No Day of Action

Long before students at the U of M joined the Canadian Federation of Students in 2006, they were active participants in the CFS Day of Action, a rally based on the idea that “Education shouldn’t be a debt sentence!”

But in Manitoba, the 2010-11 academic year had no designated days of action. In fact, Nova Scotia was the only province to have one, when on Feb. 2 students protested proposed tuition fee hikes. The day before the rally, the province announced an increase of three per cent for each of the next three years. Formerly the province with the highest tuition rates, a 4.5 per cent drop in 2009-10 meant the Nova Scotia fell to third. (Manitoba is seventh, but has the second-highest rate of increase in Canada.)

Brent Farrington, a representative for the CFS national office, said that it may seem like the Day of Action happens every year because CFS-Manitoba has organized one for the past few years: 2007, 2008 and 2009. However, it’s not supposed to be an annual event.

“It was something that was happening in Manitoba. [ . . . ] I’m not extremely familiar with why they were doing it [every year], but [ . . . ] based on the elections that were happening provincially over the last couple years, and the shift that was happening in leadership in the main party there, there’s been a lot of intention to ensure that students continue to be a very visible voice.”

He added the tuition-fee focused days of action were held at the same time in Ontario, “kind of creating this feeling of a national Day of Action happening, but it was just those two provinces.”

“It would be on a province-by province basis. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It really has to be customized to what the membership in each province wants.”

CFS-Manitoba chair Alanna Makinson said even with the October 2011 provincial election fast approaching — which could result in changes to the tuition fee policy in effect — there’s no rally currently being planned.

Instead of big events, “there were other tools that were used,” Makinson said, including collecting petitions and declarations and recording students’ stories about how tuition rates and debt affect their lives. They’ve been working on campaigns like international student health coverage, Bottled Water Free Day, the Residential Tenancies Act, and a U-Pass in addition to the Education is a Right campaign, she noted.

The province’s last day of action, in 2009, focused on a campaign called “Target Poverty” that went beyond tuition fees, she said.

“Access to affordable housing, access to public transportation, affordable child care: those are all issues that affect a person’s access to post-secondary education, and we were looking to draw attention to all those needs of students, as well as the broader community,” Makinson said.

Even though U1 student Allison Kvern had never heard of the Day of Action, she said it supports a crucial idea. “I think it’s important that students get their voices out there and be heard because education is, at this time, something that I think everyone needs to get a decent job. And so if everyone needs it, why are we constantly raising the prices, right? We’re making it impossible for people to get an education, and therefore to get jobs. So I do believe that it’s something we should have.”

Second-year computer science student Heather Kubbe had also not heard of the Day of Action but said, “I think it’s important — pretty much the reason I’m coming here is because it’s pretty cheap. So I think it’s an important thing to keep our fees low.”

Damion Knapman, a second-year U1 student, agrees with the messages of the CFS but says the Day of Action “needs to be something that’s held every year. CFS is doing everything that they can, but there’s not much publicity [ . . . ] and not having that day definitely inhibits any type of promotion.”

Makinson noted that if students want a Day of Action — or something zanier, like a flash mob — they should get in touch with CFS Manitoba.

“Really, the students should get in touch with their local students’ union and work collaboratively to see this through,” she said, adding the idea would be voted on at a local students’ union committee before moving to a CFS committee vote. “Due to the democratic structure of the Canadian Federation of Students, that’s always something we’re looking to respond to.”

“There’s definitely an interest in the future in having events,” Makinson said, “but it’s up to the membership.”

Farrington said that some CFS members are talking about holding a national Day of Action in fall 2011 based around the Education Is A Right campaign, which “calls for the government to take true responsibility for post-secondary education,” he said, including a federal post-secondary education act that guarantees certain levels of funding.