La grève étudiante au Québec est déclenchée

Plusieurs milliers d’étudiants et d’étudiantes au Québec ont entamé la grève lundi dernier, le 23 mars 2015. Il y a quasiment exactement trois ans, soit le 22 mars 2012, la première manifestation massive du soulèvement étudiant a eu lieu. Plus de 100 000 manifestants et manifestantes ont marché dans les rues de Montréal. En comparaison avec la grève étudiante de 2012, qui a mené à la défaite du gouvernement libéral de Jean Charest en septembre 2012, celle-ci débute plus d’un mois plus tard.

Cette fois-ci, le mouvement étudiant (mobilisé principalement par l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ)) se mobilise contre l’austérité imposé par le gouvernement libéral majoritaire sous Philippe Couillard. Ce dernier tente de contrôler les dépenses gouvernementales afin d’arriver au déficit zéro.

Le numéro exact d’étudiants qui boycottent déjà leurs cours n’est pas connu mais le site web semble avoir les données les plus récentes.

Il est intéressant de noter que la Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) s’est prononcé sur la question de la grève durant son dernier congrès. Selon le titre d’un communiqué de presse publié plus tôt cette semaine, la FECQ «soutient les luttes mais ne lance pas d’appel à la grève général». Et pour sa part, la Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) tente elle aussi de rester pertinente en publiant une lettre ouverte, signée par une vingtaine d’association étudiante représentant 200 000 membres, réclamant «un meilleur financement des Fonds de recherche du Québec».

Allons-nous voir un autre soulèvement d’ampleur ce printemps?

Labour disputes at U of T and York University drag on

Various contract workers at the University of Toronto and York University have been on strike since 27 February and 3 March respectively.

CUPE 3902 has set up a dedicated website, We Are U of T, which has provided updates on its bargaining situation. The U of T announced that it had reached an agreement with Unit 3 on Tuesday 10 March 2015. However, Unit 1 and Unit 2 remain on strike. CUPE 3903 representing various workers at York University has also provided updates on its website. An update published earlier today states that Unit 2 is no longer on strike while Unit 1 and Unit 3 workers have yet to reach to an agreement with the administration.

According to its official position, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) fully supports CUPE 3902 and calls “on the University to negotiate in good faith with CUPE 3902 Unit 1 and end the strike as soon as possible.” As for the York Federation of Students (YFS), its initial statement was slightly more neutral in nature: “… we urge both the York University Administration and CUPE 3903 to head back to the bargaining table to reach and agreement. We hope a solution to this dispute is reached as soon as possible so that students can return to classes.”

One undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Victoria McKenzie, is demanding that the administration refund students’ tuition fees for the time lost during the ongoing strike: “We have the right to demand a refund. We are not getting the quality education we deserve, so we want our money back.” There is a precedent for such a tuition refund following a strike at a post-secondary education institution: Back in February 2014, the University of New Brunswick board of governors voted in favour of “distributing the net funds saved during our recent labour disruption to students in recognition of the hardships and inconvenience it caused them.” 

UPDATED: CSU and GSA reach out-of-court settlement with Canadian Federation of Students

After more than four years in legal limbo and a trial date still years away, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) have reached an out-of court settlement with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). According to The Link, lawyers from all parties attended a court room yesterday, Monday, March 9, 2015, to inform the judge of the agreement. All this took less than 20 minutes. Like another recent out-of-court settlement involving the Federation, the terms of the agreement are confidential. However, both student associations’ membership in the CFS has now ended.

UPDATE: March 11, 2015

The following common statement was published on the GSA’s website on 10 March 2015 at 1:00 pm: 

The Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Federation of Students-Services (collectively, the “CFS Entities”) and the GSA have come to an amicable, out of court resolution of their dispute regarding GSA voting membership in the CFS Entities. As part of this resolution it is agreed that the membership has been terminated. The Settlement Agreement was motivated by a desire on the part of all Parties to resolve all outstanding issues. The Parties have agreed to this common statement and have agreed to make no further public statements regarding this matter.

UPDATE: March 12, 2015

I have been informed that the GSA’s common statement published to its website mistakenly made reference to the CSU. I have made appropriate corrections to the original statement published here yesterday.

UPDATE: March 13, 2015 has obtained the judgments for each case:

Concordia Student Union and Hassan Abdullahi v. Canadian Federation of Students and Keyana Kashfi and Rassemblement des associations étudiantes – March 10, 2015

Graduate Student Association of Concordia University and Erik Chevrier v. Canadian Federation of Students and Rassemblement des Associations étudiantes – March 10, 2015

Students Nova Scotia releases review of student union governance

DISCLOSURE: I responded to a survey during the open submissions process hence my name appears at page 55 of the report.

Students Nova Scotia (SNS) has released a long-awaited report which reviews student union governance in the province. The review, entitled “A Blueprint for Student Driven, Professionally Supported Student Associations”, was conducted by Michael Hughes, a PhD candidate from Queen’s University. The following student associations voluntarily participated in the study: Acadia Students’ Union, Cape Breton University Students’ Union, Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association, St. Francis Xavier Students’ Union and Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association. SNS and participating student associations financed the report with additional funding provided by the Democracy 250 Youth Engagement Legacy Trust.

Governance review recommendations

The report calls for a paradigm shift in student association governance. Hughes recommends Dr. John Carver’s Policy Governance model which is “designed to empower boards of directors to fulfill their obligation of accountability for the organizations they govern.” 

The model enables the board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management’s job without meddling, to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organization; to truly lead its organization. 

The report makes 56 recommendations with regards to the following sections: Defining the role of student associations, student association-university relations, board changes, professional meetings and office environment, elections, ownership linkage (Hughes refers to the membership as owners of the student association), service delivery and subsidiaries. In the interest of keeping this somewhat brief, I will highlight only a few recommendations that stuck out for me as being particularly relevant and come back with another article with a more critical view of the report. 

 Electoral Reform

  • Implement online voting
  • Hire a full-time staff person or an external contractor to act as chief returning officer
  • Simplify election rules: eliminate the rules on the size and number of posters, eliminate censorship of campaign materials, eliminate budget or points systems to regulate election spending, eliminate restrictions on where candidates may campaign in publicly accessible locations on campus, eliminate restrictions on when candidates may begin to campaign
  • Expand the nomination and voting period (the author suggests that the nomination period should last the entirety of the fall semester and that the campaign period should last one month)
  • Allow campaigning on voting days
  • Candidates should be encouraged to run in slates (the concept of political parties)
  • The board should appoint a panel of disinterested, third-party legal experts to arbitrate disputes arising from election processes
  • The single-transferable voting system should be adopted by student associations

Transparency of student associations

  • Publicize agendas and supplementary materials one week in advance of meetings
  • Promptly publicize minutes and records on the association’s website
  • Record board meetings and post the videos online (upload to YouTube and embed on student association’s website)
  • Provide an annual public report to the membership at the end of each academic year
  • Publicize budgetary information online

Ownership linkages (membership engagement) aka talk with your members

  • Seek out information from a representative sample of the ownership
  • Rather than sitting in their offices day in and day out, board membership should continuously engage with its members
  • Conduct quarterly linkage activities (surveys, focus groups, presentations to the board from representatives of the membership, cafes, etc.)
  • Conduct an annual membership survey

Subsidiary governance

  • Eliminate the use of levied fees to provide subsidiary and external organisation funding
  • Fees paid to external organisations (StudentsNS, CFS, CASA, etc.) should come out of the general operating budget and should not be levied separately (this might not work at some institutions where student associations have signed agreements with the administration regarding fee collection)

While the report is extremely ambitious in its prescription of the policy governance model, there are some recommendations that are simply common sense and should be mandated as minimum requirements in legislation governing not-for-profit organisations (especially when membership isn’t voluntary but rather tied to your admission to any post-secondary institution in Canada).