Canadian University Press Briefs – Sep. 29, 2011

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‘This is the civil rights movement of our time’
Briana Hill
CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA (CUP) — An estimated 100 people were arrested on Parliament Hill Sept. 26 as hundreds of citizens from across the country descended on Canada's seat of government to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and further development of Alberta's oilsands.

Following a 10 a.m. rally around the Centennial Flame, waves of protesters began to peacefully scale the barricades set up by the RCMP on the lawn stretching up to Centre Block and sit on the grass on the other side.

“All together, there [were] over 30 waves of people that crossed this barricade and did a sit-in on the other side, and now one by one these very brave individuals are being arrested and processed by the RCMP," estimated York University graduate student and oilsands activist Kimia Ghomeshi.

“I'm here today in solidarity with all the First Nations communities that are presently impacted by the tar sands and opposing the proposed pipeline that would come with the expansion of the tar sands,” she explained.

The action, or sit-in, was coordinated by several groups, including the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada and the Indigenous Environmental Network and was billed as a publicly organized, peaceful act of civil disobedience that drew citizens from all over the country.

"These people, the reason they've come here today is because they realize that we've come to a point where we need to escalate … all these actions we were taking before were being disregarded by the federal government, so it's time for us to be more creative if we want change to happen," said Ghomeshi.

University of Guelph student Cassy Andrew made her way to Ottawa to participate in what she called “an extremely important action.”

"The bottom line is that resources are being destroyed and depleted and once that's done we can't go back," she said. "We're risking the lives of billions of people, depleting a resource such as water, in exchange for oil, when we should be moving away from our dependency on oil."

Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver released a statement on Sept. 26 supporting the Keystone XL pipeline with no mention of the protest.

"Canada's energy sector is a cornerstone of our national economy and future prosperity … revenues to government from the upstream oil and gas sector in 2010 totalled more than $16 billion," it read.

"That's money that supports Canada's quality of life — including investments in health care, infrastructure and keeping taxes low for Canadian families. Currently, Canada's oil sands directly employ 132,000 people and account for hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs across Canada,” the statement continued.

“It's a really, really destructive industry," Carleton University student Espoir Manirambona said from the other side of the barricade. "I mean, it destroys more than it creates.

"I think most Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians, are already with us, and agree that we need a sustainable economy — green jobs, which we can leave behind for our kids, not jobs that are fueled by an industry [that] destroys the environment," Manirambona continued.

Many speakers we featured throughout the day who hailed from communities directly affected by the oilsands.

"If people really listen to the stories of the people that are being affected by things like the tar sands and by climate change, then they're not going to be able to just sit back and not do anything,” said Andrew.

“That’s why we’re risking arrest right now,” said Manirambona. “This is the civil rights movement of our time: climate justice.”

N.B. students feel brunt of parental contribution
Colin McPhail
CUP Atlantic Bureau Chief

FREDERICTON (CUP) — The days when Ben Whitney could comfortably buy a bottle of Head & Shoulders are over. Now, the third-year University of New Brunswick business student must scrutinize every purchase after losing 63 per cent of his student loan because of the reinstatement of parental contribution.

Whitney’s 2011–12 loan was reduced by $5,000 from the previous year’s total of $8,000.

“My full year this year was less than I got first semester last year,” he explained.

The 20-year-old from Saint John is now faced with the difficult task of budgeting the smallest of purchases, including pens and pencils, toothpaste and shampoo.

To date, Whitney has budgeted his expenses with success, but the future is bleak. His projections show he will fall $5,000 short for next semester’s tuition and book payments — excluding basic living costs for four months.

“I really don’t know where I’m going to get that kind of money,” he said.

The decision to re-implement parental contribution in student loan calculations was made public during the 2011–12 provincial budget announcement on March 22 by Finance Minister Blaine Higgs.

Whitney knew his family would be among the estimated 4,500 New Brunswick families affected by the decision in March, but was surprised to see how big of an impact it had when he opened his student loan letter this summer. Now that he’s back to school, his funds are disappearing fast.

The money he made as a contract worker for ClinicServer, a clinic management server based in Saint John, dried up after making the large lump sum tuition payments owed at the beginning of every semester. He still receives between five and 10 hours of work weekly at $15 an hour, but the inherent student expenses have added up.

His parents have already chipped in $4,000 for his first semester bill, and, even though he would rather not accept any more, Whitney is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“I don’t want to accept anymore money from them, but I don’t what else I’m going to do," he said.

He is not sure if they will even have the funds to support him.

The most infuriating aspect of his plight, however, is how he feels the government perceives him.

“It says I’m not responsible,” he said.

“It’s almost demeaning that my parents income has to factor in a loan I’m requesting. I’m an adult; I’m 20 years old and I’m going to be repaying this with interest," he continued.

“I want to pay for this myself.”

Joey O’Kane, New Brunswick Student Alliance president and vice-present external of the UNB student union, is baffled by the imposition on the parents of the New Brunswick students. He said the province is contradicting itself in setting the age of majority at 19, but forcing students to be dependent on their parents’ income until at least 22.

With the reinstatement, the provincial government will save an annual $1.6 million on defaulted loans. A figure, according to O’Kane, that is “pennies” to the province, and all for a result causing financial hardships in thousands of New Brunswick homes.

Most families are expected to contribute anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. However, O’Kane has seen certain cases where high-bracket income or fluctuating income households are forced to pay upwards of $10,000.

“They’re making post-secondary education in New Brunswick less accessible than previous years," he said.

New Brunswick became the sole province to eliminate parental contribution in 2006 under Shawn Graham's Liberal government. However, a changing landscape of post-secondary education and a daunting fiscal reality has forced the government’s hand.

A spokesman from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour said the decision, although budgetary in nature, is first and foremost based on the principle that education costs should be left with families.

O’Kane described the department’s logic as short-term thinking that emphasizes the university as a business instead of as a learning institution.

“This current government is looking at [education] as an expense and it’s not that at all. It’s an investment,” he said. “Your return on the investment will be far higher than anything else you invested in.’’

With the second highest tuition rates in the country, post-secondary education in New Brunswick is becoming less accessible and less inviting. O’Kane said he wouldn’t be surprised to see students start thinking of opportunities elsewhere.

Whitney, who is considering law school after his undergraduate, will be among those students applying to programs outside of New Brunswick.

“Education is an investment in the future of this province,” he said. “If you’re cutting access to education in the province, you’re getting rid of the incentive to stay.”

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