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Ontario Politics

Liberals announce deficit budget

The ruling Ontario Liberal Party announced their pre-election budget on Wednesday, with deficit spending planned for six years to pay for infrastructure upgrades, seniors’ care and dental coverage. 

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Eli Ridder | The Avro Post

The ruling Ontario Liberal Party announced their pre-election budget on Wednesday, with deficit spending planned for six years to pay for infrastructure upgrades, seniors’ care and dental coverage. 

A throne speech and other announcements in the past several weeks have outlined a a series of high-priority items including $2.2 billion over three years for free licensed daycare for children two and half years old and older.

Analysts pegged the 308-page budget priced at $158.5 billion the “care budget”, with deficits planned over the course after running a $600 million surplus this fiscal year.

A majority of the spending will not be put to use until 2019, if the Liberal plan moves forward.

“We balanced the budget and we have a surplus. Now we have a choice,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said to reporters, according to multiple reports.

“People are saying, ‘We still need more support.’ So we made a choice to provide more supports.”

There were several new announcements that came part of the proposed budget:

  • billions in funding for seniors: Healthy Home Program $1 billion over three years, $650 million to boosting home caregiver funding, $750 million yearly benefit;
  • Ontario Drug and Dental Program will reimburse 80 per cent of eligible drugs and dental expenses, up to $400 for individual, $600 per couple; up to $700 for family of four with two children
  • Bonuses for business: $411 to fund new apprenticeship program for high school students, $900 million over 10 years to expand Jobs and Prosperity Fund: 70,000 new jobs

A graphic depicting Ontario’s deficit and surplus since 2009 was released by CBC News.

ontario-liberal-government-budget-chart-2018.jpg

Graphic from CBC News. 

Opposition leaders at Queen’s Park were quick to criticize the budget.

“God help us. We’ve seen this show before many times,” Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford told reporters, according to reports.

Mr. Ford, recently elected leader of the PC Party, said that residents of the province are being “taxed to death”.

The PC leader promised to slash four per cent of spending from the province’s budget should his party form government.

New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath described the budget as “meager”, saying that it “would not undo the damage done by the Liberals”, according to CBC News.

“The Liberals have had 15 years and instead of helping, they’ve only made things worse,” Ms. Horwath said.

“Budgets should be authentic, not designed to hold people hostage with power buying promises. We can do better,” the Green Party said in a statement.

Premier Kathleen Wynne goes up against Doug Ford, Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner in the June 7 Ontario election.


More details to follow. Image of Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa applauding the budget from the CBC.  ■

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Campus

Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative

An Ontario court ruled against the SCI in November.

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File photo of Premier Doug Ford.

The provincial government under the Progressive Conservatives is applying for leave to file an appeal against a ruling from the Divisional Court of Ontario that overturned the Student Choice Initiative.

A leave for appeal is a procedural measure that must be taken before an appeal is heard by the Court. Thus, the ruling of the Court stands and the SCI continues to be deemed unlawful.

The initiative, known as the SCI, was introduced earlier this year and came into play this fall semester. It allowed students to opt-out of paying certain “non-essential” ancillary fees that fund student unions, campus publication and other post-secondary organizations across the province.

The mandate came from the university and colleges ministry and was not passed through Queen’s Park. PC Party officials insisted to The Avro Post that it allowed for freedom of choice, allowing students to pay only for services that they felt was worth their financial support.

In response, the provincial division of the Canadian Federation of Students and York University’s student union filed a legal challenge against the SCI, stating that they failed to consult with students and should not have interfered with the autonomy of student unions.

Judges ruled unanimously in November to throw out the SCI, an unexpected victory for student allies. They found that the government has “no legal power to control the universities even if it wished to”.

A brief filed by the province on Monday evening states that the ruling restricts the authority to attach conditions to the funding given to public colleges and universities, according to reports by student newspapers.

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the brief reads, adding that post-secondary institutions “remain free” to accept taxpayer dollars, subject to the conditions that come along with the funding.

Over $5 billion comes from provincial coffers to the province’s 21 publicly assisted universities and 24 funded colleges. The Progressive Conservatives argue that the introducing optional student fees is an attempt to allow students to save more financially.

The court ruling, however, pointed out that the optional ancillary fees are a small portion of what students pay in tuition and other fees. For students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, there was only a charge of $55.95 compared to hundreds in overall fees.

The Winter 2020 semester starts in January and fees are due shortly. Some campuses are currently considering their legal options for removing the opt-out option for ancillary fees, The Globe and Mail reported.

IGNITE did not participate in the lawsuit against the province and did not offer support. The student union also refused to respond to the November ruling against the SCI until the government gave a statement. ■

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High school teachers launch day-long strike

The OSSTF is now on strike.

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Photo for demonstration via Pexels.

The union representing public high school teachers launched a one-day strike on Wednesday morning after a deadline for a deal was missed, the first strike in 22 years by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

This means that classes are cancelled at public and Catholic high schools for the day. The bargaining team for the union had remained in their caucus room since 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning but there was no provincial representation, OSSTF said.

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Campus

Administrations, unions give varied response to SCI ruling

The U of T was first to close the SCI.

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File photo.

On Nov. 21, the Ontario Divisional Court deemed the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative unlawful and the reaction has varied from sending the optional fees website offline to waiting on the Ford government’s response.

On Monday, Nov. 25, the University of Toronto responded by being the first university in Ontario to email its students informing them that they would be freezing the “incidental fees portal” while they took stock.

In an email to students from Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh, University of Toronto students were informed that the school was evaluating the “technical impact” of the court’s decision, and that there would be updates to come. 

In a graphic posted on their social media, Sheridan College said “Sheridan is monitoring the situation to see what course of action the government chooses to take. Until we receive a new directive, we’ll continue under the current one, which allows students to opt-out of paying certain fees.”

Few other post-secondary institutions have posted a public update about the new evolution in the implementation of the province of Ontario’s “Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines” document. [hyperlink: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/mtcu-university-tuition-framework-guidelines-mar2019-en.pdf]

The University of Guelph has not released a statement yet, but administration has advised its student union, the Central Student Association, that large institutions can take time to implement legal decisions, and that figuring out mechanics with which to reverse the ”Student Choice Initiative” will take some time. 

While the government of Ontario has not yet commented on the releases, there is speculation that they are considering an appeal. In a statement on Friday November 22nd, spokesperson Clara Bryne wrote, “The Ministry of Colleges and Universities is currently reviewing the decision released yesterday. We will have more to say on this at a later date.”

Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario National Executive Representative, and the CFS representative in the legal proceedings, Kayla Weiler, said “we haven’t had any confirmation if there will be an appeal or not, and […] we’re hoping the government will respect the unanimous decision of the panel of judges and respect student democracy”

In its reasons, the Divisional Court said, “The University Guidelines [SCI] … are beyond the scope of the crown’s prerogative power over spending because they are contrary to the statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”

Referring specifically to section seven of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act wherein governments are prevented from interfering with the “normal activities” of student governing bodies – specifically the court ruled that “normal activities” the government is precluded from includes; “reducing or eliminating the funding used by student associations.” ■

Reporting by Jack Fisher; 
Editing by Eli Ridder.
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