Lobbying efforts by advocacy groups and student associations have improved recognition of students’ struggles.
On November 8, student politicians and members of the Council of Alberta University Students met with ministers and leaders of provincial parties in Edmonton to talk about educational problems. Amendments will be put forward to the Alberta Legislature to reform policies surrounding student voting on Nov. 19.
University of Calgary Students’ Union vice-president external and CAUS chair Raphael Jacob, who is behind many of the talks and lobbying efforts in Alberta, said major issues for students include loans, accessibility, fees and barriers to education and voting.
“Lobbying is something that is generally more behind-the-scenes work,” said Jacob. “It’s like a giant ship — you have to make those incremental changes to move in the right direction.”
Members of CAUS met with political leaders, including Alberta Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, to speak about these issues.
CAUS is composed of student politicians from the U of C, the University of Lethbridge and the University of Alberta. CAUS’s priorities this year are regulating non-instructional fees, making voting easier for students in Alberta, restoring the provincial tuition cap, eliminating property taxes on residences and increasing participation among rural and aboriginal Albertans in education.
Jacob said the biggest improvement this year has been adjusting the rules that prevent students from voting. Alberta is the only province where students have to return to their permanent residence to vote, leaving many students who live in post-secondary residences from getting to the polls.
CAUS members spoke with Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Stephen Khan about what CAUS calls Alberta’s “archaic” voting laws.
“If you ask what this meeting explicitly accomplished, it might be hard to say x, y or z. The biggest thing that came out of the meeting was we started to break down the Elections Act and the changes to make student voting easier in the province,” said Jacob.
The changes will likely make it possible for students to designate where they can vote
“We’re optimistic, but we’re going to wait to see exactly what form those changes will take before we declare a full win or not,” he said.
Jacob said many politicians are sympathetic with student issues.
“[The meeting] was better than expected. A lot of people came out and were generally interested to hear and learn about student issues,” said Jacob. “With things like tuition and fees, they were right there with us.”
On a federal level, members of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, including Jacob, SU president Hardave Birk and U of C government relations advisor Andrew McIntyre, will be meeting in Ottawa from December 19–23 with members of parliament to speak about loans and post-secondary accessibility. Jacob hopes the federal government can also recognize issues in Canada’s post-secondary system.