By Josh Coles
Last week, I spoke with Pat Joyce, Mount Allison SAC President and CASA Board Chair, who was here to take part in Friday afternoon’s Education Week “KD Chats” event. Pat, as well as Island MP Sean Casey and Senator Percy Downe, was on campus to represent CASA and talk with UPEI students about issues affecting them today.
For the unaware, CASA is a national alliance of 25 student associations and student unions across the country, of which the UPEISU is a member. They meet several times annually and lobby the federal government on issues surrounding access to post-secondary education.
Josh: What are the main initiatives being supported by CASA this year?
Pat: We’ve got a good mix of policies that we’ve pushed for in the past, as well as some policies that are new to this year. Here are some of the issues found in our Pre-Budget Submission:
- The exemption of a full vehicle in the Canada Student Loans Program. Currently there’s a cap of $5,000 for the vehicle exemption, and we don’t think that students should be expected to liquidate their assets in order to pay for their education. I know that that’s relevant to UPEI because, as a commuter campus, many of your students rely on vehicles to get to classes.
- Open Access. We’re pushing for the government to mandate that any research that is funded by the tri-council must be published in open-access format. If research is publicly funded, then it should be publicly available. We’re also pushing to have student representation on the boards of the three tri-council agencies. We’re pushing to eliminate the 2% cap on the PSSSP, which is a program that provides support for 1st Nations, Métis, and Inuit students. We want to be part of the discussion surrounding how we can make sure that Canada’s fastest-growing population right now is being educated and having an opportunity to take part in the economic recovery of our country.
- Lastly, we’re pushing to eliminate the in-study earnings exemption from the CSLP. We think that any money students make during their studies shouldn’t have to used entirely to fund their education because in reality, students also have to worry about their cost of living and things like that.
Josh: What is the current relationship between students in Canada and the Federal government?
Pat: When it comes to the rhetoric of this government, it’s very focused on productivity, jobs, and economic growth, and so we can look forward to a lot of investments in research and innovation. Student financial aid in the last budget…we didn’t see as much as a focus on it as we would have liked, but what we can expect is that focus on research and innovation.
Josh: This past week the PQ announced that they would be cancelling the tuition increases that Québecois students have been protesting over the past year. Does CASA have a stance on that issue?
Pat: CASA believes that there is value in public demonstrations, that there’s value in making sure that you’re having your voice heard…we believe that it’s more valuable to be in the room with the decision makers. Our advocacy is based on policy and research and on being in the room with people to tell them why things are important. The other issue is that education and accessibility to education is about a lot more than tuition, and it’s difficult for student leaders to focus on things other than tuition costs when it’s the only thing that the students who elected you into office want to talk about.
Josh: Who’s your favourite politician in Canada right now?
Pat: Megan Leslie, from Halifax. She has a real vision for sustainability that I really appreciate and I also think that she’s a good symbol for young people to see when it comes to being involved in politics. She’s an exemplary parliamentarian and in it for the right reasons.
Josh: Best place to eat in Sackville, NB?
Pat: Okay, I’m going to give 3 for 3 different situations.
- Pickles: for the best sandwich in the world.
- Mel’s: for a good old-fashioned hamburger and milkshake.
- George’s Fabulous Roadhouse for their Thursday night wings.
Josh: Final words for students at UPEI?
Pat: Question everything.