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.

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.

Confusion surrounds UMGSA VP External Faizan Khan has obtained a copy of the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) vice-president external Faizan Khan’s resignation letter which he submitted to the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) Council on January 9, 2015. In it, he claims to have

received a tremendous amount of pressure over the irreconcilable political differences [he has] had with the [UMGSA] President [Laura Rempel]. Most recently, I was pressured to support CFS in their Anti-Cuts Campaign. In fact, this past Monday [January 5, 2015], I was asked by our President to assist CFS with running this campaign by chairing the Anti-cuts meetings and such. Her rationale for asking so was that my participation would help decrease the workload on CFS officials, and ensure that ‘it does not look like it’s a CFS Campaign‘ (emphasis added). 

However, an article published in The Manitoban quotes the UMGSA president Laura Rempel as having said that Khan remains a member of the UMGSA executive. Khan did not respond to a request for comment. In response to that article, Rempel penned a letter to the editor in which she states that she refused to comment on a “confidential issue” that became public after the letter was leaked. She does however claim that his “resignation letter was not the result of UMGSA involvement in the ‘Stop the Cuts’ campaign, but rather stems from a different issue.”

Update – February 1, 2015 at 11:45

It remains unclear if Khan remains a member of the UMGSA executive at the time of publication.

PGSS votes to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (again)

On January 15 and 16, 2015, members of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) had the opportunity to vote in a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

According to the PGSS website, preliminary results indicate that graduate students voted overwhelmingly in favour of cutting ties with the Federation:

Referendum question: Are you in favor of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)?

Number of votes: 2129* (26.3% voter turnout)
Yes votes: 56* (2.7%)
No votes: 2014* (97.3%)

*All results are preliminary, subject to change pending University verification and receipt of mail-in ballots. The CRO will post the official results in due time. The referendum and formal request to leave the Federation will need to be ratified at the next General Assembly of the CFS.

Readers were reminded in an article published in the McGill Daily that the PGSS continues to be involved in litigation with the Federation stemming from a March 2010 referendum during which members of the PGSS voted to leave the CFS. The CFS would prefer to acknowledge this month’s vote as this would imply that the PGSS has continued to be a member of the Federation since March 2010. This, in turn, would mean that the PGSS owes 5 years worth of membership dues (between March 2010-June 2015). Before the CFS agreed to hold this month’s referendum, the PGSS was forced to pay over $300.000 in outstanding dues as per the CFS Bylaws. The PGSS will continue to pursue the litigation emanating from the 2010 referendum and will now seek to recover that money. Court hearings in that case won’t begin until 2017.

A McGill Tribune article quotes CFS chairperson Jessica McCormick who appears to show that the Federation would likely recognize the results at the Federation’s General meeting in May/June 2015. A statement ( has already been rendered inaccessible) by the Ms. McCormick was released just before this month’s referendum and deserves to be quoted:

Unlike other votes on membership, the Canadian Federation of Students will not be engaging in a traditional campaign on campus in order to highlight the importance of working together. The reality is that over the past five years, the graduate student members at McGill have been so misled and misinformed by portions of the elected leadership of the PGSS about the work of the Canadian Federation of Students and the formerly positive, supportive relationship with the other members of the organization that it would be virtually impossible to set the record straight in a short campaign period. As an example, there has been so much disinformation that the average McGill graduate student incorrectly thinks that the Canadian Federation of Students has been suing the McGill PGSS. In fact, the PGSS has engaged in a sustained campaign of legal attacks against the other member local unions that comprise the Federation in order to achieve a specific outcome-to isolate graduate students at McGill from students across the country.

While the Federation made it seem like no traditional campaigning would occur, many people were brought in by the CFS to act as poll clerks (May not be an exhaustive list): 

Carole Blank – Kaileigh Macrae  – Munib Sajjad – Carolyn Hibbs – Emma Campbell – Alena Peters – Jasmine Parent – Glenn Burley – Adam Awad – 
Sarah McCue – Alyssa Blank – Nadia Fentiman – Lauren Montgomery – Nick Stark – Brent Farrington – Laurel Walsh – Anna Dubynski

I do hope that as many graduate students will read the entire statement (also available in French) to see how condescending it really is. McCormick’s attempts to speak down to students seem to suggest that graduate students are unable to think critically about the information they have received from the “elected leadership of the PGSS” and judge the organization on its merits. While the PGSS has in fact brought the CFS to court, to characterize the litigation as a “sustained campaign of legal attacks” is exaggerated rhetoric that is often used by the Federation to describe anybody who dares to disagree with and/or criticize the organization. Let this CFS statement be seen for what it really is: a sophisticated, camouflaged admittance of defeat, a throwing in of the towel.

Canadian Federation of Students CRO overstepped authority: Quebec Superior Court Justice

A Quebec Superior Court Justice has ruled that Stephen Littley, Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) chief electoral returning officer (CRO), overstepped his authority by including certain regulations in the referendum rules that are currently governing the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) of McGill University referendum on continued membership in the CFS.


In Justice Gérard Dugré written reasons of his January 7, 2015 judgment, he ruled that Stephen Littley exceeded his authority, as outlined in article 4.b of the CFS Bylaws, by including the following regulations within the PGSS referendum rules

d. The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that are defamatory, misleading or false, that refer to legal or quasi legal action/s before the courts that relate the Referendum, or to other legal or quasi legal actions, that may undermine the Referendum

f. There shall be no campaigning at any time in a business or service owned or operated by the Students’ Union… in areas or events where alcohol is served…

Justice Dugré also ruled that the above cited rules violate article 3 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom which states that “Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.”

Campaigning in the PGSS referendum on continued membership in the CFS at McGill University began on January 5 while voting will take place January 15 and 16, 2015.