Settlement salvation

By Clinton Hallahan

Now that the bickering is done and the SFSS is really, really sorry they used their own referendum rules and not those of the Canadian Federation of Students, there is the prickly little issue of a giant lump of money just sitting in a bank account waiting to make our SFSS dreams come true.

A primer for those with lives: the Simon Fraser Student Society used to be part of the CFS, a student advocacy group that lobbies for student issues and offer services to members like Travel Cuts discount trips abroad and student price cards. Of the opinion that the CFS had become a bloated, corrupt money-sink, SFSS leaders of days gone by posed a referendum to defederate from the CFS in 2008. After weeks of lobbying that included a robust ‘Yes’ campaign led by former president Derrick Harder and an equally robust CFS ‘No’ side comprised largely from out-of-province advocates, students voted 67 per cent in favour of defederation. The CFS contended that the referendum was illegitimate by its own bylaws, and took the SFSS to court for back dues. The SFSS collected what fees would have gone to the CFS in case a trial decided against them. That case settled on December 23, 2011 after more than $450,000 in legal fees.

We don’t know how much we had to pay the CFS to settle due to a gag order attached to the agreement, but the fund totalled around $1.1 million as of the last SFSS annual general meeting. The pressing question is now how to spend the savings leftover from the proceedings, and the fees that created it in the first place. It is no less than the discussion of the next 10 years of the Simon Fraser Student Society.

I was poised to caution electors about the eventuality of the “lockout election”, an entire cycle dedicated to the rehashing of the labour dispute that split the campus in two, but suddenly, like it is won’t to do, money has changed everything. With projected solvency and sudden wealth comes new problems.
The original argument was that the services provided by the CFS could be better and more responsively provided by the SFSS. It’s put up or shut up time, and I’m sure battle lines will be drawn over whether or not to strike the fee from student’s liabilities or to use the money for better services. The former will sound better on paper, but the money in the bank and the fees to come should almost certainly be used to bring the SFSS into the future it so richly deserves.

There will be candidates in the next SFSS election who will equate fiscal responsibility with saving students the price of a lunch in fees, but they’re missing the point. Suddenly, the wildest dreams of properly funding SFSS services and expanding others is within reach. Imagine a health plan suddenly not struggling more with each passing semester. Departmental student unions with a budget enough not only to stimulate interest and participation, but to actually hold events of note. Making the Women’s Centre, Out on Campus, and other student spaces deservedly palatial. Heck, maybe we can even get to work on that student union building everyone thinks is a great idea but we never seem to get around to. The world is our burrito.

Overnight, what is possible for the SFSS was changed by the settlement witht he CFS. The next decade may prove to be the most integral since its inception. Whether we choose to make frivolous purchases and cuts, or make the SFSS a place where students can come together, solve problems, and make SFU a place people actually want to be will be the legacy of this board and boards to come. The CFS defederation gave us some of the most petty, divisive, and vicious years of politics in our university’s history. It’s time to set that all aside and make lemonade after years of lemons.