The quiet demise of the Halifax Student Alliance

By Lucy ScholeyNews Editor

Some students may have forgotten about it, and many students haven’t even heard of it. And now, all that’s left of the Halifax Student Alliance is a gaping hole in the Dalhousie Student Union’s budget.
The DSU budget allocated about $13,000 to the multi-university coalition last spring for the current academic year. But the DSU didn’t collect student fees this year after the students’ union and several others bowed out of the organization. The move was unprecedented.
“This is the first time I have heard of it,” said DSU vice president (finance and operations) Doyle Bond of the group’s collapse. “I think HSA was one of those organizations that people weren’t expecting universities to pull out of.”
The multi-university coalition was officially formed in 2007 to lobby the municipal government on issues such as safety and security around the city. Most notably, the organization pushed for a late-night transit system.
For several reasons – including the $1.8 million price tag – Metro Transit decided it couldn’t provide this service, but that it would continue trying to “engage the universities and colleges to develop plans and strategies to provide safe travel for students” (according to a municipal report from the Feb. 8, 2009 meeting).
The HSA was a collective of the DSU, the St. Mary’s University Students’ Association, the NSCC Waterfront Campus Student Union and the Atlantic School of Theology Student Union.
But for various reasons, most of these groups dropped out, leaving Dal to carry the load.
“It seemed like Dal would be the only school that would fund the organization and council didn’t see that as being appropriate,” said DSU president Shannon Zimmerman.
Though the Mount Saint Vincent University Students’ Union wasn’t a member, the union president said there was a falling out between the former president and the HSA director.
“HSA wasn’t supportive and there wasn’t a lot of dissent going on,” said Jeremy Neilson. “It just dissolved, more or less.”
According to Zimmerman, SMUSA and the NSCC students’ union dropped out because they didn’t have room for the HSA in their operating budgets.
Kyle Shaw, editor of The Coast, said student organizations are important in a city “where municipal services like Metro Transit and the police go beyond apathy to treat their student customers with contempt.”
“The main reason any government can get away with treating students badly is turnover,” he wrote in an article in August 2008. Students started forming organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Nova Scotia Alliance of Student Associations to push for their needs.
Without the alliance, there is no cohesive student advocacy group at the municipal level.
“Municipal is not a focus on (post-secondary education),” said Zimmerman. “It’s a focus on issues that are affecting students that are in universities and colleges. So it’s kind of a different lobbying.”
But not all is lost, she added. The DSU is working on getting the organization back on its feet.
“(HSA’s demise) doesn’t mean that it won’t necessarily happen again,” said Zimmerman.
But she’s had problems convincing other students’ unions to join.
“(DSU vice president education, Rob LeForte) and I started working on it this year and we’ve had a lot of issues with other students and student organizations,” said Zimmerman. “I’m not sure the interest from other schools was there like the interest from Dal was there.”
“It’s supposed to be a coalition of Metro universities and colleges, it should have all of them committed to it, rather than just one financially committed.”
Neilson said he wasn’t aware of the DSU’s efforts, but that he likes the philosophy behind HSA.
“The initiative, the goal and drive of the organization is strong and the city would only be better if we had it,” said Neilson, adding that he’s not sure if the Mount’s students’ union would join the group. It would depend on what the students want, he said.
Despite any troubles, Zimmerman said the DSU is still in talks with municipal councillors about issues that are important to students.
“It’s not as if the voice has been lost for them,” she said.

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