On March 18, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) issued a press release outlining and congratulating the government’s decision to defer student loans for no added interest until September, and to give Canadians more time to file taxes. Their release said nothing about international students, nothing about student parents, and nothing about Indigenous students: all of whom would be particularly vulnerable during this time.
CASA’s restricted field of vision when reviewing policy is yet again making them look apathetic not only towards New Brunswickers but also to their average student electors. Both the student loan and tax payment deferral from the Trudeau government are welcome. However, students need information on the many other benefits available, and their student government should be helping them navigate everything that the government is making available.
These government measures are needed, but they are not nearly enough, and CASA saw no need to acknowledge this either. While many student loan borrowers will undoubtedly appreciate the pause in repaying their loans, many more are not at the point where they will need to pay them back yet. Many more of us are simply stranded in our cities of study due to unsafe airports or financially unstable living situations in their hometowns. Many of us have lost income from part-time jobs that have dried up and are struggling with landlords who cannot evict immediately in New Brunswick but are sending emails to their tenants in Fredericton to confirm that rent is expected at the usual cost.
A different organization, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the largest national student organization in Canada, is much more responsive to student needs. Unfortunately, in the 1990s, the student unions at New Brunswick universities decided they were too good for the CFS, and then helped form the much more ‘reasonable’ CASA to advocate through.
To respond the the COVID-19 crisis, the CFS has put an information page on their website outlining the government’s plan as well. Rather than just including students and taxpayers however, CFS’s student notice has a student loan recipient, student worker, student parent, and student taxpayer section.
Besides communicating what the government is doing, the CFS is also circulating a petition demanding: that all provinces follow the federal government’s lead and defer student loan payments until September; immediately include international students in every provincial health plan; amend visas, study and work permits to allow international students to remain in Canada, work and finish their studies; guarantee student access to the Emergency Care and Support Benefit; establish emergency housing for students where needed, and ensure housing security by suspending rent payments.
One would think that since CASA, not CFS, is an organization devoted strictly to student advocacy, that CASA would be the one advocating for the further benefits students need at this time. While CFS spends money on additional support systems such as free tax filing services and ethically manufactured school/advocacy materials, CASA puts all of its money into advocating for students; so they say.
On CASA’s website their annual budget is nowhere to be seen, and you’ll find that you must fill out an online form before contacting their head office in Ottawa. CFS has all their financial information on full and easy display on their website, while CASA asks for your name, email, and various other pieces of information in the online form before allowing you to see their budget. If they really are spending all their money on “advocacy” there is no easy way of knowing.
In times of crisis, people and organizations tend to act in ways that show their true colours and priorities. CASA has always had a reputation for playing it too safe, but to just go deer-in-the-headlights and congratulate the government for giving us crumbs in the middle of a crisis, failing to outline to their members what those crumbs are, and then calling it a day says a lot about who and what their priorities are. Compared to their competing organization the CFS, CASA does a very poor job of supporting students and giving us the information we need at a time when we are facing the biggest crisis the country has experienced during our lifetime.
CASA has been a problem for New Brunswick Students since its beginning 20 years ago. This crisis does not happen in a vacuum. When Doug Ford tried to criminalize the collection of student union dues in Ontario, threatening the existence of student unions across the country, it was the CFS that took legal action against the Ford government and won, saving student unions and services across the country. CASA has a long history of only doing what they have to and nothing more. If their members want a proper response to coronavirus from them, they will have to demand one.
Naomi Gullison is a fourth year Native Studies student at St. Thomas University.