OUSA affiliation up for renewal

Students will vote in fall referendum on whether to stay with student alliance

AMS Vice-Principal (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell and Academic Affairs Commissioner Alexi White hope students will vote to stay with OUSA.
AMS Vice-Principal (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell and Academic Affairs Commissioner Alexi White hope students will vote to stay with OUSA.

Undergraduate students will get to choose the AMS’s affiliation in the upcoming fall referendum Nov. 6 and 7 when the mandatory fee for the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) comes up for renewal.

The AMS is currently part of the seven-member alliance, which lobbies to the province concerning issues regarding post-secondary education.

The other six members are Brock University Students’ Union, McMaster University’s Students’ Union, Federation of Students at University of Waterloo, University Students’ Council at University of Western Ontario and University of Windsor Students’ Alliance.

According to AMS policy, mandatory fees must be reviewed every three years.

The current OUSA fee is $1.98 per student but will rise to $2.07 for the 2007-08 academic year to account for inflation.

AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell said she thinks it’s important for the AMS to belong to a student alliance because it gives each member institution an amplified voice.

“Our ability to lobby provincially will be severely hindered if we don’t continue to be a member [of OUSA],” Mitchell said.

OUSA is a lobby group that focuses primarily on lowering tuition fees, increasing financial aid and improving the quality of teaching for post-secondary students.

Each year, member institutions vote at a general meeting on the issues they will focus on for the coming year.

Queen’s sends one voting member—Mitchell—and one non-voting member—AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Alexi White—to the meetings.

Mitchell said OUSA’s strength lies in doing research and writing policy.

“We develop a lot of respect with the government,” she said. “The credibility has been built up over years and years of doing it right.”

Mitchell said if the question doesn’t pass she would likely bring it up again in the spring referendum.

Referendum policy states that when the voter turnout is at least 20 per cent of eligible voters, the question would need 50 per cent plus one of the ballots in order to pass. Where turnout is lower than 20 per cent, the percentage needed to pass a question increases to 55. If it drops below five per cent, the percentage needed to pass the question increases to 70 per cent.

In the 2004 referendum, Queen’s students chose to join OUSA over the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Mitchell said she has heard of students wanting to be aligned with CFS but nobody has made an official request to her.

“OUSA has a lot of values, tactics and methods we like to use,” she said. “It better suits the type of student government we have.”

Mitchell said one of the AMS’s strengths is research and writing reports, and this is the type of approach OUSA takes when dealing with issues.

“It’s well-researched, not adversarial, not a demonstration,” she said. “It’s better than standing outside Queen’s Park with a sign.”

Mitchell said CFS can be too radical in the way it’s run, as it uses tactics like demonstrations and rallies to attract media attention.

“You don’t see us as a student government going up to Principal Hitchcock’s office, locking ourselves in there to make a huge statement,” she said. “We feel more comfortable … having a conversation and doing research and writing a report.”

Mitchell said CFS also takes a stance on controversial moral issues, such as state-sanctioned murder, that the AMS doesn’t want to take a stance on.

She said CFS could be explored as an option if the referendum question on OUSA doesn’t pass, but it’s something AMS Assembly would decide on.

Students who are interested in joining CFS could also nominate it as a referendum question before Assembly finalizes the questions on Thursday.

The AMS could join both OUSA and CFS, since the former lobbies the provincial government and the latter lobbies both the federal and provincial governments. Most institutions don’t affiliate with two organizations that lobby the same level of government. “It’s an option but it has never come up as an option,” Mitchell said.

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Alexi White said the AMS is aligned with OUSA because it deals more with provincial issues than CFS, which has a national scope.

“We need to be aligned, is the bottom line,” White said. “We can’t do this on our own, so as a result we have to choose between [CFS and OUSA].”

Chris Horkins, ArtSci ’08 and president of Queen’s New Democrats, said he’s in favour of switching Queen’s affiliation to CFS because OUSA has done very little for students.

“OUSA is a right-wing organization,” Horkins said. “CFS has higher dues but I think you get what you pay for there.”

Horkins said he hopes CFS will be raised as a viable option if the referendum question on OUSA doesn’t pass.

“All you need to do is look at SGPS—they’re far more connected with student unions [than the AMS],” he said.

“Activism is the way that things get done if you look all across history,” Horkins said. “CFS isn’t afraid to do that and I think OUSA is.” The School of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS) is a member of CFS.

SGPS Vice-President (External) Jovan Groen said the SGPS has been involved with CFS since the 1980s.

“Our members get a number of services that they feel are important to them,” Groen said. “We also feel that when certain concerns come up on our campus, we are able to rally together to come up with solutions.”

Membership with CFS averages $15 a year per student.

Joel Duff, CFS’s Ontario organizer, said CFS represents 86 student unions across Canada and more than 500,000 students, 300,000 of whom are in Ontario.

They continue to advocate for lower tuition fees and more grants instead of loans for post-secondary students.

They’re also advocating for environmental sustainability in campuses across Canada and calling on the federal government to adopt the Kyoto Accord.

The AMS will be mounting a campaign to bring the issue of external affiliation out to students before the referendum.

It may host a student forum in early November to answer questions about OUSA and compare it to other alliances.

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