A delegation from the University of Calgary Students' Union went to a lobby conference held by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations in Ottawa last week, where they campaigned for post-secondary education and got a glimpse between reality and election pledges.
SU President Bryan West, Vice-President External Jen Smith, External Commissioner Michael Soron and more than 40 other delegates from across the country met at Parliament Hill for a week of lobbying for PSE issues, trying to confront the problem of education underfunding.
"In total we met about 140 political figures in Ottawa," said Soron.
CASA's "Make an Impression" campaign on Parliament Hill showcased photographs submitted by Canadian students depicting problems students encounter every day. The best submission was rewarded $1,000.
"We just wanted to bring people down and show them a personal side of underfunded education," said Soron. "[MPs and senators] didn't come because there was a freak snow storm that hit Parliament Hill the morning of the media stunt, but we do have a stock of really good photos."
Soron said the current political climate is prime for PSE reform.
"I think the consensus on the Hill is that PSE is this country's new priority," he said. "It is what is going to pay for health care, demo-graphic changes and increasing productivity."
In meetings with MPs, CASA lobbied for four main goals. Two of them were adopted by the Liberal government in last week's Economic and Fiscal Update. Although the looming election may nullify the proposed changes, Soron is optimistic.
"One [goal] was to reform the Canada Access Grant," he said. "The Liberals moved forward with that. The Conservatives have also committed to follow up on this as well."
The second CASA goal adopted by the government is a review of the Student Financial Assistance program. Soron said the Human Resources and Skills Development department received $2.5 billion for this purpose, which should alleviate student debt problems.
The two other proposals lobbied by CASA are a dedicated education transfer payment and a pan-Canadian accord between the federal and provincial governments to clarify the responsibilities for PSE.
Momentarily, PSE is a provincial issue influenced by federal grants and the Canada Social Transfer, a federal payment made to provinces for PSE and welfare.
"The concern that CASA has is that money that might be going to PSE simply isn't," said Soron. "There is no clear line in accountability as to where it goes. There needs to be a clear outline of who is responsible for what and where this money is going to."
CASA has started several information campaigns to keep students informed and the SU is planning a CASA day in the new year.