March 2008 referendum on continued membership. Out of the 366 students who casted a ballot, 92% voted against continued membership in the Federation. In summary, the CBUSU remains a member of the Federation and is on the hook for 6 years worth of unpaid membership fees, worth $293,159.13. The CFS was asked to submit its costs submission within 30 days of the release of the decision. This will likely add another significant financial burden facing the CBUSU. 

In Mr. Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s Analysis and Conclusion, he writes: “I am satisfied on all of the evidence before me that the referendum held by the CBUSU was invalid in that it did not comply with the then prevailing Bylaws and that the vote on defederation cannot be recognized on any other basis.”

This charge is based on the fact that, in September 2007, it was in fact the members of the CBUSU executive that initiated the petition that would trigger a referendum. During the trial, it was admitted that members of the executive collected the signature during the first week of classes, September 10-15, 2007. This is where the CBUSU diverged from the CFS Bylaws. According to Bylaw 1, Article 3(a)(iii) of the Federation’s most recently available Bylaws, only “the students collectively belonging to a local student association” (i.e.: the individual students who make up the CBUSU membership) can initiate a petition, not the “voting member” (i.e.: the CBUSU executive is considered a voting member of the CFS).

The consequences stemming from this decision could mean the end of the CBUSU. The student union was ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in damages to the CFS as well as the Federation’s legal fees which could amount to another $100,000. Speaking with CTV News Atlantic, Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, admitted that all options are on the table including laying off some of the student union’s 80 employees or even bankruptcy.

Further reactions to the decision

Students Nova Scotia expressed its concern in a statement regarding the results of the trial.

Paul Wells, political editor at Maclean’s Magazine, weighed in on Twitter leading us to believe he has some knowledge of the Federation’s rocky history:

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner also took to Twitter to say he is “proud” of StudentNS for its stance on the CBU issue:

Finally, to get further historical context, you can go back and listen to an interview from June 2014 which included Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, and Brent Farrington, CFS Internal Co-ordinator. They both spoke with CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton’s host Steve Sutherland.

UPDATED: Saturday August 8, 2015

On Friday, we initially posted an article on our Facebook page which indicated that the CBUSU had filed for bankruptcy. However, this was an erroneous report. Later in the afternoon, another article was published in The Chronicle Herald stating that the CBUSU would in fact appeal Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s decision. Brandon Ellis told the Herald that Toronto-based law firm Borden Ladner Gervais is representing the student union. This is the same firm that represented the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union last year in its legal case against the Federation.

CFS-BC to defederate from CFS-National?

If certain members of the Canadian Federation of Students – British Columbia (CFS-BC) get their way, the provincial affiliate of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) might loosen its affiliation with the CFS, or even end it all together.

The agenda of the upcoming general meeting of CFS-BC, scheduled for August 13 – 15, 2015, contains no less than twelve resolutions criticizing the national CFS and urging CFS-BC to distance itself from CFS. Some of these resolutions are not listed as coming from a particular students’ union, which usually means that the resolution was proposed by CFS-BC’s Executive Committee. Other resolutions are listed as coming from a particular students’ unions; these resolutions do not (yet) reflect the official position of CFS-BC.

The CFS has suffered internal conflict since at least the beginning of this year, and the CFS-BC resolutions appear to be related to this ongoing conflict.

One of these resolutions declares that “member local of the Canadian Federation of Students(-British Columbia) in British Columbia have no confidence in the National Executive”:

2015/08:N06 MOTION
Whereas there is a vast and growing divide in the political perspective and goals of the representatives of member local students’ unions in the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services);

Whereas the Preamble to the Bylaws of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) outlines the founding principles as 1) to organise students on a democratic, cooperative basis in advancing our own interests, and in advancing the interests of our community; 2) to provide a common framework within which students can communicate, exchange information, and share experience,skills and ideas; 3) to ensure the effective use and distribution of the resources of the student movement, while maintaining a balanced growth and development of student organisations that respond to students needs and desires; 4) to bring students together to discuss and cooperatively achieve necessary educational administrative, or legislative change wherever decision-making affects students; 5) to facilitate cooperation among students in organising services which supplement our academic experience, provide for our human needs, and which develop a sense of community with our peers and other members of society; 6) to articulate the real desire of students to fulfil the duties, and be accorded the rights of citizens in our society and in the international community; 7) to achieve our ultimate goal—a system of post-secondary education which is accessible to all, which is of high quality, which is nationally planned, which recognizes the legitimacy of student representation, and validity of student rights, and whose role in society is clearly recognized and appreciated;

Whereas the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) no longer upholds the principles outlined in the Preamble to the Bylaws, thus fails to represent those committed to their advancement;

Whereas Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario staffperson Toby Whitfield has been engaged by some individual members of the National Executive to assist with their particular political agenda within the Canadian Federation of Students, resulting in labour relations strife and violations of Federation democracy;

Whereas Bilan Arte and Anna Dubinski, along with former National Chairperson Jessica McCormick, have lied, withheld information, and otherwise made it impossible for other members of the National Executive to uphold their fiduciary duty to the Canadian Federation of Students;

Whereas Bilan Arte and Anna Dubinski, along with former National Chairperson Jessica McCormick, lied to members of the Canadian Federation of Students at the 67th semi-annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students;

Whereas at the 67th semi-annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services), delegates representing BC members were subject to collective and individual disrespect, belittling, ad hominem attacks, and other intolerable interactions;

Whereas, at that same meeting, an announcement was made during the plenary session that unaccounted moneys of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) existed, which were being used for purposes unreported to members (including at the 67th semi-annual general meeting itself);

Whereas, at that same meeting, it became clear that the personal desires of some had come to supersede the supremacy of democracy within the structure of the Federations, including electoral fraud in the nomination of positions to the National Executive and the duty of the National Executive
to uphold its fiduciary responsability as well as report its activity to members; therefore,

Be it resolved that commitment to the founding principles of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) as outlined in the Preamble to the Bylaws be affirmed;

Be it further resolved that a letter be sent to the National Executive of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) declaring:

  1. that member local unions of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) in British Columbia have no confidence in the National Executive;
  2. that member local unions of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) in British Columbia demand of the National Executive that the following conditions be made to exist:
    • creation of a campaign strategy that seeks to achieve our ultimate goal, as outlined in the Preamble to the Bylaws, through political initiatives with principled immediate demands, detailed immediate tasks, and common support;
    • recognition of the election of Aboriginal Students’ Representative Tl’ehskwiisimka Marshall, and the recognition of the election of Women’s Representative Shayli Robinson;
    • removal of all those from payroll who have not been hired according to standard hiring practices through which the National Executive has ultimate decision making power and the fulfillment of the legal requirement that the hiring of all employees of the Federation to be ratified by a vote of the National Executive, inclusive of all current non-unionised employees;
    • resignation of Bilan Arte and Anna Dubinski in acknowledgement that they have misled the membership of the Federations, failed to share information with other members of the National Executive, and are otherwise incapable of executing their duties;
    • removal of Toby Whitfield from the payroll of the Canadian Federation of Students and/or Canadian Federation of Students(-Services), and a permanent commitment that the Federation entities no longer associate with this person;
    • removal of Jessica McCormick from the payroll of the Canadian Federation of Students and/or Canadian Federation of Students(-Services), and a permanent commitment that the Federation entities no longer associate with this person;
    • public acknowledgement that directors of the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services) were aware of the use of funds that, while not represented in the annual audited financial statements and not regularly reported to general meetings or the National Executive, was used in the best interest of students. This acknowledgement should include absolution of any employee who was aware of this practice;
    • affirmation of the principle of “One Local, One Vote”, including the limitation of no more than three votes afforded to organisations representing students of one post-secondary institution; and,

Be it further resolved that an investigation be launched into the establishment of a national organisation for the purpose of representing post-secondary students.

CFS National Chairperson Jessica McCormick has denied any allegations of improprieties in the CFS’s executive election process, stating that the process was “democratic and occurred just like in previous years.” McCormick also denied any problems in the organization’s human resources management practices.

Another of these resolutions requests the CFS-BC Executive Committee to “review” the “advisability and practical process of of eliminating congruent membership with the Canadian Federation of Students(-Services)”:


Whereas students began working together through the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia in 1966 as the Assembly of British Columbia Students, later known as the British Columbia Student Federation;

Whereas the British Columbia Student Federation changed its name to Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia in 1981 based on the principles of provincial and national congruency that were key to the development of the Canadian Federation of Students;

Whereas the progressive coalition that once led the Canadian Federation of Students has been irreparably betrayed by forces outside British Columbia and there exists little benefit to maintaining congruency or a unified identity between the provincial and national entities;

Whereas British Columbia student solidarity has proven to be a valuable and powerful tool for progress in the province; therefore,

Be it resolved that Bylaw II be reviewed and a recommendation made to the next general meeting regarding the advisability and practical process of eliminating congruent membership with the
Canadian Federation of Students(-Services).

According to the affiliation agreement signed between the CFS and CFS-BC in 1982, the “practical process” of disaffiliation is not as simple as the current CFS-BC leadership might consider it to be. The affiliation agreement, which prohibits CFS-BC from accepting or maintaining voting member students’ unions who are not members of the national student organization, specifies that only a province-wide referendum is sufficient to allow CFS-BC to defederate from the CFS:


This Agreement may be terminated by the Provincial Component only where a majority of the individual student members in attendance at each post-secondary institution whose local student association is a member of the Provincial Component approve withdrawal by way of referendum.

CASA hires new executive director

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At the beginning of this month, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) a announced that it had hired a new executive director. Maria-Hélèna Pacelli was selected from a pool of candidates to replace the incumbent Jonathan Champagne who has held the position for two years. On her personal website called Radical Bliss, Ms. Pacelli describes herself as “community organizer, visual artist, writer, singer/songwriter, popular educator and yoga teacher.” In 2006, she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia University. 6 years later, she completed a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa where she took particular interest in feminist political theatre and social movements.

The second largest student organization in Canada was very transparent in the way it went about selecting the new candidate. The entire hiring process timeline was laid out in the job description which was posted to, among other, the site.

Full disclosure: I applied for this position.

Le conseil exécutif de l’ASSÉ démissionne, est destitué symboliquement

Durant le plus récent congrès de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), le conseil exécutif a démissionné et, par la suite, a été destitué symboliquement. Cela résulte d’un texte de réflexion signé par le conseil exécutif qui suggère que la présente mobilisation devrait être remise à l’automne («un repli stratégique») car «[p]résentement, la possibilité de grève dans le mouvement syndical se dessine bel et bien. Elle pourrait être envisageable dès l’automne. Ainsi, une fenêtre historique s’ouvre à nous pour faire grève conjointement avec les syndiqués-es de la fonction publique.» Donc, «[i]l y a là tout intérêt à faire des négociations du secteur public une lutte politique et de joindre les mouvements étudiants et syndicaux».

D’abord, jusqu’à son congrès annuel à la fin du mois d’avril, un comité de transition assurera le fonctionnement de l’ASSÉ.

C’est quand même assez intéressant de voir que l’ancien conseil exécutif de l’organisation étudiante considérée la plus “radicale” suggérerait de coopérer avec les syndicats, car ces derniers s’allient normalement avec la Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) et la Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). Par exemple, durant le Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur, ces dernières ont participé activement aux côtés des grandes centrales syndicales. Pour sa part, l’ASSÉ a décidé de boycotter le sommet, car elle estimait que le Parti Québécois (PQ), nouvellement élu avec un gouvernement minoritaire, ne prendrait pas au sérieux la proposition de la gratuité scolaire. Plusieurs militants et militantes de l’ASSÉ ont plutôt manifesté à l’extérieur des lieux du sommet. Lorsque la CLASSE a appelé pour le déclenchement d’une «grève sociale» en 2012, plusieurs chefs syndicaux se sont distancés du mouvement étudiant. La FTQ à même cautionné les membres des syndicats au Canada anglais de le consulter avant de participer aux manifestations organisées par les associations étudiantes. Et si les syndicats ont dénoncé la loi 12 (projet de loi 78), aussitôt qu’elle a été adoptée par l’Assemblée nationale, contrairement à la CLASSE, ils n’ont pas incité leurs membres à désobéir la loi.

Revenons en 2015 : cette fois-ci, les chefs des grandes centrales syndicales ont catégoriquement exclu la grève illégale. La grogne chez plusieurs associations étudiantes en réponse à la proposition du conseil exécutif de l’ASSÉ n’est donc pas particulièrement surprenante. Par conte, ce qui surprend est le fait que cette transition forcée arrive en pleine mobilisation. Ce qui est clair est que l’organisation démontre qu’elle pratique ce qu’elle prêche : la démocratie directe.

Dawson College students to vote on Canadian Federation of Students membership

DSU CFS referendum notice

Following a recent settlements between the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) (and its entities1) and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Graduate Students’ Association of Concordia University (GSA), the Dawson Student Union (DSU) is the last Québec student union who holds membership status in the CFS. However, the Federation may no longer be able to claim that it is a national student organisation as the DSU will be holding a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The CFS chief returning officer, Stephen Littley, recently published the referendum notice which will be held from April 13th to 15th, 2015. 

Consult the DSU CFS referendum rules here

Once again, Mr. Littley has banned the use of “3rd party media, opinion, dialogue, report, blog, or any other source that can not be governed and sanctioned by these Rules.” This is clearly a ridiculous rule that attempts to block out all the negative press that the Federation has received in the past. Coincidentally, as recently as a couple week ago, the Federation’s national office was forced to respond to “allegations of internal corruption and union-busting.” I received the email, which was sent on February 12, 2015 from an anonymous email address. However, due to the fact that we were unable to confirm the allegations, we chose not to publish the email. The letter was then published on February 26, 2015 at

The “Yes” and “No” committees have begun publishing their websites, Facebook and Twitter pages, etc. so keep your eyes peeled. 

1. The Canadian Federation of Students has a services organisation, the Canadian Federation of Students-Services (CFS-S) which dispenses the organisation’s services. When students vote to join the CFS, they automatically become members of the CFS-S.