Examining the alternatives
An online exclusive
While much of the focus of the referendum to leave the Canadian Federation of Students has naturally been on that organization and its policies, URSU has also been discussing possible alternatives to the CFS should the referendum go through. The two main contenders, as it stands, are the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) or the Saskatchewan Students’ Council (SSC).
Formed in 1995 by a number of schools disaffected with the CFS, CASA as an organization exists as a federal lobby group comprised today of twenty-five students’ unions, students’ associations and societies. Unlike CFS, CASA has no provincial branches of their organization, meaning that all provincial lobbying must be done through a secondary organization. The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, for instance, are both members of CASA and the Caucus of Alberta University Students.
Though most of the major tenets of their policy section of their website haven’t been updated since 2005, it would appear that CASA and CFS share many of the same policy goals – reducing the barriers to post-secondary education, supporting grants and dedicated federal transfers to the provincial level for universities, and increasing access for First Nations students to post-secondary education. The main difference between the two organizations is that while CFS’s policy is to work towards tuition freezes and tuition reduction, this is not an explicit goal of CASA.
In researching various CASA member students’ unions, it is unclear as to how much of a student’s fees goes towards the organization.
As with CFS, there have been a number of disgruntled members of CASA who have had referendums to leave the organization. McGill and the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Unions have both extricated themselves from the organization, and the Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia has been the most recent organization to attempt to leave.
CASA’s mandate is to focus specifically on post-secondary issues and post-secondary education policy. This means that, unlike CFS, there are no campaigns to reduce sexual violence on campus or to eliminate bottled water on campuses, for example. In fact, there are no campaigns directed towards students at all. As Arati Sharma, the former national director of CASA says in an interview with The Manitoban, “Our membership has been very clear that they want CASA’s advocacy and policy priorities to be focused on post-secondary education. We focus on the post-secondary sector.”
The alternate option that URSU has been examining, and the one that seems to currently be the front-runner, is the Saskatchewan Student Coalition. URSU is already a member of this organization, as is the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) and the SIAST Students’ Association Wascana and Kelsey campuses.
Finding information on the SSC, though, appears to be quite difficult. The few mentions of what the SSC is or what they’ve done has to be acquired from places such as the Legislative Asssembly of Saskatchewan’s hansard from March 18, 2010, where the SSC passed out a petition to increase the number of scholarships available to Saskatchewan students; from a Saskatchewan New Democrat Party website where it states that the SSC advocated for a 2% increase in tuition instead of the 5% that was implemented; and from a letter addressed to Premier Brad Wall about eliminating the cap on Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), a federal program designed to assist First Nations and Metis students with post-secondary education payments.
Currently, the website www.saskatchewanstudentcoalition.com redirects to the USSU’s website. There does not appear to be any concrete policy objectives or organizing structure available to the public. According to former Vice-President of External Affairs Katie Honey on the Vote No CFS facebook page, “there are no membership fees” for the SSC, and “the SSC has been successful in lobbying the provincial government”.
Whichever decision URSU makes should the CFS referendum have a “no” outcome, it is clear that students are going to need more information from URSU and from the organizations themselves.