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Government Affairs Commissioner Exit Blog

May 11th, 2017

2016-2017  Government Affairs Commissioner Antonio Brieva recaps his year in the role.

This last year as Government Affairs Commissioner has been fantastic both personally and professionally. With the steady leadership of VP Education Sarah Wiley, we made great progress on the advocacy priorities we worked on at local, provincial, and federal levels.

At the federal level, we were able to eliminate the two per cent cap on funding increases for the Postsecondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), an initiative that supports indigenous students’ access to postsecondary education. Not only were we part of the effort to eliminate the cap, but we also advocated for increased funding, which the government did commit to — approximately $90 million over the next two years.

Antonio Brieva at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Association's Fall General Assembly in 2016.

At the local level, we worked closely with the Town and Gown of Waterloo student housing working group to collect relevant student housing data. In late 2016 and early 2017, the group administered and promoted a student housing survey as a follow-up to the 2014 survey. The survey measured the scope of present and future issues around student housing in the City of Waterloo including: quality, affordability, gap between supply and demand, relationship with landlords, and difficulties around finding sublets (to name just a few). The findings of the survey will be presented to the larger Town and Gown Committee of Waterloo and the City of Waterloo Council, which will help inform policy decisions at local and upper levels of government.

We also tackled concerns around student housing, which dominated our advocacy efforts this past year. In response to buildings not being done on time, Waterloo City Council wrote a letter on our behalf to Chris Ballard, Minister of Housing, advocating for a review of the Residential Tenancies Act. VP Education Sarah Wiley and I identified and pushed for potential amendments to protect tenants’ pre-occupancy rights under the Act, while formally and legislatively empowering the Landlord Tenant Board to enforce its rulings in a timely manner so that tenants and landlords could seek cost-effective justice. We also worked closely to with our local MPP, Catherine Fife, to advance these advocacy priorities. MPP Fife wrote to Minister Ballard on our behalf to push for these protections for all tenants.

Although there has been a lot of discussion around student housing buildings not being completed on time, very little attention has been paid to the increasing cost of student housing in the region over the past few decades. My counterpart at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Student Union and I delivered a presentation at an affordable housing forum hosted by the City of Waterloo and the Town and Gown Committee of Waterloo. The presentation brought this issue to light and placed it on the policy agenda of local city and regional representatives that were present at the forum.

Other local advocacy priorities that turned into wins this year include: convincing the city to invest resources into replacing city street lights with LED lights to address lighting and safety issues in heavily student populated areas; and investing in accessible sidewalks along Seagram Drive that would connect pedestrians to the future LRT ION station.

In addition to these achievements, some of the work I’m most proud of this year I undertook at the provincial level with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). I contributed a piece to the organization’s yearly Habitat’s magazine that explores ways in which the Town and Gown Association of Ontario (TGAO) and local Town and Gown Committees across the province can realize their advocacy potential, and also worked on OUSA’s sexual violence policy. Not only was I an author for this policy, but I had the opportunity to go to Queen’s Park with VP Education Sarah Wiley and other OUSA student leaders to advocate on some of the recommendations outlined in the paper. We advocated for bystander intervention training to be incorporated within Smart Serve, and for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) to develop a Sexual Violence Prevention Unit that would work to establish and evaluate best practices across post-secondary institutions in the province.

I look forward to carrying on this work during my upcoming term as Feds President. Our institutions, local communities (i.e police services), and provincial government are taking this issue seriously by highlighting concerns and identifying survivor-centric solutions. It is part of our job as student advocates to make the most of this window of opportunity.

Written by Antonio Brieva, current Feds President and 2016-2017 Government Affairs Commissioner.