After only two recent meetings discussing their relationship with the organization, AMS Council voted last Wednesday night in favour of their intent to leave the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) on April 1, 2010.
The student society will have to wait until April 1, 2010 to withdraw from CASA due to the organization’s regulations around associate member status. Prior to Wednesday’s decision, the AMS had an informational discussion session for councilors and members-at-large on October 1 and a Q&A meeting with CASA representatives on October 8.
The vote was almost unanimous, with 25 councilors voting in favour of the motion, 2 against and 4 abstentions. The AMS had already dropped down to associate member status in 2008, which meant a cut in dues owed to the lobbying organization and a loss of voting power.
Arts Representative Matthew Naylor was pleased the motion passed. “I think the motion was appropriate, and I voted in favour of it,” he said. “I really believe in the concept of a national student organization, but as it stands right now I feel that CASA has not provided an adequate return on the investment that the AMS is putting into it.”
“The AMS has had concerns with CASA for a number of years now,” said AMS President Blake Frederick. He said the three primary reasons the AMS decided to leave the organization were that despite its size, the AMS only had one vote in CASA prior to dropping to associate member status, the AMS has the resources to carry out their own lobbying efforts, and CASA does not have the same priorities as the AMS.
However, the AMS has addressed other concerns that they have had with the organization in the past. For example, at Wednesday’s meeting Frederick mentioned the claim that CASA spends more money on cell phones than member relations. However, The Ubyssey has found that this is not the case, and is a misunderstanding resulting from line items in the 2008/2009 budget that have been relocated in the current budget for transparency.
Despite the strong support for leaving the organization, many councilors have since criticized the AMS executive for their unprofessional conduct with the lobbying organization.
“If I’m [VP External Tim Chu], and I see that [budget item], the first thing I would do is pick up the phone and ask the question, because it’s just a budget item, very easy to clarify,” said Board of Governors Student Representative Bijan Ahmadian. “Instead of doing that [Tim] put it as a point against them. I feel that what Tim did is [he] went on to evidence collecting against CASA as opposed to problem solving.”
When asked about the concerns that information presented by the executive have been false, Frederick clarified that it was a process headed by the External Policy Committee specifically, and was not an executive decision.
Student Senator and Senate Vice-Chair Geoff Costeloe told Council Wednesday night that the AMS has failed to have a working relationship with external organizations.
“You’re not doing your job with CASA. Our executive has mismanaged relationships with bodies outside our group. We’ve failed to have a working relationship,” he said.
Costeloe also directly addressed Chu, saying, “I’ve heard of other cases, Tim…where you haven’t lobbied…I think this is less of a question about how well CASA is acting, but how our executive is dealing with it.” Costeloe later told The Ubyssey that he voted in favour of the motion but said “I think we could have handled ourselves a lot more professionally.”
Forestry Undergraduate Society VP External Natalie Swift agreed with Costeloe. “It’s about this kind of confrontational approach to CASA,” she said. “A lot of it I just feel is hearsay. I just don’t want my decision to be based on these accusational…statements.”
A point of confusion at Wednesday’s meeting was regarding a letter that CASA sent to the AMS prior to the meeting. It read that CASA’s constitution required that members had to inform the organization within “no less than 30 calendar days” of their intention to leave. However, the AMS dismissed the statement because they said the constitution has been deemed inappropriate by Industry Canada. CASA did not respond to The Ubyssey’s requests for confirmation by press time.
After withdrawing from the organization, the AMS is committed to focusing on its own lobbying efforts, both on the provincial and federal level.
“The intention is to work independently for at least a period of one year,” said Frederick, “and that will mean that the resources that have gone into CASA from years past will now be able to be put towards our own provincial and federal lobbying efforts.” The AMS currently pays $34,000 a year as an associate member.
This is a view shared by many councilors, who regard provincial lobbying as a priority. “It’s where the power is and it’s where the money is,” Naylor said.
Ahmadian disagreed. “Education is a provincial jurisidiction…but when [the federal government] gives money, it’s like a donation,” said Ahmadian. “They can also choose where it’s going to be spent, and students have an ability to go and lobby for money in this area or that area….I’m not sure that [leaving] an organization that allows us to collectively lobby federally is the best thing for students.”
Swift wants to see the AMS extend its provincial lobbying efforts in the future.
“I’d like to see us take leadership in building a provincial organization for all universities and colleges in the province,” she said. “I think we should take our size and our influence and use that to help other schools.”