Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pam Hrick: next National Director of CASA?

Spring must be hiring season in Canada. After a long and cold winter, who doesn’t want to bust out of their rut with a new job, a new desk and maybe even a new computer? RFP is hiring, perhaps you’ve heard, but we’re not the only ones.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
(CASA) announced on February 24, that they will be hiring the next National Director of the organization. Current National Director, Zach Churchill, is one of the resume receivers, so presumably, he will not be re-running.

The hiring committee will submit a short list for an election at a national on March 26. The successful candidate will follow in the footsteps of former NDs such as Alex Usher.

Ryerson students have never been members of CASA, and so their structure is elusive to many of us who are familiar with democratic structures like CESAR or the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). CASA’s structure is a bizarre hybrid between hiring and democracy, and begs the question, doesn’t CASA trust its member organizations to elect the best candidate on their own, rather than twisting it into a semi-hiring process?

One unlikely candidate for this position is Pam Hrick. Pam is former president of the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa (SFUO), a federal Liberal and the lone woman in the finals for last year’s CBC’s show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.

Pam has never been a member of a CASA student union. In 2008 the SFUO voted to join the Canadian Federation of Students.

Interestingly, there are no requirements for potential applicants included in the job description. There are requirements, though, on the home page job announcement. There are no provisions that the National Director be a student: the successful candidate must have a degree or the equivalent combination of education and/or work experience (the jury is out on what amount of work constitutes a degree. According to the government of Ontario and many other provinces, it is a degree only that constitutes a degree).

Pam has never been a member of CASA but she meets all criteria for candidacy: experience “dealing with media,” experience in management, strong Liberal bias…

CASA doesn’t take enough heat in the student press for its version of democracy. While Pam’s candidacy is currently only rumour, it would be a big story if she were to become CASA’s next National Director. If she gets hired, student unions represented by CASA will have a chief lobbyist and official spokesperson who has never been a member and, whose former student union is now a member of the CFS.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Student union drops health insurance broker citing inflated fees and unprofessional behaviour

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) recently announced that it was ending a 12-year relationship with insurance broker Lev Bukhman and his firm, Quebec Student Health Alliance (ASEQ). Instead, they voted to institute a new student-run health plan office.

"It appeared to us that over the last few years our health and dental plan was delivering more value to ASEQ and Sun Life than it was to Concordia students," said CSU president Keyana Kashfi in a media release citing over payments of over $1.3 million over the last three years.

"Every time Concordia student representatives asked more probing questions about our plan's performance, Mr. Bukhman's behaviour became more threatening and erratic," she added.

CSU representatives also expressed concern at Bukhman’s refusal to solicit quotes from insurance providers other than Sun Life during last year's renewal. The students’ union points to Mr. Bukhman’s “affinity relationship” with Sun Life, related to the volume of business he generates for the insurer, as a possible motivation for this.

Concerns by the CSU that their insurance interests were not being properly represented were met with a call by Bukhman that the Concordia administration to step in and meddle with the student health plan affairs.

The role of an insurance broker is to represent the student union’s best interests when negotiating with insurance providers. The details of the negotiations should be fully accessible, not just to assess the broker’s competence, but as an important check against the possibility of contracts that benefit the broker at the expense of the client.

Unfortunately, broker-client problems are not limited to the CSU-ASEQ. Representatives at other student unions have cited similar concerns of brokers pulling the wool over their eyes only to discover later on that contracts have disproportionately benefited the broker.

For example, the Ryerson Students’ Union has a long history of troubles with Gallivan and Associates with whom they have been “shackled” into a contract since 2004.

Part-time students at Ryerson are currently without health and dental insurance. While it is important for the CESAR to investigate this needed service for its members, they must learn from the lessons from the CSU and RSU and not duplicate them.