After months of council meetings and debate, it’s happened: The UNB Student Union is once again a full member of the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA).
The motion was passed at Sunday’s council meeting, with 18-6 in favour of restoring the UNBSU’s full membership in the NBSA for the 2014-2015 academic year.
The NBSA has long been a divisive issue, with the merits of unified provincial student voice being weighed against their effectiveness in past years and its hefty $18,000 annual membership fee. Last year’s council voted to drop down to associate membership in the organization. This year’s council needed to decide whether to stay or to go.
The decision wasn’t made without much debate. UNBSU president Ben Whitney argued that membership was needed because the union could not lobby provincially on their own.
“The UNBSU cannot advocate effectively on the provincial level as a lone organization,” he said, emphasizing the NBSA’s role as an avenue for collaboration.
But computer science representative Andrew Martel argued that an NBSA membership would “. . . create a questionable and a non-sustainable budget in the long run” and that the $18,000 could be better spent elsewhere.
Martel, who served as UNBSU president last year, also argued that most students don’t know what the NBSA is.
“The NBSA has not, nor has been for quite some time, a known name. It isn’t recognized by the majority of our students,” Martel said. “I wish that was different. I wish that had been a priority for my executive.”
He compared the UNBSU’s history with the NBSA to a rocky romantic relationship.
“Sometimes the NBSA falls short and we seem to take a break, only for us to take them back as they promise to do better, be better,” Martel said. “But it does not change. I think it’s time to break up.”
However, Whitney said the NBSA provides needed unity to student provincial lobbying.
“Staying with this organization, building it up like we have, allows us to have a level of consistency, which to government means a hell of a lot,” he said.
Whitney said the NBSA has been recognized by government to the point where political leaders approach them for platform ideas. But he also recognized the lack of visibility of the NBSA amongst UNB students, saying that council has been too caught up in internal debates to enact an awareness campaign.
“We always refer to the NBSA as this external thing floating up in the stratosphere – we are the NBSA. We are members, and if things aren’t working we are partially to blame,” Whitney said.
Martel told the Brunswickan after the meeting that he was disappointed, but expected the result.
“There had been previous discussions about the NBSA in the past, and the majority of councillors seemed to favour what the executive felt on that point,” he said. “So the resulting vote wasn’t that much of a surprise.”
Whitney said he’s glad that the majority of councillors saw the value of the organization.
“There were strong arguments on either point; I felt everyone stated their case very well,” he said. “I’m confident in what’s been accomplished this year, and I’m glad council recognized that.”