A planned College Student Alliance rally took place in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario at Queen’s Park with over a hundred attendees on Wednesday afternoon.
The “students first” rally was in support of ending the college union strike and getting students back on campus. The CSA called on both sides not to use students as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.
The CSA’s official stance is one of neutrality, taking neither side in the college employment dispute.
Bargaining between Ontario’s 24 public colleges, represented by the College Employer Council, and the faculty’s Ontario Public Sector Employees Union fell apart last month resulting in a strike starting on Oct 16.
However, news broke hours before the rally that the Council and OPSEU are set to return to the bargaining table on Thursday morning.
Several speakers engaged gathered students and addressed news cameras during the rally.
Deborah Matthews, the provincial Liberal Party cabinet minister in charge of the post-secondary portfolio, took to the podium in support of students.
Matthews said Queen’s Park was sympathetic of the strike’s consequences on college students and thanked those in attendance for their leadership and “for your voices.”
However, many students at the rally were critical of the government, saying they weren’t caring for the 500,000 full and part-time students across the province now losing out on tuition, and some paying for housing without education.
“Governments are supposed to be proactive not reactive,” mature college student Jeff Hollick told the Post.
Hollick and a friend were sporting signs reading “we can’t learn if you can’t agree” that were being held by many at the rally.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said that his party put students first.
Mr Schreiner told the Post that the “root cause of the strike is the fact that Ontario has the lowest per capita funding for colleges of any province.”
“The Liberals have failed to support college students and faculty.”
Buses from several colleges drove in from the Greater Toronto Area, but the rally did not appear to be as well-attended as the Facebook event page seemed to suggest it would be.
However, event organizers said that many student associations that couldn’t make it to Queen’s Park were holding their own rallies in support across Ontario.
Ignite represents at rally
Ignite President Maja Jocson and two other vice president’s were in attendance at the CSA rally in front of Queen’s Park, engaging in the chanting and holding signs.
A banner with the official Ignite student life branding on it and the event hashtag “#StudentsFirst” scrawled out in marker under the logo was held up for majority of the rally.
Ignite’s stance is the same as the College Student Alliance’s: neutrality.
However, some college faculty strikers fear this could lead to back-to-work legislation which would force picketing faculty, librarians and counsellors to return to their jobs without the colleges having to meet their demands.
Humber College professor Tyler Shipley told the Post previous to Wednesday that “if the rally isn’t careful to express support for faculty, it will inevitably be used by the employer and/or province as a justification for back-to-work legislation to end the strike.”
Shipley said Wednesday that “it remains to be seen whether this is an effort in good faith or just a ploy to appear better to the media” in regards to the College Employer Council and faculty union’s return to the bargaining table.
NDP legislator supports students, OPSEU
New Democratic Party legislator Peggy Sattler told gathered college students that her provincial party had supported students long before the strike.
The provincial member of parliament encouraged students to “continue your advocacy.”
However, Sattler told the Post that the NDP “believe the concerns that have been identified by OPSEU are legitimate concerns and should be addressed.”
“These are real issues that need to be discussed, whether through the bargaining process or through another form,” Sattler said.
The MPP did not expand on what an alternative form to the bargaining process would be but said her party was against back-to-work legislation.
More details to follow. Image 1 of the rally from The GH Post.