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OUSA Lobby Week

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Matthew Gerrits
Vice President Education
Fri, 11/23/2018 - 11:15

For four days in the middle of November, this farm kid got the chance to visit the big city. I was part of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance's [external link] Student Advocacy week, advocating for undergrads at Queen's Park with a list of priorities that could have a profound impact for students at Waterloo.

Myself and Feds president Richard Wu headed into Toronto Sunday morning to go through a day of political etiquette training, memorization of our recommendations word for word, learning how to sell policies to different parties, reviewing our schedules and doing research into the Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) we’d be meeting with. After a night of studying and quite a bit of nerves, I turned in early, nervous for what the next day would bring.

Monday morning, I had my first meeting with one of the most prolific members of the week, Mitzie Hunter, the former Liberal Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development. I didn’t know whether I’d trip over my own tongue, look nervous, or otherwise embarrass myself. But the MPP was friendly, talked about our recommendations, and asked questions.

As the week went on and as I met with more MPPs, I started feeling more confident, even as I started developing a cold. Beyond lobby meetings, I got to meet OUSA alumni, attend Question Period (which is exactly as non-functional as people describe it), met with the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and attended a reception OUSA held for MPPs and staffers across all parties.

I must have said the words “experiential learning," “co-op,” “international student healthcare,” and “tuition costs” hundreds of times, drawing not only from evidence and the numbers, but from the powerful experiences of Waterloo students that seemed to resonate so strongly.

As my team of four went through the week, I realized how much I enjoyed advocating in that environment.

We had six areas that we were advocating on during advocacy week:

  1. Student Finances, including tuition regulation and changes to OSAP;
  2. Experiential Learning, including co-op, non co-op, and entrepreneurship programs;
  3. Tech-enabled Learning, including support for Open Educational Resources through eCampusOntario;
  4. Sexual Violence Prevention, specifically changes to Ontario SmartServe training, and release of research data collected this spring;
  5. Mental Health Funding, specifically targeting student spending;
  6. and International Student Healthcare, allowing international students to opt-in to OHIP.

I hope when the government releases the budget in the spring, students will see some of the results of our advocacy.

Advocacy is almost always a slow road, and this year OUSA focused on building our evidenced-based credentials with the new Progressive Conservative government. Keep your eyes peeled in the spring for funding for experiential learning and mental health decisions, and pay attention to see if the climate survey on sexual violence on campus is released in the coming months.

Beyond craning my neck to look at the height of everything, I had never visited Queen’s Park, and I got to spend an entire week immersed in the policy environment and provincial politics that made me excited to take on the VP Education role. I was proud to represent students, and I hope the work Richard and I put in during advocacy week will lead to many advocacy victories on student priorities in the coming years.