On Thursday night, AMS Assembly voted unanimously in favour of joining federal lobbying group Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) in an associate membership role for a one-year trial period.
AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Matthew Lombardi said the decision comes as a result of personal lobbying and positive student feedback.
“The process began back when I began my strategic plan for the Academic Affairs Commission. We have a mandate to lobby both provincially and federally and I thought that it would be worth exploring the possibility of federal advocacy for the AMS.”
Lombardi said the question of “Do you agree, in principle, that the AMS should seek to join a suitable, nationally-focused student organization that lobbies the federal government on post-secondary education issues?” asked in last fall’s referendum was met with 87 per cent in favour of the idea.
“We had both a mandate and a responsibility to research it and do our due diligence and research it, so that’s what we did.”
Lombardi said the committee, which consisted of representatives from each faculty society, considered both CASA and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the largest student organization in Canada, before arriving at CASA.
“We did our due diligence in giving both organizations a very fair look. We invited both in to present to AMS Assembly. CASA came in last October and then the CFS came shortly after in our next assembly in November.”
Lombardi said CASA policies are more in line with the AMS mandate.
“Overall, we felt that CASA was a better fit for Queen’s and for the AMS in terms of its similarities to an advocacy style that we already use. This is also in terms of the fact that CASA is only a federal lobbying group and works very closely with OUSA, which is a solely provincial group that we’re already with. The CFS lobbies both provincially and federally and we already pay for provincial lobbying with OUSA.”
CASA’s focus on lobbying on solely post-secondary related issues was one of its major selling points, Lombardi said.
“With advocacy style and tactics, CASA is much more like OUSA in terms that it is strictly policy based, whereas the CFS does do a lot of large demonstrations and that sort of thing that doesn’t really fit the AMS’ style,” he said. “The CFS tackles a wide range of social issues. Historically, the AMS, OUSA and CASA have chosen not to. Not saying that they’re wrong, it’s just a better fit for us.”
Lombardi said CASA’s membership fees would be significantly cheaper than CFS’. CASA’s membership fees would run between $3 and $4 per student, compared to CFS, which would total between $14 and $15 per student. “CFS, because of the high, high membership costs,wasn’t something that we would ever have considered being with long term anyways,” he said.
Lombardi said as a trial member, the AMS will still have an active role within the organization despite not paying membership fees and not being entitled to vote on council.
“We’ll still be able to influence CASA policy, we’ll still be able to network with other schools in CASA and, at the end of the day, we’ll still be able to help set the direction of that organization and lobby federally.”
CASA is currently linked with 23 student associations, totaling over 300,000 students across the country.
Lombardi said the AMS will re-evaluate its position with CASA at the end of the 2009-10 academic year to decide if it wants to pursue full membership with CASA.
“At the end of one year’s time, the AMS,whoever’s sitting in my chair, should be able to say ‘Okay, either CASA’s worth pursuing full membership or it’s not.’ You can only really know that when you’re working from the inside.
Lombardi said next year’s academic affairs commissioner is to write up a report at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year recommending how the AMS is to proceed after their associate membership status is up. The AMS can choose to either renew their associate membership status for another year, call a referendum to obtain full membership status or choose to leave CASA.
Lombardi said this is the first time in the history of the AMS that the organization has been affiliated with a federal student lobbying organization.
“This represents a new era in lobbying for student interests in the AMS.”
CASA National Director Zach Churchill said the AMS’ decision to join CASA comes at an opportune time.
“There’s a number of different things happening in the post-secondary sector. One, at this point there’s been over $11 billion dollars lost in endowments at universities and Queen’s is one of the universities that’s lost a lot of money. Also, because of what’s happening in certain industries in Ontario—the automobile industry for example. The provincial spending powers have been really affected by this.”
Churchill said his organization is proud of its recent success in increasing the amount of federal money invested in universities.
“We were the only national group in the country pushing for infrastructure funding, which we just got in this last budget,” he said. “That’s $2 billion going towards universities to support their deferred maintenance projects. It’s going to make sure that ancillary fees don’t go up. It’s going to make sure that students don’t take on the brunt of that extra cost through tuition payments.”
Churchill said CASA is currently undertaking other projects to aid students during the economic recession.
“Going into these next couple of years, we’re pushing for general core funding from the federal government for universities. We’re pushing for increased student financial aid for those families who have been affected the most by the economic downturn and dealing with student debt will be major things on our agenda.”