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Students rise up against Ford cuts

February 4 Toronto rally against cuts to education, photo by  Kevin Taghabon
Michelle Robidoux

February 7, 2019

February 4 marked the third week in a row that students in Ontario hit the streets protesting Doug Ford’s cuts to OSAP.

This call was for province wide action and demonstrations happened in Hamilton, Ottawa, London, Kingston and Guelph. School staff and teachers came out with their unions in solidarity from Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), UNIFOR and USW.

On January 25, 5,000 students marched through downtown Toronto chanting “We want OSAP – Give it back ASAP”. Students from across Ontario including North Bay, Belleville, Kingston, London and Hamilton joined Toronto students and marched on Queen’s Park.

Doug Ford’s plan includes eliminating free tuition for low-income families, eliminating the six-month grace period on student loan repayment and shifting from mostly grant-based to mostly loans-based funding.

Ashlea Brockway, a student from the Niagara region who joined the march, said “My husband is a disabled veteran, we have 3 young boys and live on ODSP. My goal is to support my family without ODSP. I attend university on full grants. I will now be required to pay at least half of my tuition. The 10% reduction of tuition saves only $600 to $1000, mainly benefiting those who don’t need assistance.”

She added, “These changes will cost me thousands and rob us of an opportunity at a better life. OSAP costs exceeded projections because they underestimated the significant barrier tuition is for low-income individuals. The rich gain and the poor are stuck.”

In a classic Tory switch-and-bait tactic, Ford announced a tuition cut of up to 10% – but with no additional funding to universities and colleges.

Any saving realized by a 10% tuition reduction will be lost and debt loads for students, already at staggering levels, will rise. This will effectively put post-secondary education out of reach for some. The 10% reduction in revenue means that institutions will be making cuts to compensate. This is a naked attempt to pit students against others in the post-secondary sector, as campus administrations scramble to make up for the gap in funding.

But students are not falling for Ford’s divide and conquer strategy. At the January 25 rally Student organizer Mohammad Ali Aumeer said, “Our message to the Ford government is, reverse the cuts. We need actual proper funding of post-secondary education. Cuts to tuition are great, but if it’s not met with putting money into the system, it’s not going to fix anything.”

Not only has Ford attacked students’ conditions, he is trying to knee-cap their ability to fight back. His “Student Choice Initiative” would allow students to opt-out of contributions to student unions. This is intended to weaken the capacity of students to organize on campus to resist these attacks, by removing the funding for organizations that have resisted regressive policies in the past. This will undermine the ability of students to have a voice in their own institutions and a counterweight to the authority of the college/university administrations.

If Ford is successful, he will undoubtedly push for similar policy targeting trade unions.

In this fight, unity of students and education workers is vital. Students have been joined in the protests by faculty. Pam Johnson, a faculty member at Humber College, told the January 25 rally “It is beautiful that you have come out to tell Doug Ford to stuff it. College faculty are with you. My working conditions are your learning conditions, our fight is the same fight… If this government thinks it is going to divide students and faculty, it is not going to happen. We are going to stand together.”

She concluded, “In 2012, Quebec students had a strike. They stopped tuition rises – but they did something else. They brought the government down on a student strike. We can repeat it here in Ontario!”

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