CSU members lobby federal government for better student support systems

Representatives attend Advocacy Week for the first time as members of CASA

Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Photo: Kim Rudd, MP (middle left) with former CSU Business and Professional Studies Representative Marissa Sire (middle right). Photo c/o Patrick Meehan

This week, Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) Vice President External Noah Berson and Senate Representative Megan Fretz are attending the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA)’s Advocacy Week in Ottawa. Unlike other conferences, Advocacy Week isn’t a collection of workshops, lectures and keynotes, instead it is a week of dialogue between the nation’s student advocates and its most powerful politicians.

Running from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1, the event promises attendees at least four lobby meetings, but aims to let each representative attend five to seven. “The meetings are actually set up so we’re going in with a smaller group of delegates from all different associations and really getting one-on-one time with different political parties,” Fretz explained.

The CSU has sent representatives to Advocacy Week in the past, but this will be the first year their representatives will be attending the event as members of CASA. In the past, CSU attendees weren’t members of the Association and all they could do was observe. This year, however, they will have the ability to vote on issues.

CASA has prepared five requests that they will be addressing throughout the week. They would like to see better support for students with disabilities; a more streamlined process for international students looking to enter co-op programs; fair dealing for students, which will address a current political dialogue taking place in regards to the use of copyright material in academia; a greater emphasis on Open Education Resources and a greater effort to meet Canada’s obligation to indigenous learners. Berson and Fretz believe all of these requests relate to Capilano University and its students. “I really see it as an opportunity to improve students in British Columbia’s access to education,” said Berson. “We’re going to make sure that those who want to be educated are able to come to university.”

Not just in BC but also across Canada, First Nations students and students with disabilities face financial and educational barriers that prevent them from accessing post-secondary education.

Fretz further explained that while she sees these issues affecting other students, she herself has first-hand experience with the barriers students face. “I think that there are challenges for every student,” she said. “I’ve been a part-time student working, I’ve been a full-time student, I’ve been at a couple institutions in the province and the issues that they’re [students] facing are quite universal.”

This is not the first event of this kind that the CSU has attended this year. In October, Berson and four other representatives attended the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS)’s Lobby Days in Victoria. Similar in structure, the event, which ran from Oct. 15 to 18, facilitated meetings between student representatives and Provincial MLAs in which the students were allowed direct dialogue with the province’s policy makers. The CSU focused its efforts on addressing CapU’s lack of housing and according to Berson, they had an impact on some of the politicians. “The response we received from MLA’s in Victoria was absolutely incredible. I felt like I was doing the most rewarding work I’ve done so far,” he said.

Berson and Fretz’s trip to Ottawa will likely cost the CSU $3,475, which they admit is substantial. “It is a significant amount,” said Berson, who doesn’t see it as a simple lump cost. “I really like the word investment. It’s not something that we’re getting to go do, we’re investing this money and going to lobby the government on behalf of students.”

Berson has attended numerous events and conferences on behalf of the CSU this year, all of which he see’s as valuable experiences that allow him to more effectively advocate for CapU students. And while the expense of the trips is fairly unprecedented for a single CSU representative, Berson identified the lowering of interest on student loans he lobbied for as one example of how it’s worth it. “The amount of money students will save from the lowered interest rates is going to be multiple times what we’re spending to go and lobby these groups,” he explained.

Finances aside, this is an exciting event for the CSU, especially as a new member of CASA. “The ideal situation is that we get to go sit down in a meeting, and we have a political member that you would expect to be really setting hardball questions and not necessarily for the things that we’re asking for, and them kind of having a moment where they’re like, ‘wow, that’s a good point,’ or, ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way’,” said Fretz. It’s something that Berson believes could quite possibly happen. They experienced two or three moments like the one Fretz described at Lobby Days in Victoria.

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