Preliminary discussions of creating a new student federation are ongoing following disorder in one of the largest student federations in Quebec, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). The Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus de l’Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM), one of FEUQ’s largest member organizations, voted unanimously to leave the FEUQ this past weekend, also calling for a new national student federation to be formed.
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette explained that while SSMU is currently an independent association and not affiliated with FEUQ, she has been representing SSMU in observing FEUQ at its congresses. She cited several problems with the FEUQ based on her observations, including processes that were less democratic and a loss of reputation, and said she believed FEUQ would likely cease to exist in the next year.
“Backdoor politics is institutionalized, everyone goes for dinner on Fridays and bargains on the motions,” Moustaqim-Barrette said. “There are alliances that form that push through different motions, and it’s not a very democratic process [….] Their ability to mobilize students is just not how it used to be. They used to be heavyweights in the Quebec student movement, [but] it’s decreased steadily over the years. The name now doesn’t carry the weight it used to.”
Moustaqim-Barrette cited the example of how the annual campaign of FEUQ did not change to focus against austerity until the end of 2014, stating that this inflexibility has led to discontent from member student associations.
“[The previous campaign] was for the Aide financière aux études (AFE), the student aid program. It seemed like FEUQ was working on this important thing but [it was] so irrelevant in the current political climate,” Moustaqim-Barrette said. “I [also] found the structure at FEUQ was very top-down. It’s the executives who present the ideas at the beginning of the year. It’s amended and voted on, but from there, there’s no real way to implement something [that] comes up in the middle of the year [which] the associations want to see FEUQ work on.”
Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet said he and the PGSS executive team disagreed with the FAÉCUM’s decision to leave.
“Despite FAÉCUM’s disaffiliation, the FEUQ remains viable and is still the largest student association in Québec with 85,000 members,” Ouellet said. “PGSS and the other member associations are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for the student movement [….] Despite the current hurdles, the situation leaves us with a wide array of options that can only lead to a revitalization of the student movement.”
Moustaqim-Barrette explained that the first meeting of 15 student associations regarding the formation of the new federation was held in Quebec City on March 21 and 22.
“It was a very preliminary meeting; [it was the] first time we’ve all come together to see what this could be, what each association looking for,” she said. “So most of the meeting was talking about a way to move forward, forming committees to look at what the mission and values of the federation could be.”
The next meeting for the new student federation will be co-hosted at McGill on April 18 and 19 by SSMU and the PGSS, Moustaqim-Barrette said.
However, not all student associations agreed with the formation of the new federation.
“If FAÉCUM is at the centre of the new student federation, they have shown Quebec clearly [that] they aren’t necessarily going to work in good faith with other groups, and it sets a negative example that we don’t want to encourage,” President of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Benjamin Prunty said.
The Confédération des associations d’étudiants et étudiantes de l’Université Laval (CADEUL) and the FEUQ declined to comment.