Last weekend, the United Conservative Party (UCP) passed a policy directive stating that post-secondary students’ union membership fees should be voluntary.
The policy was passed when the UCP convened in Red Deer for their Founding Annual Governance Meeting from May 4 to 6. The goal of the convention was to determine internal party policy and help shape the overall direction of the party.
Under the Post-Secondary Learning Act, all post-secondary campuses in Alberta have the right to collect mandatory fees. For full-time students, the University of Alberta SU collects $46.46 as a mandatory membership fee and $45.53 in dedicated funding units per term, which go to specific services like the Campus Food Bank. The proposed UCP resolution said that students, not the provincial government, should have the right to decide whether they support or disapprove of student association fees.
Neither the UCP nor the shadow critic for the Minister of Advanced Education Wayne Anderson answered requests for comment.
The United Conservatives at the University of Alberta (UCUA), the UCP club on campus, said they support the notion of making student’s union membership fees voluntary. Various members of their club were present at the convention. In their view, the motion passed at the convention would give students the ability to opt-out of those fees as a way to express their dissatisfaction with the Students’ Union.
“This would allow for the SU to operate much the same as now,” the UCUA said in a statement. “This allows students greater flexibility in their finances… At worst, it will force the SU to become more accountable and interested in the everyday concerns of everyday students.”
Other policies relating to post-secondary education that was passed at the convention include:
- Requiring publicly funded post-secondary institutions to implement a policy guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
- Giving Alberta students priority over international students in course enrollment.
- Developing apprenticeship programs in trades and the technical sector.
- Improving the transferability of credits between institutions.
- Preventing student associations from using fees to engage in politically partisan activities as opposed to non-partisan advocacy.
Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt said he is concerned about the UCP’s decision to support making student union fees optional as students’ associations provide important services to students on campus.
“Students stand to suffer great loss if [students’] association fees are optional,” he said.
Schmidt added that Australia passed similar legislation in 2005 which he said “devastated” the ability of these groups to help students. He also said if the policy was ever implemented, many students would opt not to pay the fees, not because they disagree with students’ associations but simply because the opportunity is presented to them.
“We don’t need that kind of policy here,” Schmidt said.
U of A Students’ Union president Reed Larsen said this policy, if enacted, will “devastate” the SU. If implemented, Larsen said the SU would need to review all of its services to see if they could continue to be funded. Further, Larsen said it would threaten organizations like the Campus Food Bank and Student Legal Services which require money from dedicated funding units from the SU to operate.
“We should remember that this is just a policy position,” Larsen said. “We… [will] certainly still work [with] the UCP to understand more fully why they would take such a stance and find ways to rectify that.”
Jason Kenney, leader of the UCP, assured members of the party that not all parts of the policy will become part of the official election platform. A separate committee will be formed in June to spearhead efforts to prepare for the 2019 election.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the United Conservatives at the University of Alberta (UCUA) believe an opt-in Students’ Union membership fee would work better. However, their statement said they support an opt-out option for the fee.