Controversial CASA conference

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It is with caution that five Student's Union delegates term a national lobby conference hosted by the Canadian Alliance of Students' Associations in Ottawa a "success."

The purpose of the conference, attended by SU President Barb Wright, Vice-President External Oliver Bladek, VP Academic Nic Porco and External Commissioners David Rassin and Erin Welk, was to bring issues facing Canadian post-secondary students to the federal government's attention.

"It was one of the best [CASA] lobby conferences ever," said Bladek, also a CASA regional director. "We had over 70 meetings with people like Jane Stewart, Minister of Human Resources Development Canada, the minister who oversees Canada Student Loans, Alan Rock and Joe Clark."

Wright echoed Bladek's sentiments pointing to the unveiling of a banner on Parliament Hill covered with the thumbprints of 50,000 students across Canada.

"[CASA] got more media attention in one day than throughout the rest of the year combined," said Wright. "I also feel that the MPs and staff that we met were highly receptive to our ideas."

Both Bladek and Wright participated in "semi-private" meetings with various members of parliament, as well as group sessions and other CASA events. Porco, Rassin and Welk were scheduled to attend group meetings and functions such as a wine and cheese meet-and-greet and the banner presentation. However, according to the rest of the delegates, those expectations were not met by Porco and Rassin.

"My main issue is with the two delegates [Porco and Rassin] not participating in the conference and having a good time at students' expense," said Welk. "We still managed to do effective lobbying without those two, but in terms of our reputation as the University of Calgary SU, it did hurt our reputation."

Wright and Bladek were also disappointed with Porco's and Rassin's performances. According to Welk's and Bladek's official post-conference reports, Rassin attended none of nine possible group sessions and Porco attended between two and three, with two excusable absences. Neither attended the banner presentation, nor did they attend all of the national director selection sessions or plenary.

Porco denied acting improperly.

"I think the expectation was that I would be treated as any other executive member [of the SU] going to this conference was treated," said Porco. "It was made very clear to me that I was not to be involved. I think my performance at the CASA conference--for what I was given to perform on--I did very well."

Bladek said all delegates, including Porco and Rassin, were given clear expectations that they were to attend those sessions.

"I think that the extreme cost of travelling for nine days would preclude you from attending only a light conference schedule," said Bladek, who put the cost per delegate at approximately $1,500–$2,000.

Rassin defended his conduct during the Tue., March 26 meeting of the Students' Legislative Council.

"I believe that for 10 days, I worked as hard as I could," said Rassin. "The ones I missed I was either banned from or on Parliament Hill."

Welk's conference report denies that Rassin was banned from any of the meetings and the other delegates maintained that Rassin did not attend any group sessions.

"Their accounts are inaccurate and possibly slanted to serve their own agendas." said Rassin, who was then asked what he did when he was not at the meetings.

"I'm going to hide behind my own unaccountaibility," he said.