The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations provided an opportunity for post-secondary students to meet with federal policy and decision makers in Ottawa last week.
The Mount Allison Students’ Union funded the trip for MASU President Heather Webster and Vice-President, External Affairs Annie Sherry to represent Mount Allison students, a trip which cost students about $1,910.
“Arguably the most important role that a student union plays is representing students and advocating for students,” Webster said. “Not doing advocacy at the federal level would be a serious disservice to students.”
“The things that are taken to these government officials are really able to be acted upon,” said Sherry, highlighting the importance of advocacy week and these memberships.
Throughout the week, university students from across Canada met with members of Parliament, senators, stakeholder organizations, and party leaders to discuss the seven priorities CASA is currently lobbying for. These priorities include various monetary and mental health issues.
Mental health has been frequently discussed in student elections in the past three years at Mt. A.
“This is something that Heather [Webster] and I had both campaigned on,” Sherry said. “We wanted to talk about it on a provincial and federal level.”
Sherry identified lobbying to renew the contract of the Mental Health Commission of Canada as a priority for advocacy week. The current ten-year contract will expire in 2017. The MHCC makes recommendations to government on how to best improve mental health care.
Sherry expanded on MHCC campaigns that aim to de-stigmatize mental health.
“It’s just as crippling,” said Sherry in comparing the experience of a mental illness with that of a physical one. “People don’t hold those up to the same standards.”
One financial priority for the week was lobbying for income exemption limits. Students who pay tuition with need-based financial aid and earn in excess of $100 per week lose the ‘extra’ earnings from their loans Canadian student loans policy.
“It’s punishing students for working to pay to get through school,” Sherry said. During Advocacy Week, CASA representatives recommended to the federal government that the Canada student loans program’s in-study income assessment be eliminated.
Asked about which results should be expected from advocacy week, Webster said, “Ideally we would see some of our asks come to fruition.” Some of these advocacy requests came during Webster’s meeting with Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau. “We’d really like to see post-secondary issues talked about in the upcoming federal election.”
CASA is one of two advocacy organizations that Mount Allison students belong to. This year, students paid $7,200 for their CASA membership and $9,953 to the New Brunswick Student Alliance.