Unions unite for city students
Bethany Horne Staff Contributor
Mitch Gillingwater, Tara Gault and Mike Tipping want to write a tenancy policy for students as part of the new Halifax student lobby group. / Photo: Josh Boyter
Students in Halifax are now members of another lobby organization run by their student unions.
The student unions of Dalhousie, Mount Saint Vincent University, Saint Mary's University, Nova Scotia Community College and the Atlantic School of Theology decided to combine their efforts and represent students at the municipal level.
The student union executives formed their own group, the Halifax Student Alliance (HSA), in November after learning Mayor Peter Kelly's roundtable on violence would go ahead without any student representation, says Dal Student Union President Mike Tipping.
"They'd given out a survey on that, back in the summer when the students weren't here," says Tipping, one of the group's founders. "We thought that was very unfortunate. The students are a huge population here in Halifax and their voice needs to be heard on issues that affect them everyday."
The HSA conducted an online student survey about crime in Halifax and presented the results on the last day of the roundtable discussion in late November. The group hopes municipal policy makers will take note of their student survey when drafting new rules.
The DSU is already part of two other lobby groups, the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations (ANSSA) and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. But Tipping says those groups only focus on federal and provincial post-secondary education issues.
"There are issues that exist only on a municipal level that are very important to students," he says. "Things like transportation, safety and housing. There wasn't really a collective student voice on that until now."
The group hopes to draft a tenancy policy, Tipping says, because a lot of students are uninformed about the rights they have when renting their own places.
"As you probably know if you've rented in this town, it is stacked toward the landlord, and students often have a difficult time navigating that," he says. "I think there needs to be a bit more openness in the process."
"There are organizations right now that work on poverty issues and housing," says Tipping, mentioning the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty and the Ecology Action Centre. "We would be focusing more on specifically student issues, although in some ways they overlap."
Mitch Gillingwater, president of the SMU Students' Association, says students make up 2.5 per cent of the city's workforce, which he says is "very significant." He says it's important students are represented on the municipal level.
There are no students, aside from union executives and council members, involved in the new lobby group. Gillingwater says members will try to attract more student volunteers "once the organization grows." The group doesn't collect student fees and currently has a tiny budget and a 400-member Facebook group.
Engineering student Dave Cormier, a member of the Facebook group, says he would try to get involved if he could make room in his "ridiculous" schedule.
"It's one of those things, once you get [it] going on, it will have to pick up," Cormier says. "Most students aren't really informed about a lot of things."
Keith Stevens, a third-year political science student, says he hasn't seen a particular "grassroots" call for another student lobby organization at Dal, but that it's worthwhile for student leaders to represent generally less-informed student bodies.
"Our city council doesn't really get a lot done, in my opinion, but it's worth a try to get something done," he says. "There's potential in it (the HSA). Similar organizations didn't have a lot in the beginning," he adds, comparing the new union to provincial lobby group ANSSA.
"Holy ANSSA Jr., Batman!" Stevens commented on the HSA's Facebook page.
The Halifax Student Alliance is only the second municipal student lobby group formed in Canada. Student unions of public universities in Edmonton made the same move in August.