Students lobby Parliament

By Mary Chan

Was CASA in the house? Yes–the House of Commons, that is.

Thirty-two members of national lobby group the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, including members of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, ascended Parliament Hill last week to officially launch their Education Builds a Nation campaign.

"It was three days and pretty hard core," said CASA National Director Jason Aebig. "For three days we met with about 100 Members of Parliament."

Delegates met with Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin and discussed increasing the amount of money the federal government transfers to provinces in the Canadian Health and Social Transfers. The issue that arose was accountability.

"Under the CHST, the province has various areas to which they can allocate," said Canadian Finance Official David Brodie. "We would be looking for provincial governments to earmark some of the funds for post-secondary education before an increase took place."

CASA planned to meet with Human Resources and Development Canada Minister Jane Stewart, who oversees student loans, but it didn’t happen.

"She canceled on us, which was very maddening and disappointing," said Aebig. "Two days before the conference started, the response was no, citing no particular reason. It speaks volumes about the kind of commitment HRDC will make to students this time around."

HRDC disagreed.

"My understanding is that the invitation had two dates that were feasible and neither one fit the minister’s schedule," said HRDC spokesperson Brigitte Nolet. "However, the minister’s office did e-mail back offering to meet with the group, but we never heard back."

Nolet added that the minister’s absence did not mean she did not want to meet with CASA.

"It was just that the two options given did not fit into the minister’s schedule," she stressed.

Delegates also met with the director of the Millennium Foundation Norman Riddell, Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray and representatives from the two banks that administer student loans, the CIBC and the Royal Bank.

"We got a lot of information about designation and default on student loans," said Aebig. "It was very intriguing because banks don’t usually meet with groups like students. It was really interesting to see where they were at in terms of their thinking."

Students’ Union External Commissioner Duncan Wojtaszek participated in the campaign, along with SU President Rob South and SU Vice-president External Nassr Awada.

"It was a unique experience for certain," said Wojtaszek. "It’s a different atmosphere than our SU is used to because it takes a long time to arrange a meeting with government."

CASA delegates also built a wall on Parliament Hill to call attention to their campaign and displayed wallpaper signed by Canadian university students supporting the campaign.

"The petition wall went really well," said Wojtaszek, adding that 2,000 U of C students signed the wallpaper. "Every MP who went to the reception was quite impressed."

Aebig hopes the campaign will become an annual event. Wojtaszek agreed.

"Being there every year really increases our profile and our usefulness to government, which helps in creating policy," he said.

The various MP’s and ministers were also pleased to meet with CASA.

"They provide us with a good overview of what’s going on at campuses out there," said Brodie. "It’s certainly a very effective means of getting the message across."

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