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CFS Ontario releases new leaflet on student changes

A new leaflet with more information.

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Eli Ridder | Report

The Ontario division of the Canadian Federation of Students on Thursday posted a link to a new leaflet that outlined the organization’s usual calls for free tuition but included a page dedicated to the changes by the provincial government to student life.

A part of their “We the Students” movement, CFS highlighted the Student Choice Initiative that forces optional student fees for this fall, the provincial cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and a 10 per cent cut in tuition fees that could see unregulated schools hike costs to cover the loss.

Railing on the SCI, the Federation writes that it “makes fees that students have voted on through democratic referenda optional”, reducing the ability of student unions to represent and provide services for members.

With OSAP, the CFS criticizes the loss of the six-month interest-free period after a student graduates and the new policy that even low-income students — who had virtually free tuition before — will be forced to take out a few minimum loans over grants.

The organization, who represents student unions at several schools across Ontario, said that, though it provides relief to some students, the 10 per cent tuition cut by the provincial government, it is not in conjunction with “a much-needed increase in public funding”.

“Institutions will need to make up for the funding shortfall through budget cuts,” CFS concludes, also noting that the 10 per cent cut does not apply to the higher-paying international students.

Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government introduced these changes to student financial life on Jan. 17 to much criticism from student groups, unions, campus publications and opposition political parties.

Since the announcement by post-secondary Minister Merrilee Fullerton, there have been several rallies held at Queen’s Park in Toronto where students have organizers in protest.

Not all students have criticized the government’s moves but a loud and potential majority of them have made their opinion against the changes known.

The Ontario New Democrats, who were the runner-up’s in the 2018 election, planned to have loan forgiveness and free tuition for nearly, if not, all students. Their provincial legislators have been fighting back against the PC changes.

Image of the CFS We The Students homepage. ■

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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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Ontario

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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