CASA advocates student issues

Last week, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and its member schools, including Wilfrid Laurier University, lobbied members of parliament (MP) and senators in Ottawa on issues affecting current and prospective students. “One of the major things we were pushing for and actually I think was received well was making sure that graduate students have access to needs-based grants,” said Zachary Dayler, national director of CASA. “More students are going to pursue more levels of education, so making sure that money is there was important.”

The conference, Dayler explained, followed a presentation the organization made to the House of Commons steering committee on finance on Nov. 1 regarding CASA’s pre-budget submission, which highlighted many of the key issues that were later lobbied on. “We definitely pushed for a number of reforms to the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP),” added Dayler.

Over the course of three days, Nov. 15-17, CASA and its members met with 112 government representatives, including Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Saad Aslam, VP: university affairs for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU), attended approximately eight meetings with government representatives.

One of the CSLP reforms Aslam and Dayler both explained called for a re-adjustment to the in-study income exemption, which currently allows students to earn $50 per week. “After they make $50 per week the assessment for CSLP claws back what they can get dollar for dollar,” explained Dayler, “so allowing that to grow from $50 to $200 that would make it the highest provincial
standard, which is in Alberta. “

Regarding reforms needed for the copyright act, Aslam discussed how the current legislation poses many financial and academic difficulties for students.

“There was a book importation premium that’s in the copyright act, what this does right now, it’s marked up by ten per cent for books from the [United] States or 15 per cent for international books so this increases the price that students pay,” explained Aslam. He added that there was also a portion of the act that required intellectual property, such as lectures and lesson plans, to be destroyed after only a few years, making it difficult for professors to constantly restructure their courses.

In meeting with MPs and senators, Dayler said that approximately 50 per cent of them committed to the ideas CASA was presenting.

“We ask these MPs to write letters to their colleagues, to raise it with their caucus, to write letters to other ministers,” he then added, explaining what that commitment entails.

“What it comes down to is satellite lobbying,” said Aslam, who although did not meet with any local Kitchener-Waterloo MPs, intends on following up with them when they return to their ridings.

Reflecting on the conference as a whole, Aslam added that having now returned to Laurier, he hopes to receive feedback on some of the lobby items from the student body. “All of these [points] significantly impact students whether they’re aware of it or not,” he said.