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UPDATED: Students a no show at NAFTA Town Hall held at UNB

Although no students showed up for the NAFTA Town Hall held at UNB Thursday night, students are complaining that the event was not well-advertised.

I don’t live in the city anymore but I got an e-mail about it yesterday at 2:30 p.m. That’s pretty short notice for students who already have busy schedules,” said Kristyn Lyons on the Brunswickan Facebook page.

“I have a hard time believing no student would attend if they knew about the event. Also, the timing of the event may have been an issue that affected their ability to attend,” said Wayne Michael Ryan, also on the Brunswickan’s Facebook page.

The Town Hall was not organized by UNB, but rather the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“Promotion of outside organizations’ events is usually left to the event organizer. In this case, the Communications Office offered to help promote the event internally on Tuesday of this week,” said Sonya Gilks, director of communications at UNB.

Gilks said the event was promoted through various UNB streams including social media and myUNB news.

Global Affairs Canada issued a media release regarding the event on Oct. 11, the day before, which simply read, “Matt DeCourcey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, will host a town hall meeting on NAFTA modernization, on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The town hall meeting is open to the public.”

It is unclear how this media release was promoted to UNB students and those in the Fredericton community. There was no evidence for advertising on Matt DeCourcey’s official Twitter and Facebook pages.

On Thursday evening, the Government of Canada held a town hall on the UNB campus as part of their ongoing consultations in regards to the renegotiating of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Government of Canada was represented by Fredericton MP Matt Decourcey and MP of New Brunswick South-West Karen Ludwig, who also belongs to the House of Commons standing committee on international trade.

Decourcey and Ludwig took the first half of the hour-long meeting to give an overview of what the government has been doing at the negotiating table to make what Decourcey called an “already good agreement better.”

Some priorities for government include modernization of the agreement to better reflect the activities of today’s society and a more progressive approach that looks similar to Canada and the European Union’s recently signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Decourcey referenced CETA several times as an exemplar for some of the things the Canadian government would like to achieve with NAFTA, including a “freer market for government procurement,” —a significant accomplishment during CETA negotiations according to Decourcey.

The town hall was moderated by UNB vice-president academic George MacLean—not that there was much moderating required given the handful of people who attended the event.

Held at the Wu Conference Centre, a few people were scattered around the big open room, but it was hard to tell if even one student was in attendance—certainly none got up during question period to let their voice be heard.  

Barb Telford was one of the people present in the audience, and she expressed her disappointment at the lack of student turnout.

“It was obvious the dearth of students…this is probably the most important thing that is going to come out of the next four years, and they weren’t here,” said Telford.

Holly Hersey of the New Brunswick Women’s Institute also attended the town hall, and shared Telford’s sentiments. Both women were upset to think students might not either know or care about NAFTA and the ongoing negotiations.

“I don’t have a clue [why students didn’t attend]—I couldn’t make any kind of blanket statement…but how do you avoid knowing about NAFTA?” said Telford.

Hersey didn’t accept the excuse of not knowing enough about it to attend. “I didn’t know enough to ask questions about anything or make comments, but that’s why I was here,” she said.

Hersay said it was crucial for students to attend these kinds of events regardless the result of providing input, or even what that input was.

“If they don’t get involved there gets to be less of a point—of holding these things, of learning about these things, of getting anywhere—and it just becomes less and less important.”

NAFTA is a free trade agreement between Canada the United States and Mexico. While NAFTA has been largely beneficial to the economies of the three North American countries, US president Donald Trump is currently considering ending the three-country agreement, looking instead to make an agreement solely with Canada.

Canada is confident that they can arrive at a “win-win-win,” and this was mentioned multiple times at the Town Hall.

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