AMS seeks out new alliance

Membership fees to post-secondary lobby group could cost upwards of $30,000

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Matthew Lombardi says joining CASA would give the AMS a stronger voice to lobby the federal government.
AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Matthew Lombardi says joining CASA would give the AMS a stronger voice to lobby the federal government.
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The AMS is considering teaming up with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) to lobby the federal government to increase funding for the University.

CASA’s mandate is to lobby the federal government on issues pertaining to post-secondary education.

Founded in 1995 to address challenges facing Canadian post-secondary students, including accessibility, affordability and quality of education, CASA represents student unions at 23 universities across Canada.

The AMS is hoping to take advantage of the recent election to lobby the federal government for more funding. They’re considering working with CASA because OUSA (the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance), of which the AMS is a member, works only at the provincial level.

The AMS invited representatives from CASA to give a presentation at AMS Assembly on Oct. 16.

Zach Churchill, CASA national director, said even though universities reap the benefits of the work CASA does, it’s still in the best interests of student leaders to join.

“It’s really about making change or affecting change, I believe,” he said. “It’s part of our responsibility as student leaders to be engaged.”

CASA’s membership fees are assessed using a formula that takes into account both the student union’s revenue and student enrollment. Member institutions must pay no more than $46,000 and no less than $3,500 per year.

Churchill said if Queen’s were to join CASA, the AMS would likely pay at least $30,000.

“I think the figure that affects the formula’s outcome most is student population.”

Churchill said CASA is fundamentally different from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

“There’s some structural differences. One of the reasons CASA was created was to ensure local organizations like the AMS wouldn’t lose autonomy over their own activities,” he said. “It’s a very flexible relationship.”

Churchill said CASA was more focused than the CFS on education as a policy issue in its own right.

“We talk about the issues that unite students across Canada. … There’s no public advocacy for a social agenda.”

Churchill said the gains achieved by CASA in Ottawa take time to come about, but the AMS would see some immediate benefits.

“Your student leadership would see results right away. You’d see immediate benefits from the staff that work in Ottawa,” he said. “The achievements we get are over a number of years.”

Churchill said because each CASA member is granted autonomy to follow its own procedures, it would be up to the AMS whether they get formal student approval before joining. CASA must also approve each new member before it is officially allowed to join.

Matthew Lombardi, Academic Affairs Commissioner and ArtSci ’10, is heading the Federal Alignment Assessment Committee, an ad hoc committee within the AMS currently researching whether the AMS should join a federal student alliance.

Lombardi said the AMS’s efforts with OUSA in the past were successful, and the AMS wants to duplicate that success with the federal government.

“If we were to join any federal lobby group, that would give us a stronger voice,” he said. “We don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to lobbying the federal government.

“The AMS is also mandated to lobby federally and I don’t understand why we haven’t been doing that in the past.”

Lombardi said the AMS has yet to decide whether it wants to align itself with any lobby group at the federal level.

Lombardi declined to comment on the differences between the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and CASA.

“We’re being very cautious right now,” he said. “I can confirm that the AMS is studying all the available options.”

Lombardi said student opinions will be taken into account when the AMS makes its decision.

“We’re also going to have a non-binding plebiscite question just to gage student opinion on this issue.”

If the AMS does decide it wants to join CASA, Lombardi said it would need to go to a referendum for approval. The membership fee would also have to be approved in the referendum.

“The referendum to join would come with a fee attached to it. … The money would come straight from the referendum.”

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