Vice President Academic and External Taya Nabuurs and Policy and Research Coordinator Colin Trewin presented the UPEISU’s policy priorities to the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island’s Standing Committee on Education and Economic Development on October 18th.
The first policy priority presented was increased funding for mental health supports. Nabuurs and Trewin cited the results of a Student Union survey conducted in March as part of the SU’s annual policy consultations that indicated mental health support was the second highest ranked concern for students. The top three ranked priorities were student financial aid, followed by mental health supports, followed by affordable textbooks.
“We’d like to see Prince Edward Island follow in the footsteps of other provinces across the country in making meaningful investments in the mental health and wellbeing of its post-secondary students,” Nabuurs told the committee. “The availability of robust and timely mental health services is crucial in ensuring that students receive the supports they need.”
Nabuurs and Trewin urged the government to follow the lead of Alberta, which announced $25.8 million over three years for mental health services, and Ontario, which announced it would be increasing its yearly investments to student mental health supports by $15 million.
The UPEISU recommended that the government contribute $75 per student towards mental health initiatives. Nabuurs explained that the money would go primarily towards funding on-campus initiatives such as peer counsellors, noting that students seeking mental health services often land on long waitlists.
The SU then presented their second priority, indigenizing the University of Prince Edward Island and moving towards reconciliation, which was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. The SU recommended that the provincial government create a fund to support UPEI in implementing the report’s calls to action as they relate to postsecondary education, additionally recommending any other efforts to support Indigenous students on PEI. The SU added that all discussions on the topic must include Indigenous communities.
The final priority presented was sexual violence prevention and support for survivors. The SU stated that there is a growing concern for support services for sexual violence survivors on campus. Nabuurs stated that “Prince Edward Island is one of only a few provinces in Canada with no legislation or other government authority mandating sexual violence policies on its post-secondary campuses.”
Nabuurs advised the government to send a clear message to all, that PEI will not tolerate sexual violence on its campuses, and is committed to supporting survivors. Nabuurs highlighted that other provinces such as British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario have recently enacted legislation which “provides guidance and oversight for post-secondary sexual violence policies.”
The government was very alarmed about the concerns surrounding sexual violence and wanted to know if there was anything that it could do immediately to address these concerns. Nabuurs reiterated that the best way to address these concerns is to create a policy.
The Committee passed three motions based on the SU’s presentation.
MLA Matthew MacKay moved that the Committee of Education and Economic Development would recommend ‘that the Government of Prince Edward Island enact provincial legislation to ensure external oversight of sexual violence policies at its post-secondary institutions.”
MLA Kathleen Casey moved that “The Government of Prince Edward Island invest in a per-student funding model dedicated to supporting the enhancement of mental health and wellness supports and initiatives for post-secondary students on Prince Edward Island; that the province would explore that.” Ms. Casey clarified that the committee can’t make direct budgetary recommendations, but they can ask the Government to “explore or consider it in their upcoming budget”.
MLA Steven Myers moved that the committee “send a letter to the four Island MPs asking them if they still support changes to the EI zones that they supported prior to the last election, to help alleviate the student issue with the EI that we heard today.”
Read full transcript of the committee meeting here.
Full Statement from Nabuurs
“I left the Committee presentation on Wednesday feeling very positive. I was pleased with the active engagement from Members and the extensive question and answer period following our presentation. I felt that the Committee was particularly receptive to our asks for a per-student funding model and sexual violence legislation.
Following a question from the Committee, we also had the opportunity to discuss the new Career Connect program and the inequities in the distribution of EI to students. While it was not a formal part of our presentation, we were glad that an opportunity was provided to give our feedback.
The only main area of concern for me was the lack of engagement with our ask supporting indigenous students at UPEI. Throughout the presentation, there was only one follow-up question on this ask, and I was a bit disappointed with the tone of some conversations had during the question and answer period which seemed to insinuate that reconciliation was of less importance than other student issues. The UPEI Student Union will continue advocating on our recommendation for a Reconciliation Fund and we hope to see improved public discourse on this topic moving forward.”
By: Iain Burhoe
This photo was taken from the committee meeting’s footage.