Since Doug Ford took office in June of 2018 his premiership has been riddled with contentious issues. Most recently, Ford has had the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) in his sights leading to a slew of student activist outcry. The provincial program, OSAP is grant service tailored towards post-secondary students that are identified as low-income.
The Ford government announced that the program would lose up to $600 million in provincial funding. This announcement was coupled with a policy that would see yearly tuition in Ontario cut by ten per cent. Reception toward the tuition cuts are surprisingly negative.
University employees have put forward that since the tuition cuts will not be supplemented by government funding in order to maintain revenue neutral that this policy is a de facto attack on postsecondary institutions in the province. Additionally, the Ford government has revealed that students will be able to opt-out of certain student programs that they pay for as part of their tuition.
While many postsecondary employees are slamming this decision, it’s prudent to note that this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. It’s unlikely that 100 per cent of students will choose to opt-out and hopefully we will see the continuation of valuable student programs.
What the Ford government has done is take the onus of funding off of the back of the provincial government which is aligned with his campaign promises. Ford ran on a platform that largely criticized the previous government for overzealous spending and racking up an enormous amount of debt. The province is projected to have a total debt of $325 billion for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The decision to have the option to opt-out of ancillary fees comes from the idea that “students are forced to pay for services they don’t use and organizations they don’t support,” according to Merrilee Fullerton who is Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities in the provincial government. Fullerton has been criticized as deliberately acting without consulting student unions as a way to undermine their say.
Students have been notably outraged, particularly about the cuts to OSAP. On Jan. 25 thousands of students got together and marched in Toronto as a way to protest the cuts. A Facebook event that was set up to organize the event saw over 4000 people responding to the march saying they would be attending. There has not been an official headcount but from accounts of people attending as well as video taken, the turn out looks to be well within the thousands.