Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
In a recent lobbying trip to Victoria, student directors from the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) met with provincial government representatives to advocate for restructuring student loans, open-education resources, and a review of the sexual violence and misconduct policies of B.C. post-secondary institutions.
The SFSS partnered with UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) and the BC Federation of Students (BCFS) during this trip, creating a lobbying group that represented over 200,000 B.C. students.
Like in past years, the SFSS has planned two provincial lobbying trips for this academic year. During this first trip, timed around the start of the provincial government’s yearly budget planning, the lobbying group makes recommendations which will impact budget considerations. The second trip is planned for the spring term, after the provincial budget’s release, so lobbying groups can see which student recommendations the government has taken into consideration.
“That puts us in a really good position because they’re expecting us to come. So they know that they can’t completely just ignore us because we’re going to be knocking on their door at the same time every single year,” said SFSS vice-president external Jasdeep Gill.
One of this lobbying group’s main causes was getting rid of interest on student loans and introducing needs-based grants.
“Students with less financial means end up paying more in interest payments and ultimately spend more for their education than their wealthier classmates who can afford to pay up front,” reads an SFSS executive lobbying summary.
Interest on student loans has been eliminated in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Gill relayed a message from B.C. premier John Horgan that, while these requests aligned with the NDP government’s original intentions, the province has had “a really tough two years,” and much of B.C.’s budget was going towards rebuilding northern communities affected by the province’s major summer wildfires.
However, the group’s lobbying efforts for open-access resources (OAR) showed more promise. The lobbying group asked for a one-time $5 million contribution to BCCampus, an organization that provides open-education resources and support to students, and the ministers they spoke with reacted positively.
“They were really supportive of that [ . . . ] so I’d be really optimistic on that,” said environment representative Russell Dunsford.
The group also lobbied for a review of the sexual violence and misconduct policies across all 25 BC post-secondary institutions to ensure they were comprehensive and consistent across the province. They recommended a needs assessment to determine how much funding these post-secondary institutions would require to establish and maintain effective policies. FCAT representative Amrita Mohar noted that Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Katrina Chen reacted positively towards the initiatives.
“Lobbying can be a hit or a miss,” said Gill when asked how effective lobbying had been for the society historically. “It’s a lot more dependent on the team that you have and what their vision is.”
She noted that one of the SFSS’s large goals for the spring term was to bring together a group which included the University of Victoria and the Alliance of BC Students — alongside AMS, the BCFS, and the SFSS — to be able to represent every post-secondary institution in BC together, which has never been done before.
The SFSS is also looking to branch out into lobbying on a federal scale, specifically on the topic of the Kinder Morgan tank farm expansion. “I think it’s an important time for SFU to be represented and no one’s in a position there to do so. So if we’re not there, there’s absolutely no conversation around it,” said Gill.
In addition to increasing their lobbying visibility outside the university, the SFSS is looking to review their internal structure with regards to maintaining continuity between board years, higher research standards, and better communication between the board and the membership.
“With SFSS, something that I think historically we’ve kind of failed to do is pass the torch forward and keep it consistent,” noted Gill. According to Gill, a lack of internal structure and messaging forced the society to “reset” its lobbying efforts every year.
“We only have one-year terms whereas all these ministers are in for three, four, five years and they can have successive terms as well. So if they see a different group of students come in with a different set of priorities every year, it’s a joke to them,” echoed Dunsford.
“It’s really important that we invest in a structure that’s going to ensure that continuity and that’s going to make sure that future years are coming back to the ministers with the same asks, the same demands, and holding them accountable year by year.” – Russell Dunsford, SFSS environment representative
The society has also recently moved to rename the SFSS Advocacy Committee the Federal Provincial Municipal Lobbying Committee and place it on hiatus while they undergo internal restructuring.
Gill noted that in past years, the committees’ proposals often had to be dropped because a lack of proper research meant that they could not be brought to provincial lobbying tables. The society is therefore moving towards shifting the responsibility of research from the Federal Provincial Municipal Lobbying Committee to SFSS staff members, allowing the committee to focus on communication and student engagement.
“We need at-large [representatives] that are able to bridge that gap between us and the membership so they know what we’re doing,” said Gill.
“This is the whole reason we exist,” said Gill, referring to the SFSS lobbying efforts. “So it needs to be communicated, otherwise all you get is negative dialogue. [ . . . ] Students need to feel like they’re actually making a difference, whether they’re the ones in that seat or not.
“They have a power just being a student, and just being a part of this institution,” she added.