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The not-so-Progressive Conservatives and their attack on students

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

It may be flu season, but that’s not the only thing that’s got Ontario students feeling sick

By: Justin Fiacconi

On a cold afternoon in Queen's Park, the Ford government announced it would be cutting funding for education, primarily the elimination of free tuition for low-income students; a sinister cliff-hanger for hundreds and thousands of students who rely and depend upon OSAP to help finance their education.

The not-so-Progressive Conservatives confirmed that they would be cutting $600 million in student grants with an additional $440 million in cuts to universities and colleges. While their spin-doctoring makes it look like they will be reducing tuition costs by 10%, the reality is that the small reduction in tuition costs will only really make education a little bit cheaper for wealthier families as they cut the funding for grants. Rob Ford and his government have just single-handedly thrown students deeper into debt, while deterring some lower-income students from getting a post-secondary education at all. Yet, Ford claims that his government is, “for the students.” The hypocrisy is shocking.

The announcement of a 10% reduction in tuition is just a smokescreen for funding cuts for students. Let there be no confusion about that. Not only does the 10% reduction in tuition effect students, but universities and colleges in Ontario will be taking the hardest hit. It is estimated that over $350 million will be cut from universities and approximately $80 million from colleges. This will impact the amount of resources that students and teachers have available, effectively decreasing the quality of education that students receive.

Not only this, but by making it optional for students to opt-out of student unions, the funding for student unions is at risk. Student unions provide students with vital services that would be more expensive for students if their funding was cut in any way. The fact is that student unions are one of the most important and effective organizations on campuses in Ontario. Unlike our current Ontario government, student unions actually have the student’s best interests in mind.

The reduction of 10% in tuition will not apply to international students, and those students will not have access to any existing additional funding opportunities either. This will making studying here in Ontario more expensive for international students.

Any Conservative party member who says getting an education will be ‘cheaper,’ or that they are ‘for the students,’ is lying to your face. About a week after the announcement, Algoma University Student’s Union (AUSU) organized a peaceful protest made up of Algoma University students who marched to Ross Romano’s office (our local conservative MPP) to protest the new changes being made to OSAP by the Ford government. Through frigid temperatures, approximately 100 students showed up and braved the cold, bringing their 'Outdoor voices.'

Ross Romano did come out and meet us at his doorstep. The reasons he gave us for cutting funding for education were repetitive and non-sensical. One of his more outlandish comments was that these new changes would, “Make education more affordable for students.” That may hold true for the children of doctors and lawyers, but for your average Joe, that’s just not the case. One sly protester challenged those comments by Romano, by implying that they may be making tuition a little bit cheaper, but they are doing so by cutting funding for students. This comment left Romano at a loss for words.

These new changes do not benefit our education system in any way. It will decrease enrollment, reduce student's and teachers access to services and resources, and deter international students from studying in Ontario. It will only throw students deeper in debt.

Conservatives suggest that the funding path we were on was just ‘not sustainable.’ An alternative opinion would suggest that as students graduate and pursue jobs, that money will be put back into the economy quicker than it is now since students will be having to deal with greater debt once they get out of school. Perhaps the conservative leaders should be more focused on creating jobs for graduates rather than limiting the number of graduates. Just a thought.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people, especially conservatives that are in favour of this new Ford government policy, is that students are getting a ‘Free pass.’ It is said that all the pre-existing government funding for education is falling onto the taxpayer. To some degree, it is true that some of it falls onto the taxpayer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In Scandinavian countries, it has been proven that even when paying higher taxes, as long as people feel that their money is being put back into the economy in an effective manner, they are happier and have a higher level of trust in their governments. Tax-payers money can better be put into the economy through funding for education, healthcare, and other social services. As a result, people in Scandinavian countries literally never have to worry about money for education, as long as they are contributing to society. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are constantly at the top of all economic and happiness index’s done throughout the world. The mindset that contends students should have to struggle with and accumulate tons of debt is silly since there is evidence that it does not have to be that way. If we truly want to be a progressive society, it is time for young people to start getting more involved in politics, and to not be afraid to embrace change.

Say what you will about Kathleen Wynne, but at least she invested in the future of Ontario. The Ford government did not even consult any student groups about their decision to cut funding. What’s democratic about that?

As an autonomous region in Canada, we are supposed to have our voices heard. Despite this, Doug Ford and the PC government continue to turn a blind eye to students.

In Solidarity!

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