By Rob South
Canada’s brains are being held hostage, both figuratively and literally, according to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Citing high tuition, massive student debt and crumbling infrastructure as the causes of a system that traps the nation’s young minds, CASA is touring a "hostage brain" across Canada to illustrate their point.
On Wednesday, the brain paid a visit to the University of Calgary.
"It’s mind-boggling that such a thing could happen in Canada," stated CASA National Director Mark Kissel. "In a country where the minds of our young people should be free to lead us forward into the future, instead these minds are being held hostage by a lack of funding from the federal government."
A ceremony for the hostage brain was held in MacEwan Student Centre as part of an effort by the U of C Students’ Union to raise awareness of CASA’s three objectives for the year: restoring education funding, rebuilding schools’ infrastructures and relieving student debt.
SU Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek sees the awareness campaign as an accountability mechanism to students.
"I want students to know that we are spending their money to try and achieve these aims, and that we are trying to achieve these aims through CASA," said Wojtaszek. "CASA has made much more of an attempt to try to be accountable to individual students in recent years."
The U of C SU spends $25,500 each year to maintain its membership in CASA; there are currently 19 member schools in CASA representing over 300,000 students.
"The funds that fuel Alberta’s post-secondary education system come from the Canada Health and Social Transfer," said Wojtaszek about the rationale for the SU’s membership in CASA. "In addition the federal government has shown in the past that it can demonstrate leadership through things such as the Millennium Scholarship."
There were several events surrounding the hostage brain such as brain sculpting using play dough, which was a variant from the Lego building contest from last year’s "Education Builds a Nation" campaign.
"The message is the same as last year," said SU External Commissioner Jane Alkhouri. "It’s just the campaign is shaped differently."
One of Wojtaszek’s primary concerns with this year’s campaign is ensuring the recently announced increases in CHST funding go to more than just health care.
"[Provinces should] honour the fact that this is money meant for social programs, education and health care, not just health care," said Wojtaszek. "The federal government can show leadership in encouraging the provinces to spend this money responsibly."
According to Wojtaszek, the campaign’s chances for success are high, particularly at raising awareness among students. As for the campaign’s stated aims, Wojtaszek believes a lot will depend on if a federal election is called or not.
"The federal government has proven in the past that it listens to CASA; when CASA presents realistic plans for PSE, the government strives to implement them," said Wojtaszek.
If a federal election is called for this fall, it will ruin CASA’s plans to meet with MPs on Parliament Hill from Oct. 30 to Nov. 4. If an election is not called the SU will send President Toby White, Wojtaszek, Alkhouri and External Commissioner Oliver Bladek to lobby MPs. If an election is called, CASA will hold a smaller conference focusing on an internal review of their organization.