The Cost for CASA

This is a guest post by Taylor Loren, editor of AMS Confidential. Loren recently spoke with the new Minister of Advanced Education in her first interview on post-secondary education and reported on last week’s student rally in Victoria. You can read the other half of this point-counterpoint here.

What’s the price of $50,000? To the AMS, it could be just another fee.

This Wednesday, Council will vote on their participation in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a centrist and federally focused student lobby organization. Currently, the AMS is an Associate Member at the cost of $23,000 a year. Full membership fees would be upwards of $50,000.

So, should the AMS make the shift to full membership? No. The AMS should continue to be involved with CASA, and work towards full membership in the future.

However, most members of CASA are also a part of provincial lobby organizations. The AMS is not a part of such group, and right now we need to be focusing our lobbying efforts provincially instead of federally.

Fixing What Is Extremely Broken

Both post-secondary education funding and student aid financing comes from the provincial government. This year, the BC government cut $35.35 million in scholarships, bursaries, and loan forgiveness programs for students.

In 2008, BC’s student support funding was $132 million, in 2009 it was $99 million, 2010 was $84 million, and now in 2011 student aid is coming in at just over $50 million. BC has the highest student debt load, at an average of $27,000 for a four year program.

The student loan program is extremely broken for a UBC student. When issuing your funds, it allocates $650 per month for rent while the average rent for a student living within twenty minutes of UBC campus is $1000 per month. BC also has the highest interest on student loans in Canada at prime plus 2.5%.

These are serious issues that need serious attention from our VP External. With a new leadership and cabinet currently in place, now is the time more than ever to create substantial change. Provincial lobbying needs to be constantly occurring and a strategy needs to be in place, but what is the AMS doing?

The AMS & BC

McElroy focused his provincial lobbying energies during his term as VP External on the admirable and ambitious goal of creating a BC Student Lobby Group. After over a year, the BC Lobby Group is still working on its bylaws and has yet to be formed due to various problems plaguing other student unions.

A year of no provincial action is enough, and it’s time that the AMS place provincial lobbying as a top priority and do something other than try to form this group.

Putting Money Where Their Mouth Is

In the VP External’s budget for last year, a total of $44,305 allocated for provincial lobbying was not spent.

$12,600 was budgeted for a “Provincial Lobbying Campaign” and $9,205 was budgeted for Lobby Days, both which didn’t happen. The final $22,500 allocated towards “Provincial Lobbying” was presumably the fee for the lobby group.

The VP External portolio is unique in that it receives dedicated funding from UBC students from the mandatory External and University Lobbying and Advocacy fee, which just received an increase in the AMS Referendum to become a total of $4 per AMS member.

The portfolio is now financially robust, but the AMS should still think long and hard about financing their priorities, which need to become provincial lobbying.

The Cost for CASA

Moving to full CASA membership will be costing the AMS around $50,000 per annum. While the new fee structure passed in the referendum, the AMS should tread cautiously into the next year. Committing themselves to spending double on federal lobbying when the budget is still months away is premature and foolish after just barely coming out of a $400,000 structural deficit.

The AMS business costs will be increasing with the increase in minimum wage as well as new taxes, and they need to be fiscally conservative this year.

The AMS Policy Analyst position was eliminated after the former one departed. This is a position that McElroy plans on bringing back, which will also increase costs by approximately $75,000.

There is also an upcoming Point Grey by-election, a looming Federal election, an HST referendum in June, potential BC election in the fall, as well as the municipal election in November – all of which will require the AMS to be actively involved in. CASA would only be helpful in advocating in one of those elections.

While committing to CASA is something the AMS should do in theory, it is not the right budgetary move at this time. Due to bylaw changes passed at the AGM, going forward, associate members of CASA can only stay at that level for a period of two years. That means that the AMS can still be involved in CASA and have a voice in federal lobbying, while giving both CASA and the AMS a two year buffer.

The next two years should see the AMS become more focused on provincial lobbying and actively seeking out solutions for students. Within these two years, the AMS will be working on how to best spend their new million dollar mandate – something that should include membership in CASA, but only after they have worked out the many budgetary kinks sure to arise.

Read the other half of this point-counterpoint here.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.

Please vote for us in the Continuous VoterMedia Contest