Adam Brown, Chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) presented to the Government of Canada's Finance Committee regarding their investments in students announced in their Budget 2019. For accessibility purposes, a transcription of the presentation is provided below.
"Good afternoon Mr. Chair, esteemed committee members, fellow witnesses and members of the gallery.
I would like to start off by acknowledging the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishabeeg people where we have the privilege of gathering today.
My name is Adam Brown, I am the chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, or CASA. I am also the Vice President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and a 5th year student completing a business degree majoring in Business Economics and Law.
CASA is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that represents over 360,000 students at colleges, universities, and polytechnics across the country. Through a formal partnership with the Union étudiante du Québec, we are a trusted national student voice. We advocate for a post-secondary system that is accessible, affordable, innovative and of the highest quality.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee to discuss our impressions of Bill C-97. I am thankful to be here representing students at a time where there is a threat to student organizing, especially here in Ontario. When students are unable to speak for themselves, it jeopardizes representation, accountability, and democracy. Everyone suffers, especially post-secondary institutions. I am hopeful that in the future students will continue to have opportunities like this one.
Broadly speaking, we are very pleased to see Budget 2019’s investment in young Canadians, especially the government’s commitments to student financial aid, Indigenous students, graduate student research and work-integrated learning. I will spend the remainder of my time briefly overviewing our impression on the proposed changes within these areas.
Budget 2019 brings important changes to the Canada Student Loan program. We are especially excited to see the lowered interest rates and the new interest-free 6-month grace period. Furthermore, we are pleased to see the additional changes made to help modernize the Canada Student Loan Program to better respond to the needs of vulnerable student loan borrowers. This includes the expanded grants for students with disabilities and the interest-free, payment-free, stackable leave for borrowers taking temporary leave due to parental or medical reasons, including severe mental health issues. This recognition and inclusion of students struggling with mental health challenges in the Canada Student Loan program is a welcome adjustment that will certainly support many students throughout their studies. In 2016, the National College Health Association survey of Canadian post-secondary students reported that 44% of students felt “so depressed it was difficult to function.” The Mental Health Commission of Canada further reports that about half of post-secondary students with “mental health disabilities” will experience the onset of their condition over the course of their post-secondary education. Our campuses are experiencing a mental health crisis, and this recognition by the federal loans program is an important first step in addressing it. We are eager to see how this will continue to be applied across other areas of the program.
We were also very pleased to see tremendous investments in Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit students through individualized education strategies, specialized skills and employment training, mental wellness initiatives, increased grants and bursaries, and investments in Arctic and northern education. We hope this will be the first step in adopting all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, especially providing adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education. In 2018, the Assembly of First Nations identified 36,901 students who were eligible but unable to access government funding to attend a post-secondary institution. Increasing meaningful and sustained access to post-secondary education for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities is an important step in the ongoing journey towards reconciliation.
Students are also pleased with the investments in graduate student research, including those to the Canada Graduate Scholarship Program, which will create 500 more master’s level scholarship awards and 167 more doctoral scholarship awards annually. These investments will give more students the chance to contribute to Canada’s growth and prosperity through innovative research. We hope that this will open the door for further support for graduate students, through grants for those who need it.
Finally, we were encouraged to see increased investments in paid work-integrated learning opportunities. This includes the projected increase of 84,000 new job placements as well as an expansion to offer opportunities to students in the arts, humanities and social science fields. In our recent paper, Shared Perspectives: A Joint Publication on Preparing Students for the Workforce, student organizations across the country shared their expertise on the benefits of work-integrated learning, including the added skills and long-term salary benefits for students who participate in these programs. We trust the implementation of this program will support marginalized students, who encounter additional barriers in accessing these opportunities. In an effort for further inclusion, these opportunities must also include streamlined access for international students. As stated in our Pre-Budget Submission, CASA recommends that the federal government remove the requirement for international students to seek an additional work permit to pursue co-op and internship opportunities, and instead allow this work under the international student study permit.
I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to discuss bill C-97 and student impressions on Budget 2019’s investments in student financial aid, Indigenous students, graduate students and work-integrated learning. I look forward to your questions."