By Mary Chan
Instead of ending the year with a bang, they barely got a whimper from the provincial government.
About 60 University of Calgary students bussed their way up to the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Thurs., April 6 to protest the high cost of tuition. However, plagued by complaints of disorganization and bad timing, protesters were unsuccessful in their efforts to meet with Learning Minister Lyle Oberg.
The students arrived in two buses at the legislature building at 2:15 p.m. in the afternoon. After attending the last five minutes of question period and a quick photo with two MLAs, students set up signs and a debt prison outside on the legislature steps. "We’ve got to freeze tuition" rang across the steps as the students began protesting at about 3 p.m.
"I’m coming to school next year and I’m concerned about the tuition increases, and I’m a firm believer in active education, so I was here just to give my support," said Jason Cormack.
No Conservative MLA’s, including Oberg, came out to speak to the students, though Liberal MLA’s Gary Dickson, Education Critic Don Massey and Bill Bonner did stop and speak with students. NDP MLA Raj Pannu, whose constituency includes the University of Alberta, also addressed students.
"Protests are very important," said Pannu. "It is a citizen’s right to express themselves. It is a matter of free speech, it is a matter of being able to have direct connection with your rulers. You’re the bosses of the government in power."
The protesters attempted to go inside the legislature building, but the doors were locked. A small group of students broke off and tried to find a side entrance. Two were successful.
"We just went in wanting to know why we couldn’t be in the building, and why we couldn’t speak with Lyle Oberg," said second-year Women’s Studies student Stephanie Garrett. "I attempted to get a meeting with Lyle Oberg, and they said that we had to write letters in order to do that. We all know that we’ve done that, we’ve written as many letters as we can, and there’s definitely no way we’re going to get into the legislature to talk to Oberg. It’s futile."
Many students were disappointed with the afternoon.
"I think today really didn’t go very well, and I think there are a lot of reasons for that," said second-year Humanities student Adrienne Mook. "I think that we could have done with a whole lot more Students’ Union support the whole year, and it did come near the end, but maybe not to the extent that I hoped it would. It was pretty unorganized, and we came late. Also, we were shut out of here pretty easily."
SU Vice-president External Nassr Awada downplayed the complaints and attributed them to frustration with not meeting with Oberg.
"Organization is a two-way street. You can be as organized as you want, but [it does not matter] as long as the other person doesn’t want to talk to you," he said. "Those people’s frustrations weren’t with the organization, it was more in the fact that they couldn’t get access."
According to Alberta Learning spokesperson Ed Greenberg, the minister’s office did not receive any requests for a meeting.
"The minister’s office never received a call requesting a meeting," he said. "Unfortunately, being in the house, he had a commitment in the legislative assembly that afternoon, like most afternoons."
Awada says the province was informed of the trip, and that he had spoken to Oberg’s executive assistant and communications officers in the Premier’s office and the Ministry of Learning.
"The minister knew we were coming," he said. "They have all of our flyers, they have everything. They knew we were coming today."