Feds Shuts Down Debate
Author: Thomas Little
Anyone reading the agenda for the upcoming Feds General Meeting (see the editorial for details) may notice that it is a bit short — the newly-elected executives for 2014–2015 will be ratified for their positions, a new Feds Council seat will be created for a representative for the Stratford campus, and some routine items like a gradual increase in the Feds fee are in order. Yet, to a well-informed observer, the agenda betrays a shocking lack of respect for students and for democracy on the part of the Federation.
It would perhaps be best to start with what is not on the agenda. Earlier this month, a Facebook event was created to discuss a motion submitted to the Federation’s Board of Directors, who are responsible for approving all General Meeting (GM) agendas. This motion was simple: if it passed, it would cause the Federation of Students to set aside SLC 2139 for use as a Clubs Library room. The Facebook event immediately had a strong following, with over fifty people listed as “Going” (and presumably intending to vote for or against it). The Board of Directors refused to add this item to the agenda, depriving students of the opportunity to vote on it at all, or even to discuss it in the meeting. Another motion also blocked by the Board of Directors was intended to ban credit card vendors from operating in the SLC, especially in “Vendors Alley”.
Instead of these things, Feds has added another item to the agenda for the GM — a proposed bylaw change (essentially, a change to Feds’ internal rules) which would ban new agenda items from being proposed “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant in the meeting). This would close the only remaining opportunity for students to propose motions for a GM without Board approval, making the agenda for all future GMs entirely controlled by the Feds Board. As can be seen from the blocking of these two motions, this creates a silencing effect on genuine grassroots initiatives to change Feds policy which come from outside the formal structure of the organization — from students themselves whose only title in the organization is “Member”.
An argument for this bylaw change is that it would prevent “unpredictable” agenda items from being passed without the knowledge of members who might otherwise attend to vote against such items. This is a mindset that is still rooted in the old reality of years past, where GMs were poorly attended and mostly revolved around approving decisions already made by the Board and Council in a largely token show of membership consent. The last two GMs have been well-attended and the discussions and decisions made there have generated shockwaves online and in the campus media. GMs, simply put, are too big and too important now to be mere administrative exercises, with Feds following its own rules by holding them, but not allowing the members who attend to make serious decisions about their own Federation. Is this supposed to be a Federation of Bureaucrats, a Federation of Managers, a Federation of Staffers, or is it supposed to be a Federation of Students? If it is the latter, then discouraging students from making decisions on their own behalf is not only a bad move, but is directly going against the spirit of our Federation as a democratic organization.