UVSS chairperson says CFS debt claim may be a tactic to deny UVic students a referendum on CFS membershipSept. 9, 2010
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and its B.C. component, CFS-BC, allege that the UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) owes them an unknown amount in unpaid membership fees from the late 90’s.
UVSS Chairperson James Coccola first heard of the alleged debt in May at the CFS National Annual General Meeting (AGM).
“One of the staff people from Camosun informed me that the UVSS was a year behind in paying its membership fees,” said Coccola.
The alleged debt was brought up at a previous meeting of the CFS-BC executive committee, but the UVSS had no representative there at the time because the board was changing over.
“When I first found out … at CFS national, that we owed money to CFS-BC, I talked to Michael Olsen, the B.C. exec rep, and he told me he’d sit down and talk with me,” said Coccola.
“I called him, I emailed him, and it wasn’t until the exec meeting a few weeks ago that I actually managed to get a hold of him, and got him to explain it to me.”
Coccola said the CFS and CFS-BC are claiming the UVSS owes them a debt that is over a decade old.
“What happened was, sometime in the 90s ... we were only paying $3.75 per student when it should have been $6. That’s because the CFS at an AGM raised their fees to $6 plus inflation,” said Coccola.
The UVSS tried twice to increase its CFS fee through referendum, but failed. Eventually, the UVSS managed to pass a referendum increasing the CFS fee.
Coccola says the reason it took so long is that the UVSS was trying to input the increase “in good faith” with their members.
At the CFS-BC AGM in August, UVSS delegates voted against the CFS-BC budget, which said that the UVSS had paid no membership fees for the current fiscal year.
“They say that we have not paid any membership fees even though, to CFS-BC last year, we paid $120,000, so they are saying we did not pay the $120,000 last year and that was going towards debts over a decade old,” said Coccola. “It was a form of protest because we were the only ones that voted against it. Obviously we didn’t think it was going to fail the budget.”
While the CFS claims that the UVSS owes money in unpaid membership fees, there is further confusion as to how much the UVSS allegedly owes.
Coccola said that Olsen told him that CFS-BC needed more information before the exact debt could be calculated, but at the CFS-BC AGM, Coccola was given a different story.
“[CFS-BC staffer Phillip Link] informed me then that they did have a number down to a penny of how much we owed and it amounted to about one year’s membership fees plus one month,” said Coccola.
The UVSS’s membership fees to CFS and CFS-BC for one year are roughly $240,000.
Even after Coccola had been given an estimate, when he asked for a precise amount at CFS-BC closing plenary, Coccola was told once again that he needed to provide CFS-BC with more information before an exact dollar figure could be given.
Coccola was also told by CFS-BC executive members that the UVSS underpaid fees for two years, while Link said the period was four years.
“There’s an internal communication problem within CFS-BC of whether it’s two years or four years or whether they do know the fee or don’t know the fee. Nobody seems to be able to give me a straight answer on that,” said Coccola.
Coccola doesn’t believe the debt claims are valid.
“It is my opinion that we are not in debt with the CFS,” he said.
“It’s my understanding of the law as it stands that the B.C. Limitations Act says we do not owe these fees because it is past their time to even try to collect them. I haven’t heard any other arguments for it, why the statute of limitations wouldn’t apply.”
Applying membership fees to outstanding debt isn’t valid either, says Coccola. The CFS has said that each year, the fees submitted by UVSS members have applied to the year before, due to the initial debt.
“Each year we gave money for that year,” he said. “We don’t raise money and pay off other fees; we raise money for students for that year. That’s how all fees work.”
This is the first time in recent years that the CFS-BC budget has shown the UVSS’s fees not applying to the current year.
Coccola noted that the discovery of the debt could be seen as being convenient for the CFS because the UVSS is currently pursuing a referendum on its membership in the organization.
“Under the CFS bylaws you may not hold a referendum if you hold outstanding debts to the CFS,” said Coccola.
“It’s interesting timing that we are trying to pursue a referendum and all of a sudden we owe $240,000 that – as far as anyone can tell me – they’re unaware of,” he said.
Coccola has spoken to past UVSS directors about the issue, and none of them said they were aware of theoutstanding debt.
“One could conclude that this is being used as a tactic to prevent the CFS from giving us a referendum,” said Coccola.
The CFS made a similar allegation of unpaid fees against the Concordia Student Union (CSU) after the CSU sought a referendum on CFS membership. Despite the CFS’s claim, the CSU went ahead with its referendum in March and Concordia students voted 2,312 to 855 to leave the CFS.
CFS-BC National Executive Representative Michael Olson said CFS-BC would like to discuss the situation with the UVSS before commenting.