All or nothing: The future of the NBSA

Joey O’Kane, president of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, is hopeful the lobbying organization can continue successfully. (Alyssa Mosher/AQ)

If it wasn’t for the New Brunswick Student Alliance, St. Thomas University wouldn’t be able to get its message across to the provincial government, said STU students’ union president Mark Livingstone.

That goes for every university in the province, he said, but STU’s size especially makes it difficult to have its voice heard.

“To me it’s just common sense – if it’s provincial issues, you need to have a provincial organization to attack those provincial issues.”

And that’s exactly what the NBSA is meant to do.

The NBSA is a democratically elected lobby group that represents students from STU, the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University and l’Université de Moncton in Moncton and its satellite locations in Shippagan and Edmundston. Two executives from each student government sit on the NBSA’s board of directors.

But this year, the 20-year-old organization is stuck in the middle, according to its president Joey O’Kane.

NBSA decided to cut its executive director this year. This person is responsible for taking care of the operational aspects of the group, but now it’s up to student government representatives.

Livingstone says the STUSU doesn’t have the resources to help the NBSA oversee its operations. That’s why he suggests the NBSA either rehire an executive director or become unincorporated and move toward becoming an informal lobby group instead.

But even with these problems, STU isn’t considering leaving NBSA, unlike La Fédération des étudiants et étudiantes du Centre universitaire de Moncton, the student government at U de M.

In December, La FEECUM told NBSA members it was reconsidering the group’s role at U de M within La FEECUM. On Dec. 10, it announced U de M in Moncton would become an associate member of the organization, which means they don’t have the privileges like full members do when it comes to voting on policies and budgets.

According to O’Kane, who is also vice-president external in the UNB student union, this decision has been a long time coming.

“He’s [FEECUM president Ghislain LeBlanc] had some concerns as per how to properly lobby on the provincial level, so there’s that kind of – I don’t want to say conflict – but there’s that kind of ambiguity, I guess, where he’s not entirely sure what’s best, so they’ve decided to put that all in review,” O’Kane said.

LeBlanc could not be reached for an interview at press time.

While the NBSA is going through a bit of disorganization now, it has had some success in lobbying for key changes to post-secondary education during the past few years.

This year, the NBSA is largely responsible for the implementation of the New Brunswick low-income bursary, which allows students who are permanent residents in New Brunswick and enrolled in a 60-week-long program with a student loan, to qualify for up to $3,000 in bursary money from the provincial government.

In the past, the NBSA was responsible for lobbying the provincial government for $12 million worth of new funding for post-secondary education. This included a tuition freeze, which happened in 2008-09 and lasted until this school year when David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives allowed universities to raise tuition by a maximum of $200.

That same year, the Timely Completion Benefit, which allows New Brunswickers with more than $26,000 in student loans to have some of their New Brunswick student loan forgiven, was launched. The repayment assistance plan was also implemented that year, which bases student loan repayment on students’ incomes.

That was also the year STU graduate Duncan Gallant was president of NBSA and the STUSU. He says success stories like this happen because NBSA board members are committed to long-term goals which benefit all students in the province.

“It is a real balancing act…the balance is, there’s seven [universities] around the table that have different priorities,” said Gallant, who was an NBSA board member for two years and president for the following two.

When he was NBSA president, the universities were able to agree on three or four long-term goals.

“If you push for key items for as long as you can…and then if you’re strategic and you’re focused and you’re effective enough,” you can do it too, he added.

Full-time STU students pay $1.35 each for the university to be a part of the NBSA. This is about $3,300 in total.

This is down by almost 40 per cent from the $3.50 students used to pay when there was an executive director.

Livingstone says paying the extra few dollars is worth it, especially if it means NBSA is used to its full potential.

“We need to decide where we want to go and follow through with that plan and to me…a big part of that would be going back to having an executive director,” Livingstone said.

NBSA members plan to meet over the next month to discuss the future of the group. Livingstone and O’Kane are both hopeful this will include a multi-year plan that will ensure the NBSA can continue its main objective successfully – lobbying the provincial government on post-secondary education as a collective.

“If they’re saying one message and we’re saying another message and we haven’t gotten together to discuss actual policy, what’s best for the province, then it’s likely nothing would ever happen,” O’Kane said.

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