Members of the University of Calgary Students’ Union were in Ottawa last week to give students a voice on post-secondary education issues.
The SU members joined the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a member-driven organization that changes guard annually and lobbies the federal government to bring PSE issues to the forefront of the national agenda. While on Parliament Hill, CASA members had over 150 meetings with members of parliament, senators, head bureaucrats and even the prime minister.
“We’ve got commitments from all levels of government and bureaucracy to tackle [student] issues and make them a priority,” said SU vice-president external Julie Labonte. “It is directly talking to all the people that make the decisions. Every person that we met, we asked them to do something, whether it be support us in question period or write a letter to the prime minister.”
This year CASA is asking the government to renew grant funding for the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is set to expire in 2009. The CMSF provides anywhere from a third to half of the grant funding base for provinces, said Labonte.
Labonte also stressed the importance of a dedicated transfer for education from the federal government to the provinces.
“Right now we have something called the Canadian health and social transfer,” said Labonte. “The problem is there’s no accountability. The money can be distributed in any way the province sees fit. The money’s going off in thousands of different directions so there’s no way to actually track where that money goes. In some cases education has gotten nothing.”
CASA national director Phillippe Ouellette said CASA is the most effective student lobby group in Canada, representing 300,000 students coast to coast and essentially being the voice for students in Canada.
“[Lobbying] affects the entire PSE realm when students march into Ottawa and start to tell them that the system isn’t good enough,” said Ouellette. “It doesn’t just help the students they’re representing, but it affects all students that aren’t able to have a voice. They’re talking for those students just coming out of high school. They’re giving a voice to graduates entering the workforce, $35,000 in debt. Investing in PSE is investing in our future, in our economy. It’s hard to argue that this is a student issue, it’s an issue that affects all Canadians across the board.”