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SUS faces decision: CASA, CFS or none of the above?

“If there are two federal lobby activist groups that are very active, yet the student debt envelope continues to increase, what does that say about how effective those organizations will be?” – Daniel van der Kroon

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 3, 2012

Sometimes there are issues facing UFV students that SUS needs help to tackle, which is where student advocacy groups step in.

UFV’s Student Union Society (SUS) is currently an associate member of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). This is still a fairly new development; it was during the spring 2012 semester that the SUS board voted to step down from a full membership.

The job of student advocacy groups is to approach government on a variety of levels on behalf of university students everywhere. CASA is one such group, and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is another.

CASA is a student advocacy group that lobbies the federal government in regards to student-related issues, such as the cost of tuition.

Their website states that between 2008 and 2010, they were one of just 12 organizations who lobbied Stephen Harper more than once. They were the first to lobby for the Scholarship Tax Credit and the Textbook Tax Credit, and since 1999 their lobbying efforts have resulted in more than $13 billion of funding to students.

When UFV’s SUS was a full member, they had voting power in all matters. Now that SUS is an associate member, it still has some influence: SUS can attend meetings, table discussions, provide input from the perspective of a UFV student and more.

This move saved the student union $15,000, but SUS can only spend a year as associate member; after that, SUS has to decide if it’s completely in, or completely out.

Dan van der Kroon, vice president academic for SUS, explained that the move from full member to associate member was based on finances and a lack of progress on the part of CASA, but also that stepping down gave SUS opportunity to focus on things closer to home.

“We have a lot of in-house work to do locally,” van der Kroon explained, “for instance, lobbying municipalities to connect the Chilliwack-Abbotsford transit route. That’s just one example of what we want to focus on as a board … what we feel is important to our students.”

He also mentioned the recent protests in Quebec as a factor, where protesting students caused the incoming government to promise to halt tuition fee increases.

“They’ve shown what can be achieved on the provincial level … perhaps CASA could take an approach that is a little bit more ambitions in calling for changes to policy at the federal level,” van der Kroon speculated. “My perspective has always been that if there are two federal lobby activist groups that are very active, yet the student debt envelope continues to increase, what does that say about how effective those organizations will be?”

The second federal activist group van der Kroon mentioned was CFS – the Canadian Federation of Students.

While they can’t boast the savings for students that CASA does, CFS spearheads initiatives like awareness of the Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan being considered by the government, and the “No Means No” date rape awareness campaign.

Van der Kroon said that rather than choose one group over the other, SUS would ideally be a member of each.

“Both have things to offer and both have various strengths and weaknesses. Frankly, right now my perspective is that there’s more work we can do at the local level to increase our influence as an organization – more so than at the federal level.”

SUS president Carlos Vidal and van der Kroon recently had a chance to attend the CASA Policy and Strategy conference in Sackwell, New Brunswick. In general, van der Kroon felt that some of the issues they presented as UFV students were heard, but some were not.

One issue Vidal and van der Kroon advocated for was the initiative that CASA is currently trying to remove regarding vehicle ownership. Currently, if a student owns a vehicle worth $5000 or more, they may be found ineligible for a student loan.

“This creates an unfair playing field for students that live in places where essentially you need a reliable vehicle to conduct your life and meet your obligations,” van der Kroon said.

SUS is able to remain an associate member of CASA until April 2014, at which point they must choose to become a full member once again or leave the organization. At this time, van der Kroon feels that there is no reason to change our status – and that the funds SUS is spending on CASA membership fees might be better spent elsewhere.

“I do value having the voice at the federal lobbying stage,” van der Kroon said. “If some budget room opened up—and that’s always a possibility—then I’d be [open to being a full member again].”

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