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the Gauntlet

SU can't afford to drop CASA

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This isn't the first time the University of Calgary Students' Union has discussed shutting themselves out of the federal political arena. And you can bet it won't be the last.

Our SU, at least for now, is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. For their part, they pay upwards of $29,000 in membership dues, send elected officials to CASA events (at their own expense), and incur various other taxes on their budget and resources. In return, they are given a voice in the federal political arena, unmatched access to federal politicians and a real chance to influence decision-makers in Ottawa.

While education is primarily under provincial jurisdiction, there are many reasons to have this sort of contact with federal MPs and bureaucrats, not the least of which is student financing. The federal government holds the purse strings on countless dollars in student loans and scholarships, and a substantial portion of provincial funding comes from federal transfer payments. The more importance politicians place on post-secondary education, the more likely they are to open their wallets. This will become even more important as Canada's new Prime Minster Paul Martin shifts federal focus to health spending and budget slashing.

It may well be the lobbying by student politicians that keeps federal dollars flowing into students' pockets, and it would do the SU some good to be part of that.

Some members of the SU suggest we don't need CASA, that we could do it on our own. This is a tall order to place on our already busy executive, not to mention a virtually impossible dream.

The primary problem of distance is almost too obvious to waste ink pointing out. We sit three provinces west of where the core lobbying takes place. Phone calls can only accomplish so much, and sending members of the SU gallivanting around Ottawa on a frequent basis leaves little in the way of financial savings. That is, if they can even get access.

CASA remains the student group most consulted by federal officials, with far more access than even the other national lobby group the Canadian Federation of Students (the U of C Graduate Students' Association is a member). On our own, representing only 25,000 students, it's wishful thinking that we be could taken seriously at all (even if we hired our own professional lobbyist, which is another ridiculous and impractical suggestion made by members of the SU).

Herein lies perhaps the most peculiar of all arguments: pull out, save the money and let CASA do what they do. After all, when CASA affects policy, we reap the rewards regardless of our membership. Canadian students, as a demographic, would still have an important voice in Ottawa even without U of C's participation.

Not only does this argument try to absolve the SU of any responsibility as student politicians, but it aims to remove U of C's voice entirely. Without involvement, we have no say. As a group whose purpose is to represent students and advocate for us, this is an option students cannot afford.

To be fair, CASA has problems. It has long suffered from internal conflict and structural difficulties, not dissimilar from our own SU, and some schools--the U of C included--feel their voices aren't being heard when it comes to shaping policy. Fortunately, these problems can be fixed, and the SU can take an active role in promoting change instead of complaining from the sidelines.

There aren't any other viable options, either. Vice-President External Lauren Batiuk called the CFS "anarchists," which, while bordering on libel, is nearly a fair evaluation. If the SU left CASA, the only other option would be inaction.

Clubs Committee Chair Shawna Little suggested in a meeting of the Students' Legislative Council that the money instead be used to fund more "creative approaches," like busing scores of students to Edmonton or blocking major highways. Similar suggestions followed, but this type of single-minded approach to changing policy (forgetting the importance of effective, professional lobbying) is exactly why the SU needs an organized lobby group like CASA on their side.

At $29,000, membership in CASA is still a substantial investment, but one that comes with responsibility. Quitting would send the wrong message to students about the SU commitment to federal lobbying, and the wrong message to federal politicians about our commitment to fostering change.

As a political body, the SU can't afford to pull out of CASA.

With a budget of over $10 million and growing, they can certainly afford to stay in.

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Comments

Some people advocate not for the immediate solution of hiring an independant lobbist. In fact, I think that was just an idea that certainly has not been developed. Of course, Keller wouldn't understand such, he's still looking in the short term. Small suggestions are hence large plans.

I'll refer all to the SU forums, where this is being debated in a much more extensive and comprehensive manner than what is demonstrated here.

http://www.su.ucalgary.ca/thoughtswap/

Oh, and James, leave the budgetary evaluations to people that actually know the financial status of the SU. Just because the Gauntlet spends money recklessly, the SU doesn't wish to follow such a lead.

"Oh, and James, leave the budgetary evaluations to people that actually know the financial status of the SU."

Yes james - it is not for students to question the SU's finances. Only it's VP Op-Fi can do that.

I certainly did not say that I was superior in any manner.

I was merely implying that HE had no clue what he was talking about with the last sentence.

Gavin,

First, rash statements about the Gauntlet's finances without examples seems a bit petty. Besides, I personally have not been in any position to determine spending at the Gauntlet for some time. That, and the fact that such a statement has no relevance to the article, makes your comment seem either ignorant, or childish. Or both.

Regardless, I wasn't making any grand claims about the SU's finances. I was simply stating that the SU can afford to stay in. They've budgetted for this in the past, and last I heard the SU's finances aren't in dire straits. If they are, then please enlighten us. If not, then the $29,000 cost is one that can be justified.

But perhaps that doesn't even matter. You yourself have said at least on the SU forums that this isn't a money issue, so your fixation on this issue seems a bit peculiar. Which is it? Is this a money issue or isn't it?

The fact remains that the federal government affects post secondary education in vey substantial ways. Ignoring the federal government would be a mistake. Withdrawing from CASA now (as some have indeed suggested including yourself -- I found your comments on the SU forums downplaying these suggestions comical) would effectively remove the U of C SU from federal politics. What's more, this would come at a time where federal lobbying may be needed the most. As I said in the article, Paul Martin's government is looking to slash budgets, and has made no indication that post secondary education would be a major priority.

The SU needs CASA. And it's true that CASA needs the U of C SU. If CASA is as broken as you suggest, perhaps the University of Calgary Students' Union, as a member, should do something to fix it.

Until Calgary has a seat in Cabinet, the UofC will need CASA in Ottawa to be a lobby. It's not our fault that our city elects only Conservatives...but regardless, if we have something good, then why not keep it?

If it really is broke, then someone should fix it...if no one fixes it, then nothing is broke. Simple, yes?

One thing James.

CASA reports that from their meetings with Paul Martin, he continually states that post-secondary education is a priority. Yet, you just mention in your comment there that it does not appear as if post-secondary education is a priority for the federal government.

It is just another example of CASA's ineffectiveness, and illustrates an example of the main reason why I will always suggest the SU should remove its membership in CASA. It is a forum for lip-service for politicians. Of course politicians meet with members of CASA. That's how CASA justifies its existence (access to MP's). Everyone who could possibly be affected by CASA wants CASA to exist, because this ensures that something better will not come forth.

"Of course politicians meet with members of CASA. That's how CASA justifies its existence (access to MP's). "

Of course! Your average MP sits aorund all day going "Oh, I better go meet with CASA, otherwise they might cease to exist and then a new super-organization will come along and make me actually do things for stduents!"

There was certainly a great deal of temporal information given in my post.

Who is the bigger idiot, someone who cannot read, or someone who posts publically demonstrating such?

gcpresto, then, perhaps you should leave the lobbying to those that understand it.

The SU has the option of dropping out of CASA on the grounds that it's an ineffective organization but students don't have the option of dropping out of the SU?