U of C not out of CASA

Originally posted: 2003-03-12

The U of C will remain in CASA for at least another year. On Tue., Mar. 10, the Students’ Legislative Council defeated by 6-8 a resolution to discontinue its membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

In response to the Students’ Union decision, CASA Government Relations Coordinator Rob South said he was pleased with the outcome.

“The decision showed that the U of C values lobbying the federal government and that they think CASA is the right way to do that,” said South. “We want the U of C SU to play an important role in shaping CASA.”

A March 15 deadline to withdraw from CASA for the next year, of which SU executives were unaware until Tuesday, prompted Vice-President External-elect Lauren Batiuk to bring the emergent resolution to council.

“Is the $26,000 plus travel we spend every year on CASA really worth it?” asked Batiuk. “Maybe this year we should step back and let them work out all their problems.”

In March 1996, shortly after the formation of CASA with U of C participation, the U of C withdrew from the organization, citing disagreements on lobbying policies and principles, organizational structure, performance and cost. Batiuk stated that the same reasons remain valid today, and added that lobbying efforts should be more focused.

“We have to look at the council this year, at how we’re spread too think in lobbying the provincial and federal governments,” she said.

The U of C SU is also a member of the Council of Alberta University Students-an organization responsible for lobbying the provincial government which is constitutionally responsible for education.

Representation at both levels is necessary, according to SU President Matt Stambaugh, but participation in the federal organization is important now.

“Next year is such a critical year in federal politics,” he said. “Provincially, nothing is going to happen where federally, we’re picking the person who is going to be prime minister for the next two to six years. If we’re not a part of CASA, we’ll lose six years of opportunity to make changes across the country.”

Academic Commissioner Gavin Preston questioned the SU’s continued involvement in CASA, citing its ineffectiveness as a lobbying organization.

“Do you believe as students we can lobby government at meetings? We can’t even lobby [U of C Vice-President Academic] Dr. [Ronald] Bond,” he said.

Supporters of continuing membership in CASA cited a dozen items in this year’s federal budget that they claimed were the result of CASA’s lobbying efforts, and CASA’s unmatched access to government officials. Preston protested that such claims are made annually by CASA officials when membership in the organization is questioned.

“It’s remarkable how every year, someone stands up saying how good CASA is, how it’s going to change,” said Preston. “We see other pulling out of CASA and every year, we say we’re going to give CASA another year, and every year, nothing happens.”

Stambaugh agreed that CASA is imperfect, but supported the SU’s continued membership in hopes of improving it.

“Obviously, CASA has room for improvement,” said Stambaugh after the vote. “But it is important to recognize that the federal government has an important role to play in post-secondary education and CASA does lobby effectively.”

The SU considered but rejected withdrawing from CASA last year. According to South, if the U of C pulls out of CASA, staff reductions at their Ottawa headquarters would be needed, and the effectiveness of their lobbying would have suffered..

Earlier this academic year, Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan College and the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union both left CASA.

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