UMSU raises priorities with provincial parties

With the Manitoba provincial election less than a month away, UMSU has been meeting with parties to ensure students’ voices are heard.

So far, UMSU has met with the leadership and some other MLAs of both the New Democratic Party of Manitoba (NDP) and the Manitoba Liberal Party.

UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said he will be meeting with the Green Party of Manitoba soon and has reached out to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.

“We have not gotten a meeting yet with the Conservative party, but we very much would like to, to let them know where those student priorities are at ahead of a very important election,” he said.

Sanderson, who noted UMSU will not be endorsing any party, said the union has been focusing on the four “primary” parties in the election and has not reached out to the other registered parties, the provincial arm of the Communist Party of Canada or Manitoba First.

He listed 10 asks UMSU focused on promoting to the parties during the meetings, including the restoration of healthcare funding for international students, the reinstatement of funding for the Access program bursaries — a bursary aimed at disadvantaged students — which was cut by the provincial government earlier this year, increasing grants for Campus Manitoba to create a “credit transfer database and more open educational resources,” restoring university operating grants to pre-2017-18 levels across the province and the retention of interest-free student loans.

Other priorities included increased mental health supports, increased sexual violence supports, expansion of eligibility for scholarships and bursaries to part-time and mature students, freezing inflationary tuition increases and increased funding for Indigenous-related course offerings.

“We feel confident that these do reflect key student priorities with the University of Manitoba,” he said. “And so we have been getting these out to all the different parties, and as soon as parties are incorporating some these asks to their platforms, we’ll be indicating that on all of our social media releases, so we hope that we’ll be able to get a lot of the students out to the polls and to do so in an educated fashion.”

Sanderson called the meetings “very productive,” and noted that the NDP has included a “number of the different things” in its platform that UMSU brought up. He said the union also expects the Liberal party’s platform to incorporate most of its priorities.

The NDP platform, revealed Aug. 8, states the party would keep student loans interest-free, freeze tuition increases to the rate of inflation and restore the Access bursary.

Sanderson said that while the Liberal program had yet to be released when UMSU had spoken with the party, the “discussion was extremely positive” and that UMSU was “expecting that a vast majority of our asks are going to be reflected.”

The Liberal party has since released a platform including a review of provincial taxes and providing additional funds to the province’s arts and culture industries.

Sanderson said he believes the meetings had a “big impact” in making sure students and their priorities are considered by the parties.

“I can’t speak for what would be in a platform if we didn’t have those meetings, but I can definitely say that we brought forward a lot of issues that I think, some of which parties were already thinking about, but others I don’t think were really something that the parties were giving a lot of active consideration to,” he said.

“I think the fact that we brought these up has been really, really influential.”

Get out to vote

The provincial election voting day is Sept. 10, just a week after new student orientation day on Sept. 3. Sanderson said UMSU programming during both the provincial and federal election — for which voting is set for Oct. 21 — will include a focus on getting students out and voting.

“We’re going to be running our Get Out to Vote campaign, for both the provincial and federal [elections] starting right from the first day of school, in that during all of our tabling and all of our orientation sessions we’re going to be collecting vote pledges for students,” said Sanderson.

“Everyone who pledges to vote, we’re going to be able to keep them up to date with individualized contact in terms of what to do on voting day, where to go.

“In terms of every time one of the parties updates a platform based on something towards education, we’re able to communicate that information right to them.”

Sanderson added UMSU had been “in talks” with Elections Manitoba to set up polling stations on campus and hoped students would take part.

“It’s not just about getting students to vote, it’s about educating them on why to vote.”