Brock students take battle to Ottawa – St. Catharines Standard

By Karena Walter, The Standard

More grant dollars and zero earning penalties are on the agenda as Brock undergraduates get ready to lobby the federal government along with fellow student leaders Tuesday.

Brock University Students’ Union is sending two representatives to Ottawa for a large three-day lobbying effort that will see students bending the ears of decision-makers from local MPs to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“It’s a dialogue. We’re not trying to shove anything down the government’s throat, we’re trying to have a conversation with them,” said Steve Nicholls, the student union’s vice-president of university affairs and a political science graduate.

He’ll be among 60 students in the lobbying effort from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which the Brock University Students’ Union joined in 2001.

The national association represents 300,000 students from 25 student unions in universities across the country.

They all share common concerns about student costs and debt and open access to publicly-funded research.

“This is quite an extensive lobbying effort where a lot of the most relevant and big name people are definitely met with and then we try and meet with as many others as we possibly can,” Nicholls said.

Nicholls has appointments with Conservative MPs Rick Dykstra of St. Catharines and Dean Allison of Niagara West-Glanbrook along with Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. Students will meet with 130 MPs and Senators, including NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and the Prime Minister’s Office.

He said the politicians may not agree with every point the students make, but the way to achieving the best policy is through dialogue between government and stakeholders.

“We have our talking points and some background information, but also our own personal perspectives to bring to the conversation,” he said. “At times, MPs will not share your view. At other times, they do but everything is always respectful and everybody leaves with a better understanding of the other person.”

Top student issues to address this year include an increase in the Canadian Student Grants Program, which Nicholls said hasn’t grown in three years. Student leaders want it bumped up by 25% so lower-income students who receive the needs-based grants can keep up with the increase in cost of education, Nicholls said.

Another agenda item is a push to remove a rule under the Canada Student Loans Program that reduces a student’s loan dollars if the student makes more than $100 a week at a job during their 36-week study period. Nicholls said students who need extra cash or want valuable experience can make money working but see their loans shrink, leaving them no better off and with no real incentive to work.

Brock University Students’ Union represents over 16,000 undergraduate students.

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On the agenda:

– removing earning penalties for students who work

– pushing for Open Access to publicly-funded research

– increasing funding for the Canada Student Grants Program