The timing was unusual for a document of its type, which groups usually use to extract promises from campaigning politicians desperate to curry favour with the electorate. USSU President Scott Hitchings acknowledged as much, saying the external affairs board he chairs got off to a late start this year.
While University Students’ Council began meeting in September, some councillors had yet to be elected in by-elections. USC members passed a motion to delay nominating councillors to board positions until the by-elections had taken place. This meant the external affairs board did not meet until early October.
“Hands were bound because of poor timing,” Hitchings admitted. “We were handcuffed because of that…. When [the board] was struck I had to quickly get them to meet.”
But Hitchings said the cause is not lost — the list of demands the board came up with will serve as the guide for the USSU’s lobbying efforts for the rest of the year, past the campaign period.
“If it’s not effective in this campaign, if they don’t give us a promise by Nov. 7, we’re still not going to give up on this,” Hitchings said. “We’re still going to push for the points, even if we don’t get a promise.”
Such a promise seems unlikely, as none of the parties the USSU contacted with its lobbying document last week responded. However, Hitchings said the USSU will bring its demands to the next throne speech in Regina and to provincial budget discussions.
Foremost of the USSU’s priorities is access to education and more funding. Despite this, Hitchings said he opposes a tuition freeze such as the one the NDP has pledged to institute if elected.
Instead, the USSU is angling for more bursaries, grants and scholarships to help prospective students finance their education.
“We’d rather have those than a tuition freeze, and we’d rather have those than the nothing the Sask. Party has promised,” Hitchings said.
The USSU’s other main priorities are environmental sustainability, increasing the Canadian Social Transfer, housing for students, childcare and funding for the Gordon Oakes-Redbear Centre.
“One of the most significant financial issues facing the University of Saskatchewan is that of deferred maintenance,” the document reads. “The USSU would like the incoming Government of Saskatchewan to ensure that the resources are available to aid the University in accomplishing the much needed upgrades and keeping with the University’s Integrated Plan by allowing it to do so in the most environmentally conscious way possible.”
The Gordon Oakes-Redbear Centre is a proposed centre for indigenous students that the school and the USSU hope will help make “indigenous students feel that they belong at the University of Saskatchewan,” according to the lobbying document. While the U of S has the highest proportion of indigenous students of any Canadian university, members of this group are far more likely to drop out after their first year than other students.
The USSU would like to see a commitment from provincial parties to financially support the construction and establishment of the centre.
Not all the provincial students’ unions were as late to the game as the USSU. The University of Regina Students’ Union responded to education-related campaign promises on Oct. 12.
URSU came out in favour of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party’s pledge to separate parental income from student loan qualifications, saying, “Not all future or current students share in their family’s wealth.”
Hitchings approached the URSU earlier this year about collaborating on lobbying efforts, but was rebuffed.
“We were told that we are too right-wing to be worked with,” Hitchings said.
The students’ association for SIAST’s Kelsey and Woodland campuses also declined the USSU’s offer, though they did not give a reason.
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf