Students meet to influence budget
By Mark Brown
Student lobbyists from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations met with Canadian Minister of Finance Paul Martin yesterday in an attempt to get their ideas adopted into the federal budget.
A variety of financial issues were discussed at the meeting, including the removal of the goods and services tax from textbooks and better ways to direct transfer payments to the provinces.
University Students' Council President Ian Armour said he was impressed by the level of interaction between the minister and CASA representatives. "Ninety per cent of the recommendations made by CASA [last year] were picked up," he said.
Martin said he thought the meeting went well. "CASA brings a very broad perspective that I think is welcome." He added he was impressed by how effectively CASA has been able to lobby the government.
Unfortunately Martin could not tell the representatives from CASA everything they wanted to hear.
"I was not as encouraging on the GST question as I would like to be, simply because there are a number of problems," Martin explained.
"This was the only thing we got negative feedback on," Armour said.
Martin said the government increased transfer payments by $1.5 billion last year. "It would be our intention as our resources free up to continue to increase our transfers to the provinces, but it all depends on how much money we have available to us."
Martin said he believes the Canadian people are entitled to a greater degree of accountability but added they are dealing with two separate areas of jurisdictions.
Martin did not give any guarantees but indicated he would look into some points further, said Martin Simard, communications officer for CASA.
One of the points the minister will examine more closely will be the interest rate students have on their loans, Simard said. Martin indicated this after being told a story by one of the CASA representatives of a student who had accumulated an enormous amount of debt. "It basically threw the minister for a loop," Simard said.
The Canadian Federation of Students, another lobby group who will have their own meeting with Martin next Wednesday, were critical of the minister and CASA, claiming both were addressing the wrong issues. "Hoops Harrison has been an apologist for the federal government," said Liz Carlyle, national chair for CFS.
"CASA has been very soft on the federal government," Carlyle said. "CASA is talking about important issues, but they are not the most important issues to students."
She added CFS will be stressing their concerns regarding the reduction of transfer payments, which are at their lowest point since 1949 and restating their concerns with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.
Simard said CASA's approach to lobbying includes setting feasible goals and working to form partnerships with various groups, including the government, he explained. "That does not mean we are in bed with the government."