SU pushes for new federal lobby model

By Cheryl Rowland

The landscape of federal student lobby groups might be changing if Students’ Union vice-president external Hardave Birk has his way.

The University of Calgary SU has been a member of two student-lobby groups, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Council of Alberta University Students, for 15 and 20 years respectively. As a member, the SU fights for student rights and lobbies on issues such as tuition hikes, textbook copyrights and student funding.

Membership in CASA is made up of individual universities. In Alberta the student unions of the Universities of Lethbridge, Alberta and Calgary are members of both CASA and CAUS, yet recent discussions point to a possible change.

Birk, CAUS chair, has led part of the discussion here at the U of C to what he sees as a better means of federal representation.

“There’s been an appetite for a federal organization to develop in which instead of having individual students’ unions as the members, you have our provincial counterparts as the members,” said Birk.

The provincial lobby group, CAUS, would become a member of CASA instead of the U of C SU. The results of such a change may not seem too productive at first glance, however Birk stated that students would benefit in a number of ways.

Birk said the change could give student leaders more access to government officials, increase federal advocacy, increase interprovincial research and allow CASA to represent two and a half times the number of students.

Vice-president academic at the U of L Keith McLaughlin also advocated the idea of provincial proposal of a federal group,

“Just having a more coherent membership structure makes our federal lobbying efforts to be more coherent to the decision makers in Ottawa that we are trying to influence,” said McLaughlin.

He also underlined the benefit of representing more students at federal levels.

While Birk said opposition from external sources has not been an issue, discussion between university unions has seen disagreement about how all these ideas will play out. Birk stated concerns about avoiding a staff-led program to keep students involved and in charge of CASA and CAUS.

“[I have some] scepticism of the ability of student leaders to put their egos aside from time to time,” said McLaughlin

Both Birk and McLaughlin are hopeful about the future of the project although a time line is difficult to come by because the idea is still in its early stages.

“If we don’t get something really concrete in the next six to 12 months, you probably won’t see this going forward,” McLaughlin said. “If we keep moving forward, then we could be cautiously optimistic about this happening.”

U of A SU vice-president external Aden Murphy disagreed.

“There’s nothing huge that’s going to happen within the year.”

Murphy sees the unification of other provincial alliances as an obstacle to a seamless, fast collaboration of this project.

“We want to make sure that it’s not just the people in the room or the student leaders elected this year making this decision,” said Murphy. “It has to be something that our successors agree with and commit with.”

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