Eli Ridder | Report
The Ontario Student Assistance Program has started promoting the 10 per cent tuition cut for domestic students that will come into play this fall on the home page of the government organization’s homepage — a change that came to the attention of The Avro Post on Friday.
The highlighted promotion, however, does not note the significant cuts to grants offered for the past two years that allowed some 200,000 low-income post-secondary students to attend school in Ontario largely for free.
The provincial government under Premier Doug Ford made cuts in January to grants, eliminated a post-graduation grace period on interest for school loans and introduced optional student fees that threaten campus organizations.
The promotion, highlighted in a yellow bulletin box, says that “going to college and university in Ontario will be more affordable thanks to a 10 [per cent] tuition reduction for Ontario students”.
Opposition politicians in the New Democratic Party — who promised free tuition and loan forgiveness in the 2018 provincial election, Liberals, the single Green, national student groups and other critics have overwhelmingly condemned the grant cuts.
Critics say that the tuition cut does not make up for the many grants that students will lose out on. The ruling Progressive Conservatives have said it will help the province tackle massive debt that the previous Liberal administration racked up.
The deficit, which Tories peg at $14.5 billion and the financial accountability officer said was at $12 billion, was a focal point of the Ford government during campaigning, promising to trim costs to tackle the issue.
Cuts across green energy programs and initiatives, education, healthcare, research and other areas have stirred up backlash from interest groups, unions, companies and politicians. Students in particular have held several rallies at Queen’s Park.
Image of Doug Ford from files, image of OSAP logo from OSAP. ■
Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative
An Ontario court ruled against the SCI in November.
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. ■
High school teachers launch day-long strike
The OSSTF is now on strike.
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.
Administrations, unions give varied response to SCI ruling
The U of T was first to close the SCI.
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.”
📣STUDENT CHOICE INITIATIVE UPDATE📣— Sheridan College (@sheridancollege) November 25, 2019
The #StudentChoiceInitiative was successfully challenged in court last week and Sheridan has become aware of the court decision.
As new information becomes available, we will continue to keep you informed. https://t.co/q2UUzOTjJ6 pic.twitter.com/KOrywwsBqn
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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