Graduate Students' Association leaders are feeling unrepresented by Canada's largest student federal lobby group.
The GSA hopes to get enough students to sign a petition to end their membership in the Canadian Federation of Students. GSA President Rithesh Ram said there were many reasons for the petition, the main one being a lack of focus on issues the GSA finds important.
"We've tried to get them to make some changes to their policy and focuses, but none of that has been taken into account," he said, adding that past meeting discussion items included the Kyoto Protocol. "It's not a student issue. It affects us, but as a third party. We have to deal with tuition, our housing crisis. We have to deal with the fact that there's a boom in the number of students that want to go into post-secondary, but there's not enough space."
CFS represents over 500,000 post-secondary students across Canada. They lobby student concerns to the federal government and provide student associations with services like Travel Cuts and cheaply printed daytimers.
"With the National Graduate Caucus, we represent over 60,000 grad students from coast to coast," said CFS graduate students representative Melanee Thomas. "Some of our primary lobbying efforts have been through copyright, with some of the proposed changes to the copyright legislation. We've been working with NGC and broader CFS to try and represent to the government the students unique position of both users and producers of copyright."
Copyright is a national issue, unlike housing shortages which are particularly apparent in Calgary. Thomas explained that when student associations want to focus on local issues, provincial components of CFS can help by providing materials.
Each year, graduate students pay $6.56 to be part of CFS. Each school receives one vote on issues discussed during general meetings, no matter how many students are represented.
"Our members feel, as well as the executive this year and last year, that for the amount of money that we're putting into CFS-- we're giving $40,000 per year-- the benefits have not weighed equally to the amount that we've provided," argued Ram. "The way we've looked at it is, federally, if CFS is our lobby group, individually we could do a better job."
The GSA needs 10 per cent of students to sign this petition to have a referendum question presented. Only five per cent of members need to sign a similar petition in order to join.
Once the petition is sent to CFS, a committee is struck with two members from each organization. The committee determines how the referendum question will be presented in congruence with the bylaws of both groups. This process can take months. After the petition, the GSA will have between six months and one year to hold the referendum.
"It's always great to know that you're not standing alone on a particular issue and that makes whoever you're talking to notice when they know that you're in contact with students from across the country," said Thomas. "Since the Conservatives came to power, they asked that we submit only on a particular theme. This year, what we talked about was funding for graduate students that comes from the federal government through a council. For a lot of students, that is their bread and butter."
She said they were successful in increasing the amount of funding for graduate students in Humanities and Social Sciences after the last federal budget was released.
University of Calgary first-year political science masters student Kelly Cust did not feel a need for the federal lobby group.
"I know of the Canadian Federation of Students, but I'm not too sure of what they do," he said.
Cust received funding to attend the U of C and is not concerned with scholarships, the housing crunch or copyright reform.
Ram has not heard any response from CFS as of yet, but said the organization is carefully following all bylaws to avoid any issues.
"For CFS, they see themselves as a national organization and if we leave, then potentially they don't have a voice in Alberta," he said. "Because of this, we think they are going to push strongly to keep us here."