Thursday, October 23, 2008

CASA Membership Downgrade was the Right Move

In the post below, Maayan expressed shock that AMS Council would change it's position in CASA "without due diligence". I think that Council should be praised for its prudent political decision, not accused of haphazardly voting without thinking.

The concerns expressed by the AMS in the letter sent to CASA cannot be swept aside merely as minor. They are indicative of ongoing issues that AMS has had with CASA, which have yet to be resolved. The tone of discussions, language used, social activities, and unfair treatment of delegates at conferences are not problems that are easily reformable. They are part of the culture of CASA and require a serious and concerted introspection by the organization. More serious issues such as the AMS's alignment of CASA's policies and strategy, as well as concerns over CASA staff setting the political agenda of the organization rather than the delegates have been raised by the AMS in the past.

One of the major concerns with CASA not expressed in the letter is their decision to not run a federal election awareness campaign. Contrary to Maayan's suggestion, the AMS did not vote in support of this move. Rather, former AMS representative to CASA Matt Naylor voiced his concern over the poor quality of CASA's campaigns. The solution he suggested was to make the campaigns better, not eliminate them. This year the AMS had to run its own federal election campaign costing $12,000 without help from CASA, a reality that is particularly disturbing given that they are the AMS's federal lobbying organization.

The AMS is also evaluating the benefit of being a part of a federal lobbying organization. No one has suggested that CASA should turn its attention to provincial matters, but with limited resources, the AMS has to make a choice whether to focus more extensively on federal lobbying or provincial lobbying. Plus, it's quite possible that the AMS can do what CASA does, but better and more reflective of the AMS's principles.

What's the benefit of being in CASA? The argument that more students united together means more resources and more influence doesn't apply so well here. As mentioned above, CASA isn't acting as a useful resource for the AMS - certainly not to the tune of $60,000 per year of student money. The influence has been lacking too. It might be asserted that CASA is more adept at getting in meetings with decision makers in the federal government. While this might be true when the Liberals are in power, the AMS is just as adept as scheduling meetings with the government. During the recent federal election, the AMS met with and lobbied nearly every federal candidate in the Vancouver area. We are the largest student union in the country and that carries a lot of weight. The most significant benefit that the AMS receives from CASA is the ability to network with other student unions across the country. This benefit should not be underestimated, but being a part of CASA is not the only way to meet with other student politicians. There are conferences every year that student unions attend (including the AMS) to network with one another.

Let's be clear about this though - the AMS is not leaving CASA, it's stepping down to associate member status. What does this mean? It means we pay half the fees. It also means we lose our vote, which many will argue was virtually non-existent in the first place since the Eastern Block of CASA tends to band together and shut out the AMS. Most importantly, it sends a strong message to CASA that the AMS is serious about its concerns. CASA's response will largely dictate whether the AMS decides to stay or go - it's really up to them. CASA's national director, Zach Churchill, will get his chance to respond to the AMS this Wednesday.

Disclosure: Blake is employed by the AMS as Stef Ratjen's assistant.