March Executive Blog – Advocacy Wins from Advocacy Week 2020!

This past February, AUSU president, Brandon Simmons, and I (your VP External and Student Affairs, Natasha Donahue) attended our annual Advocacy Week with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This week is always exciting since it is the culmination of a years’ worth of work toward delivering solid, research-based asks to the federal government.

Check out our photo gallery below!

This year, however, we are exceptionally proud that the federal government announced its commitment to three of our six asks from 2020, and an ask we brought forward in past years, just one day following the completion of our lobby meetings!

During our advocacy week, we are able to meet with Parliamentarians in Ottawa, including Senators and Members of Parliament, as well as stakeholder groups like Universities Canada. This year we had over 130 meetings, which we took on as a team. Normally 2-4 CASA delegates take on a single meeting at a time, working in groups to support one another and provide a variety of experiences and perspectives. It’s always nice to relay the story of my personal journey through post-secondary and how different aspects of our higher education system have impacted me and my family. Having started university at an older age and as a single mother has given me a unique perspective to bring to the table, one that is often overlooked. It’s so important to me to bring the stories of students that are unconventional or otherwise do not fit into the “typical” student experience so that we can advocate on behalf of the unique needs of Athabasca University students and help foster understanding of how to better support us.

It was such a rush this year to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and Member of Parliament for Windsor—Tecumseh, Irek Kusmierczyk (whom I was privileged enough to meet with just the day before), announce the government’s commitment to four CASA asks in a room full of CASA delegates, just one day following the completion of our meetings. Applause erupted in the room full of students, myself included, and you could positively feel the excitement and accomplishment in the air. This commitment, coming so suddenly, provided instant acknowledgement that the student voice is important, loud, and helps to shape the future of post-secondary in Canada.

I’m so proud to communicate that the federal government has committed to:

  1. Expand the Canada Student Grant by 40% annually, from $3000 to $4200.
  2. Extend the interest-free grace period on Canada student loans from six months to 24 months.
  3. Place a pause on student loan replacement for new parents until children are age five.
  4. Increasing the Repayment Assistance Plan income threshold from $25,000 to $35,000 so that Canada student loan repayments are paused when income is under this amount.

This is what we put so much effort into our advocacy for, but these asks can take years at times to come to fruition – it’s so exciting to see it happen within a single term! I can’t wait to see what our next advocacy week will bring us. Next time it will be in November 2020 – just nine months away.

Working with CASA is always such a great experience, and AUSU has been able to build a strong relationship with our federal advocacy partner that helps us get as much as we can from our presence there. I can’t wait to see where the new council and executive team takes this relationship.

Natasha Donahue
VP External and Student Affairs