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Mi CASA ain’t su CASA

OTTAWA (CUP)—Despite some recent defections, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) maintains they are on solid ground. “Are we in a crisis?” asked national director Liam Arbuckle. “No. No way. Not even close.”

Arbuckle is reacting to the recent decision made by the Students’ Association of Grant MacEwen College (GMC) to leave CASA and the University of Alberta Students’ Union’s willingness to follow suit.

“We’re sad that someone chooses to have no representation,” said Arbuckle, whose organization, represented over 300,000 post-secondary students in 23 schools before the departure. “They [GMC] now have no voice at the table.”

Arbuckle claims the two Edmonton-based schools are focusing on the little things.

“We’re [CASA] focusing on the big picture. These leaders focus on smaller minutia issues.”

The feud within CASA comes mainly out of the recent lobby conference held at the beginning of November in Ottawa. At the annual conference, member delegates met with “big-hitters,” Arbuckle said, including 90 members of Parliament. Delegates met with the MPs over five days and lobbied them about issues pertaining to post-secondary education.

Arbuckle called the conference “fantastic,” and in an earlier press release said, “Paul Martin agreed with CASA policy opposing possible inclusion of education in the FTAA … Mr. Martin also suggested that a complete overhaul of the [Canada Student Loan Program] is needed … CASA also met with Industry Minister Allan Rock on Friday where Minister Rock’s announcement of supporting targeted funding in the [Canada Health and Social Transfer] caught many by surprise.”

However, according to Anand Sharma, an executive member of the University of Alberta Students’ Union, this conference only proved “CASA is weak and has severe flaws” and “can’t outline tangible results.”

“Many of the lobby areas [that CASA fights for], the Liberal government is already moving on,” he said, pointing to the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP) as an example. “They’re not talking about issues that are at all contentious … They have access to politicians, but they’re not challenging them.”

Arbuckle called these claims “absurd.”

“Who do you think lit the fire?” he responded. “Any movement [in post-secondary education] that appears in government shows our effectiveness of lobbying.

“Paul Martin now wants to look at the loan program. We’ve been saying that for years,” he said. “Why do you think they are talking about it?”

According to Arbuckle, the results of the conference quell his critics’ claims that CASA is ineffective.

“If we’re disorganized and inefficient, why would they [MPs] come and listen to us?” he asked. “We’re considered big hitters [and] we have gotten movement over time.”

Arbuckle did acknowledge that CASA might have some flaws, but said the organization is willing to reform. “We are open to change. [But] it has to go through the right channels. It can’t just be because you say so.”

CASA’s Atlantic regional director Tyler McLeod claims effort was made to accommodate both Edmonton schools. “We made the effort to accommodate the voice of the minority. The problem is they are not the majority. The minority shouldn’t distract from agenda to lobby,” he said.

Sharma urged CASA to take a stance on including education in free-trade agreements, which Arbuckle said shows CASA’s willingness to change and evolve.

“We have never said anything about FTAA and trade. We’ve never done that before. We have now drafted policy on FTAA, tuition and deregulation,” he said.

CASA, a national organization, didn’t have policies on tuition fees until recently, because they were considered a provincial matter. They now have draft policies on a number of issues.

“Nobody would say we’re perfect. We can improve,” Arbuckle said. “To think that a school leaving will destroy us, it’s not going to happen.

“Every organization goes through growth and decline. There are others interested in joining,” he said, pointing to Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Queen’s University, who were at the recent conference as observers.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union executive committee voted unanimously to withdraw from CASA, and will bring the motion to the Students’ Council in December.

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