By Scott Strasser, November 1 2016 —
At their annual general meeting on Oct. 28, the Wildrose Party passed a policy that supports putting post-secondary student associations in Alberta under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.
The verdict means that if the Wildrose Party forms the majority government in the next provincial election, the party would try to implement the policy into the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). If implemented, members of the public could submit FOIP requests to student associations and request access to detailed financial information, internal communication and other data.
Fourth-year University of Calgary science student and vice-president external of the Wildrose on Campus club Keean Bexte drafted the policy, which was co-signed by four other WROC members. He said being included in the FOIP Act would increase the transparency of student associations.
“[People would] be able to put a request in to the association for information regarding how dues are being spent, be it on alcohol or plane trips across the country,” Bexte said “It allows a lot more transparency for students to understand how their elected officials are operating.”
Support for the policy was nearly unanimous at the AGM, with only three people voting against it — former WROC president Jenn Galandy, Avery Dallaire and Chance Davies.
Student associations at Alberta post-secondary institutions are currently under the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) as non-profit organizations. Under the Act, student associations employ in-house privacy policies and are not required to respond to FOIP requests.
U of C Students’ Union vice-president external Tristan Bray said the SU doesn’t have an official position on the new Wildrose policy. Bray did admit the SU is concerned with the policy’s ramifications and the process of implementing it into the PSLA.
“To [put] the SU and student associations in Alberta under FOIP, we’d have to be a publicly-funded institution. To do that, they’d have to open up the PSLA and they’d have to categorize student associations under ‘educational bodies’ in that Act,” Bray said. “Along with that, in theory, we’d have to receive public funding. Achieving that and making that shift would dramatically change the way post-secondary [education] looks in Alberta.”
“If someone feels we are not providing information in a timely manner or we’re trying to conceal something, they can go through this complaints process that exists under PIPA and expedite us to release information,” Bray said. “We strive to be transparent and we’re always happy to meet with any student who has concerns about our finances, our budgets, any expenses whatsoever.”
Bray also said the SU releases its audited financial information on its website every December.
“I understand certain people think we need to be more transparent. The SU strives to be as transparent as possible” Bray said. “I know we’ve offered to sit down with Mr. Bexte three times to discuss specific areas and financials he has concerns with. He hasn’t responded.”
Bexte replied to Bray’s claim with the following statement:
“I’ve been around the SU far longer than Mr. Bray and I’ve seen all the dirty secrets already,” he said. “The financial statements, the budgets and the receipts with all the wasted money should be available for everyone to see. It shouldn’t just be available to the few who take the time to sit down and get a watered-down version given to them.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Brian Huff as voting against the policy. The third against vote was actually Avery Dallaire. The Gauntlet apologizes to its readers for this error.