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CASA foundations conference provides ideas for new Student Union executives

CASA is an organization for student unions across the country, generally known for its lobbying attempts directed at the federal government and the resources it provides student representatives. This year, speakers presented on student mental health, debt and loans, and quality of education.

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By Megan Lambert (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 3, 2015

Photo-Courtesy-CASA_ACAE-Instagram

SUS is one of the 21 student unions and associations that comprise CASA.

From May 19 to 22, Student Union Society (SUS) VP external Sukhi Brar, VP internal Ricky Coppola, and president Thomas Davies headed to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) Foundations conference in Ottawa, before Coppola and Davies attended a second conference with StudentCare in Montreal.

CASA is an organization for student unions across the country, generally known for its lobbying attempts directed at the federal government and the resources it provides student representatives. CASA holds four conferences per year, beginning with the Foundations conference in April — shortly after the beginning of the fiscal year, when new student executives are elected into their respective governments. The Foundations conference is to educate students on policy-making and lobbying efforts, and to recap the previous year.

This year, speakers presented on student mental health, debt and loans, and quality of education. A self-proclaimed “data geek,” president Thomas Davies said one seminar stood out to him in particular.

“I enjoyed the presentation by Abacus Data on recent polling information in a fiscal landscape,” he says.

With student unions from other Canadian universities brought to one place, executives have the opportunity to throw around new ideas and discuss issues pertaining to their campuses. Students participate in group work and have opportunities for social events in the evenings.

“In the downtime, you can talk about it because everyone’s engaged. Everyone wants to discuss that kind of stuff. It’s great,” Coppola says.

Davies agreed, noting that it’s interesting to compare SUS at UFV to other institutions because of the board reform that took effect in 2014.

“We have three executives, whereas I think other student unions have at least four,” he says. “We’ve kind of twisted the model to have officer positions … That is very critical of organizations, but it’s different in every student union across the country.”

At last week’s Board of Directors meeting, VP external Sukhi Brar presented a report about CASA, noting that a highlight for her was the presentation on mental health by Louise Bradley, CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“Mental health is a big advocacy topic in CASA right now,” she said. “People recognize how harmful physical trauma is and it’s important to learn how to deal with that. But when people are depressed or have some sort of mental trauma, in … our society it’s not ranked as a priority but can affect people profoundly.”

After the Foundations conference, Davies and Coppola flew to Montreal for the StudentCare stakeholders’ conference. StudentCare is the health and dental insurance provider for UFV students.

According to Davies, there will be no big surprises like last year’s substantial increase in health and dental fees — which jumped from $159.92 to $215.59. Instead, Davies says that StudentCare is working on its mental health focus and customer service.

“They’ll be rolling out additional services on the website regarding mental health,” he says. “They’re running a new office, as well. They’ve got an expanded call centre, to help with particularly the busy September period … Opt-ins, opt-outs, all that kind of fun stuff.”

Davies went on to say that StudentCare covers the cost of flights, accommodations, and meals for student unions who partner with them.

For the future, Davies says CASA is focusing on their Get Out and Vote campaign, as federal elections are approaching in the fall. Brar also mentioned this at the board meeting, noting that this campaign will be SUS’s main focus, too.

“We got a lot of information throughout the week on the Get Out the Vote campaigns that are happening on other campuses,” she said, noting that the University of Alberta had a particularly successful campaign.

While SUS brainstorms ideas on how to make these ideas come to life, the next CASA conference will be the Poly-Strat gathering to discuss more tangible ways to advocate to MPs, held in July.

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