On March 11, the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) issued a media release regarding the new provincial budget measures for post-secondary education. Considering how little attention is given in the budget to post-secondary funding (or public funding of any sort other than mild healthcare reforms), this stance should be expected from the NBSA, though sadly this is all that should be expected.
The New Brunswick Student Alliance exists under the broader organization the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). CASA was started in the mid 90s with the goal of creating strong relationships between student advocates and policy makers, and policy makers’ feelings are taken into huge consideration when CASA drafts its proposals.
CASA and the NBSA make no secret that they see strong relationships with schools and governments as key to pushing student issues forward in a timely and rational manner. Whether you disagree with this approach or not, Premier Higgs knows that the NBSA will go no further than slapping him on the wrist on mainstream and social media. This is what led to Higgs cut the programs the NBSA worked so hard to create. If Higgs’ new budget had made massive cuts to post-secondary education for a second time in a row, I am not convinced that for the second time in a row the NBSA would have retaliated with anything other than another strongly worded social media campaign.
Husoni Raymond, vice-chair of the NBSA and president of the St. Thomas University (STU) Student Union, was quoted throughout the NBSA press release. Raymond wrote in a Jan. 1 union update to STU students that they were encouraging students to share “the NBSA asks relating to indigenization, international students, and student financial aid on your social media to spread the word, so student issues become New Brunswick issues.” In other words, get their talking points and policy proposals into mainstream political dialogue in the province outside of post-secondary education.
If this is the goal the NBSA’s social media campaigns, is it not counterproductive to only talk about the parts of the new budget that pertain specifically to post-secondary education? Especially when so many other aspects of the budget will affect the lives of their members whether they are New Brunswick citizens or not? The NBSA wants New Brunswick to care about their milk-toast approaches to combating tuition when the NBSA cannot even be bothered to comment on any other aspect of this budget for fear of being more aggressive than necessary.
The fact that this is the attitude taken by the NBSA towards school boards as well as governments becomes clearer when examining comments that the NBSA made about the lack of funding for reconciliation efforts on campus, though the NBSA does not specify what they mean when they mention spending $1.5 million into a “Reconciliation through Post-Secondary Education” fund. Even worse, they go on to say that the money will be to: “support reconciliation initiatives and programming in Post-Secondary institutions across the province.” There is no mention of regulating this fund to ensure it is going to hiring professors, creating courses, or language immersion, only the vague “initiatives and programing,” which leaves the door open for schools to spend money from this supposed fund on any event or advertising campaign they so choose as long as it has something to do with Indigenous people.
Money from a fund like this could be used to create more Indigenous studies and language courses, but if history is any indication, it is far more likely that it would be used for campus pow-wows and one-off weekend-long conferences.
If Husoni Raymond honestly believes that the NBSA’s advocacy campaigns on social media can get every New Brunswicker talking about needs-based grants rather than trying to reduce the actual cost of tuition, then the NBSA should stop worrying about what the Higgs government will think of them and commit to gaining support from their student base and province. It does not matter how mild the proposals are, or how polite they were during the meetings: Higgs doesn’t care. He doesn’t care, yet still NBSA student executives will trip over each other to ensure the student movement in New Brunswick does not do anything that the provincial government cannot easily just ignore.
Naomi Gullison is a fourth year trans student and native studies major at St. Thomas University.