CFS-MB down, but not out

Student org weathering staff, executive vacancies

Students march at the Education for All rally on Oct. 26, 2017, to protest against the Pallister government’s Bill 31. The bill, which removed tuition fee caps, eventually passed.

Supplied photo

The Canadian Federation of Students’ Manitoba chapter (CFS-MB) has kept a relatively low profile this year, but chairperson Marie Paule Ehoussou says the organization is still hard at work on its highest-priority issues, like international-student healthcare.

CFS-MB’s full-time administrative staff position, the Manitoba organizer, is currently vacant after the previous organizer left to pursue another employment opportunity. Ehoussou says the search for a candidate has been ongoing for “almost a month.”

“You’ve not seen us on campus this winter semester, because we don’t have an organizer,” she says. “But September, we were all out.” She says they visited the University of Winnipeg (U of W), University of Manito- ba (U of M), Université de Saint-Boniface (USB) and Brandon University. “We did all our universities ... So far, I will say, so good.”

CFS’ interim national chairperson, Mi- chelle Kambire, says the national office has made its personnel available to CFS-Mani- toba while the provincial chapter remains understaffed. She says Ehoussou is “(doing) her best” to cover two roles at once, including doing campus-based outreach by herself.

The year so far

In its largest public outing of the academic year, CFS-MB co-hosted a rally at the Legislature on Nov. 8 as part of the federation’s national day of action. About two dozen students and supporters gathered to call on the province to take steps toward eliminating tuition fees and promoting “fair treatment of international and Indigenous students,” as reported by The Manitoban.

The rally was a redux of CFS’ Nov. 2, 2016 day of action, where several hundred students marched from the U of W’s front lawn to the Legislature. The 2016 event’s large turnout was attributed in part to existing student mobilization in support of the U of M Faculty Association’s then-ongoing strike action.

CFS-MB has also maintained its participation in the Healthcare for All MB campaign, which it launched in 2018 after the Pallister government repealed universal healthcare for international students.

Kambire says bringing back Manitoba health cards for international students is a major priority of CFS’ national office.

On Feb. 14, CFS-MB supported the launch of Healthcare for All MB’s most substantial publication to date, a 32-page research paper documenting international students’ experiences of healthcare inaccessibility in Manitoba.

Ehoussou’s second term as chairperson ends April 30, but she says “there is much more to come and (to) do” for CFS-MB this academic year. She is not running for re-election.


Students at all four of Manitoba’s big- gest universities each pay around $17.50 per year in membership dues to CFS, 40 per cent of which goes to the Manitoba chapter. But a member trying to find out where that money is going may have those efforts frustrated by the organization’s seeming ambivalence toward providing basic operational information.

CFS-MB’s website is several years out of date. The most recent entry on its “latest updates” page is from July 2022, and “who we are” displays a list of the 2021-22 provincial executive (PE). The phone number listed on the website is out of service.

In a voice memo, Ehoussou says the website’s info is “pretty obsolete,” but that it will “definitely change” when the 2024-25 executive committee begins their terms in May.

She says “the reason why you might have not seen a lot of public information per se, is because we don’t have a (Manitoba) organizer right now,” but she did not clarify how long the position, listed Feb. 21, 2024, has been open. The November 2023 national executive report notes the position as vacant.

Ehoussou says Karla Antanacio is the current deputy chairperson and that the previous treasurer stepped down for “personal reasons,” with no replacement having been elected. According to CFS-MB’s bylaws, the treasurer is responsible for “long-range financial planning” and presenting the organization’s budget at annual general meetings (AGMs).

Antanacio did not respond to several re-quests for comment. Ehoussou declined to provide the names of the 2023-24 PE absent “permission to disclose their personal information,” she says. PE positions are pub- lic-facing, meant to represent specific iden- tity-based constituencies, such as racialized students and international students.

At-large executive and PE positions are elected at the CFS-MB AGM, which all local member students can attend free of charge. Ehoussou says this year’s AGM takes place March 30 at USB.

The “governing docs” page of CFS-MB’s website has column headers for AGM and PE meeting minutes, executive reports and “finances,” but all four have been empty for at least two years.

CFS-MB’s bylaws require AGM minutes to include reports on the organization’s activities throughout the year, completion of directives adopted at the previous AGM and the functioning of the PE.

CFS-MB has no formal obligation to publish the documents listed above, but its national counterpart does: CFS’ operations policy stipulates that minutes of national executive and general meetings be posted online within 60 days. Minutes haven’t been uploaded to the federation’s website since October 2021.

Kambire was elected interim chairperson at CFS’ special general meeting on Jan. 27. She says the national office is currently understaffed, which is a “possible answer” for why this year’s minutes aren’t yet available. She declined to comment on operations matters from before she took office.

Strength in numbers

Critics of CFS often counterpose the organization to the Canadian Alliance of Student Organizations (CASA), which was found- ed in 1994 by politically moderate student leaders dissatisfied with the CFS’ social justice-oriented approach to student advocacy.

U of W students had an opportunity to vote on joining CASA in this year’s UWSA general election. Although no one campaigned for or against CASA membership, at least one executive candidate’s campaign material proposed leaving CFS once CASA membership has been secured, citing the latter organization’s lower fees.

CASA’s work focuses primarily on lobbying federal politicians, whereas the bulk of CFS’ petitioning of elected officials occurs at the provincial level.

Ehoussou says the organizations’ differing approaches form “a beautiful mix.” Moving forward, she hopes CASA and CFS leaders can focus on working toward reaching compromises based on a shared desire to help students.

“There is strength in numbers,” she says. “If we can’t even have a consensus and come as a united front, it doesn’t look credible. We can solve whatever happens ... we don’t have to go and talk shit about each other in front of the media.”

“I think everybody’s willing to move forward, because student life keeps getting harder every day,” she says. “Let’s use our energy to find solutions instead of stressing students more.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 7, 2024)

Related Reads