By Daniel Krut
In a highly political campaign, students at the University of British Columbia have voted to end their affiliation with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
CASA, similar to the Canadian Federation of Students, is a national student organization that lobbies the Federal Government on behalf of students. CASA is a member-driven organization, of which the University of Calgary is part, that represents over 275,000 students.
The Alma Mater Society, the student society of the UBC, joined CASA, which doesn’t require a member referendum to join, in the summer of 1998.
"Personally, I did not support membership in CASA," said AMS President Vivian Hoffmann.
"I abstained from the motion to join CASA because I thought we should have a referendum to decide the issue."
AMS External Affairs representative Ryan Marshall was the person who brought the CASA membership to council chambers.
"To join CASA, all we needed was a 2/3 vote in council and a referendum was considered too costly," said Marshall. "However, we should have done a more student-oriented approach to the idea of CASA membership."
In December 1998 a group of students began a petition to have a referendum on the membership. The petition was successful and the referendum was held in January 1999.
"Execs from other student societies such as University of Victoria, U of C, and University of Alberta were actively campaigning on the UBC campus in support of CASA-it’s a free-for-all with the current referenda policies," said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann and Marshall both agree that election bylaws must be reformed in view of the events.
"During the election, we were tearing down each other’s posters," said Marshall. "When we asked students about the referendum they said it was too political, and they didn’t really understand the issues."
Students’ Union Vice-president External and Northwest Regional Director for CASA, Nassr Awada was also at the UBC campus during the election in support of CASA membership.
"While walking around the UBC campus, I saw this guy tearing down ‘Yes to CASA’ posters and five minutes later he’s shaking my hand and saying good luck on the referendum," said Awada. "The voting system at UBC is strange and needs to be fixed."
To have CASA removed, the AMS requires 10 per cent of the UBC student population to vote for removal. The results of the referendum were 1,871 opposed and 1,049 in favour of membership in CASA. With 30,000 full-time UBC students on campus there must at least 3,000 who vote to remove CASA.
"Technically the UBC is still a member with CASA, so the AMS must decide whether to listen to students’ wishes or follow the referendum policies, " said Awada.