Students Nova Scotia launches “More than Yes” campaign

More than Yes logo

More than Yes campaign logo

Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS) recently launched “More than Yes”, a new sexual consent campaign “to promote greater understanding of consent among students.” According to the organization’s press release, the campaign is based on evidence from recent report entitled “Student Safety in Nova Scotia: A Review of Student Union Policies and Practices to Prevent Sexual Violence”. Among the 21 recommendations, the report proposes “plan[ning] a strategy for starting the dialogue on sexuality on campus”

UPDATED – Dalhousie Student Union reconsidering membership in CASA, StudentsNS

Members of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) council are questioning the value of the union’s membership in both the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS). According to an article in the Dalhousie Gazette, representatives from both student organizations were present during the January 23 council meeting to make the case for continued membership.

According to the minutes of the March 27, 2013 DSU council meeting, a motion was passed to downgrade DSU’s membership in CASA from full status to associate status. A page on the DSU’s website gives a brief explanation of the situation as it currently stands. This followed an earlier presentation given by Zach Daylor, former CASA National Director, to the DSU council.

The Dalhousie Gazette published another article earlier in January which discussed a report, prepared by the Advocacy Review Committee, which was presented during a December 4, 2013 DSU Council meeting. In a response to an email inquiry, Aaron Beale (DSU’s vice president education) informed me that “the report is not public yet” but would be passed along to me when it is.

The DSU has posted its annual general meeting agenda which is scheduled to take place tomorrow, February 12, 2014. In the meeting package, the following constitutional amendment is proposed regarding “external advocacy”:

Motion: BIRT The Constitution be amended in the following way: (red
denotes changes)

By-law VII – Other Organizations

5. The union shall not enter into an agreement, partnership and/or
membership with an external advocacy group where the external
organization’s by-laws, policy and/or constitution propose to supersede those
of the Union.

6. The Union shall not renounce its full membership within an external
advocacy group unless a successful referendum is run according to By-law XIV of the Constitution in which the result is in favor of renouncing its full membership with its external federal advocacy group. the appropriate process consistent with that organization’s bylaws is followed. Editor’s Note: This constitutional amendment was recommended by the DSU Advocacy Review Committee, in its exact form, and appears on page page 58 of the committee’s report.

7. The Union shall not enter into any new agreements or partnerships with
external advocacy group including but not limited to, the Canadian Alliance of
Student Associations (CASA) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS),
unless a successful referendum is run according to By-law XIV of the
Constitution in which the result is in favor of joining an external federal
advocacy group.

8. Any proposal to join an external advocacy group shall first be subject to a full review of legal, operational, and financial considerations by the Board of Operations prior to coming forward to Council.

8. The Union may change its existing membership level within an external advocacy group through a vote at Council, provided Council has been provided with thirty (30) days notice, and the information made public via the DSU website, and the Board of Operations has reviewed the proposal for operational, financial, and legal considerations.

We look forward to reading the Advocacy Review Committee’s report in the near future. We’ll continue follow this story and report on future developments.

UPDATED ON FEBRUARY 13, 2014 has obtained the DSU Advocacy Review Committee’s report simply entitled Strengthening Advocacy. In its conclusion, the report states: “Students Nova Scotia and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations have significant misalignments with the DSU in terms of their overall approach and their vision of post-secondary education.” It goes on to say that:

… the risks of remaining in the organizations outweigh any risks associated with independent advocacy strategies while offering greater benefits in terms of available advocacy strategies, quality of policy recommendations, and increasing the ability of the Dalhousie Student Union to represent students to the provincial and federal government.

The committee report then goes on to recommend that the DSU council determine its status within both external organizations and proposes the following motions (Only the “Be it resolved” portions of the motions will be reproduced here; The entirety of the motions can be found at pages 58-59 of the report):

Motion 1: DSU Membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations

Be it therefore resolved that the Dalhousie Student Union terminate its membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Any unpaid membership dues for the 2014 winter semester shall be paid to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

Motion 2: DSU Membership in Students Nova Scotia

Be it therefore resolved that the Dalhousie Student Union terminate its membership in Students Nova Scotia. Any unpaid membership dues for the 2014 winter semester shall be paid to Students Nova Scotia.

More to come…

Canadian Student Politics Year in Review – Top 10 Stories of 2012

Happy New Year! I hope everyone took advantage of the holiday season to rest, be with family and friends and prepare for the upcoming year! I have been compiling a list (not exhaustive, of course) of important happenings in Canadian student politics that occurred throughout 2012. In order to lighten the reading, I will publish the Top 10 Stories of 2012 in two parts. Please comment below if you have other stories that do not appear in the Top 10. I have also compiled a list of “Honourable Mentions” which will be published in the near future. Without further ado, here are the significant events in Canadian student politics (in no particular order):

1. Quebec Student Strike

This year was marked by an uncharacteristically active year in Canadian student politics. The ramifications of the massive Quebec student strike (also known as the Maple Spring or le printemps érable) that occurred earlier this year was nothing new in this particular Canadian province. A long tradition of student strikes go back to the first occurrence of such a phenomenon in 1958. Since then, students in Quebec have gone on strike (some, including many Quebec judges, referred to it as a boycott) to protest a variety of governmental policies in 1968, 1974, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996, 2005 and finally 2012.

The broader implications of this latest uprising likely won’t be fully known for a number of months. However, what appears to have been markedly different this time around was the strong showing of support not only from the Rest of Canada (ROC) but also from around the world. Furthermore, it would appear as though the student strike received unprecedented media coverage in the international press thus bringing attention to the wider international struggle pertaining to access to education in general and postsecondary/higher education in particular. A broader set of issues that were being discussed: the knowledge economy, the elimination of tuition fees (referred to as gratuité scolaire in French), intellectual property rights, the funding of research by private corporations and large multinational corporations, the commodification of higher education, the democratization of institutions of higher learning, etc. Thousands of students later joined by thousands of citizens of all ages staged massive protests on the 22 of each month starting on the 22nd of March.

With a majority government at the National Assembly, the Jean Charest Liberals adopted a hard-line against the major student organizations and their leaders. The Quebec Liberals rushed to pass Bill 78 (which became Law 12 upon receiving Royal Ascent) on May 18, 2012. It included, among other things, debilitating fines against student associations and student leaders found to be responsible for organizing protests. It also allowed police to declare any assembly of 50 or more people in any given area illegal. Finally, it effectively cancelled the winter 2012 semester at the institutions affected by the strike.

As the summer wore on, it became apparent that Jean Charest’s government would not give in to students’ demands and thus would not succeed in diffusing the tense political atmosphere that had prevailed in Quebec for over five months. Election speculation became rampant as rumors of a snap election multiplied. Finally, on August 1, Jean Charest announced that Quebeckers would be going to the polls on September 4. Most members of the official opposition Parti Québécois (PQ) had adorned the infamous red square (the symbol of the student strike) since the beginning of the student strike. However, this very public demonstration of support suddenly ended. On election day, Quebeckers voted for change: Pauline Marois’ PQ was awarded with a minority government. Marois’ first act was to annul Law 12 as well as the tuition hike (which was originally set at $1625 over five years but then changed to $1754 over seven years). Martine Desjardins, the president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), was quick to declare victory. L’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), which created the temporary coalition the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) during the uprising, did not go that as far as their FEUQ counterpart and then set its sights on the abolition of postsecondary tuition fees. The election of the PQ meant that a summit on education will be held in order to discuss a number of important issues pertaining to postsecondary education in the province of Quebec. The summit will take place in Montreal in February 2013. Nonetheless, four pre-summit meetings, two of which have already occurred, will take place before the main summit.

2. The Revolving Door at U of T

The University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) were forced to hire a new executive director after Amir Bashir vacated the position. The revolving door theory was once again validated when it was announced that former two-term UTSU president/former two-term Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario chairperson Sandy Hudson had been hired to fill the vacant position. We later found out that immediately following Amir Bashir’s departure from the UTSU, he was hired as the executive director for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. During the 2009-2010 academic year, Bashir was the SCSU’s vice-president external as well as having taken on the role of interim president following the impeachment of the then-SCSU’s president Zuhair Syed three months before the end of his mandate.

3. Money Allegedly Stolen from Canadian Federation of Students-Saskatchewan

In June, Haanim Nur, the newly elected president of the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) and former chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Saskatchewan (CFS-SK) [author’s remarks: this website has been inactive since at least October 2010 when URSU held a referendum on continued membership in the CFS] abruptly resigned citing “personal reasons”. In an interview published at the end of September in the U of R student newspaper The Carillon, Nur admitted that she had stollen money from the CFS-SK. However, upon reading the rather vague Question & Answer-styled article, students were left with more questions than answers. Days after the Nur article was published, the CFS-SK released a statement (which is no longer available via the original URL) addressing “the issue” which outlined some modifications to the administration of the the provincial component’s finances and further information pertaining to the incident. Kent Peterson, former URSU president and CFS-SK representative on the CFS national executive, later admitted that he had received a call from CFS-SK’s financial institution back in February 2012. The bank informed him that his signature appeared to have been forged on a CFS-SK cheque worth $300.00. It was later discovered that Nur had stolen $700.00 which amounted to two previous forged cheques which had been cashed without issue. Peterson and Nur were the only signing authorities for the CFS-SK and both their signatures were required on all CFS-SK cheques before they could be processed by a financial institution. Oddly enough, as URSU’s outgoing president, Peterson publicly supported Nur’s presidential campaign in March 2012 and he did so with at the very least some suspicion that Nur may have been responsible for forging his signature and stealing money from the CFS-SK bank account. Paige Kezima, a member of URSU’s board of directors and, at the time, CFS-SK chairperson-elect eventually informed the board of Nur’s alleged transgressions during a one of URSU’s board meetings between March and June. It should also be noted that after Nur’s resignation, a financial audit, which examined URSU’s finances from April 2011 to April 2012, was conducted. During that time, Nur was URSU’s VP operations and finance, Peterson was URSU’s president and Kezima was URSU’s VP external. The audit determined that URSU accumulated a budget deficit of $202,484. After eight months, Kent Peterson finally filled a complaint with the Regina Police Service which, as far as we know, continues to investigate the alleged embezzlement of funds. On October 2, 2012, Peterson was a guest on the John Gormley Live radio show.

4. Léo Bureau-Blouin: from student politics to the National Assembly

Léo Bureau-Blouin, the former president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), was considered by many in the mainstream media to be the most moderate and diplomatic of the student leaders throughout Quebec’s student uprising. During the most heated periods of the student unrest, Bureau-Blouin’s words and actions were those of a seasoned politician well beyond his years. Recognizing the undeniable star power of this young, charismatic young man, Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), wasted no time in luring Bureau-Blouin into the ranks of her party. When the election was finally called, he announced his candidacy alongside an overjoyed Pauline Marois and was immediately propelled further into the spotlight of Quebec’s political landscape. Many within the student movement denounced his decision to run for the PQ and accused him of treason. the announcement, some going as far as to call Bureau-Blouin a traitor. He went head-to-head with prominent Quebec Liberal Alain Paquet who had been elected three times in a row in the riding of Laval-des-Rapides. In the end, the unpopularity of Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberal Party led to Léo Bureau-Blouin’s stunning triumph receiving 38% of the popular vote. After the election, he became Premier Pauline Marois’ parliamentary assistant for youth as well as being named to the Commission on Culture and Education and the Commission on Institutions as of November 6, 2012.

5. New CFS National Executive takes Office

In June 2012, the newly elected CFS national executive took office: Adam Awad became the national chairperson (he held the position of national deputy chairperson during the 2011-2012 academic year), Jessica McCormick became national deputy chairperson (she held the position of CFS-Newfoundland and Labrador chairperson during the 2011-2012 academic year) and Michael Olson was reelected as national treasurer. They were elected at the CFS’s 60th semi-annual general meeting back in November 2011.

Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations gets a new name

Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Association’s (ANSSA) logo

Recently, the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations (ANSSA) changed its name to Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS). According to the organization’s website:

The new organization was established to advocate on behalf of students with all levels of government, with institutions, in the media, and within Nova Scotia communities. It was, and is, focused on post-secondary education across the province, not just on single campuses.

Students Nova Scotia’s (StudentsNS) logo

StudentsNS’s members include the Acadia Students’ Union, the Atlantic School of Theology Student Union (paired with Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association), the Cape Breton University Students’ Union (also a member of the Canadian Federation of Students), the Dalhousie Student Union, the Saint Francis Xavier University Students’ Union and the Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association. The newly branded provincial student organization has already been busy at work. The organization has made a draft position paper regarding funding and accountability available for comment on its website. This allows its members to actively participate in the organization’s policy-making process. At the beginning of September, StudentsNS released its 2012-2013 annual plan. This document includes the organization’s budget which shows that its membership dues were originally estimated (in May 2012) to be $176,084.40. This number was revised in July 2012 to $169,111.95. What is most interesting about this annual plan is that it includes a section at the end of the document entitled Summary of Results and Outcomes which outlines key outcomes and results found throughout the plan. This section is included “to facilitate evaluation at the end of the year.” Nova Scotia students can thus consult the various goals set in the plan and track the organization’s progress. If StudentsNS isn’t meeting the goals outlined in its annual plan, students are able to hold the organization accountable. In fact, the StudentsNS website states:

Students NS strives to always practice honesty, integrity, humility, openness, cooperation, democracy, responsible financial management, and long-term vision. We are committed to transparency, and records of decision-making, planning, and finances are available on our website.

This level of openness is in stark contrast with other major Canadian student organizations (such as the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Canadian Federation of Students) who do not provide their members with online access to such documents via their respective websites. StudentsNS is a model to be replicated in terms of transparency and accountability.