Student unions and faculty associations across Ontario are expressing cautious optimism for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new Liberal majority government.
The Liberal Party of Ontario finished the election campaign with 58 seats. The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario finished second with 27 seats.
Alastair Woods, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), said the CFS-O discussed education policy with Wynne during the election. The meeting focused on the 30 per cent tuition grant, which was implemented by Dalton McGuinty’s minority government in 2012. Students must meet a number of financial, citizenship, and residency requirements to be eligible for the grant.
Woods said that the grant excludes many students, and should instead be applied to all students. “With the majority government, they have a really good opportunity to be bolder and to not actually have to worry about the perils that a minority government can create when someone tries to pursue a bold policy,” he said.
Postsecondary education was not widely discussed during the election, with party leaders choosing instead to focus on employment and the economy.
“We were a bit surprised [education] wasn’t more of an issue,” said Graeme Stewart, communications manager at the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA).
Stewart said that OCUFA is currently focused on lobbying for increased public funding for universities and increased faculty hires, adding that Ontario has the lowest per-student funding of any jurisdiction in Canada and the worst student-to-faculty ratio.
“We know from the past, and the Liberal record, that they know that universities are important and they know it should be a priority,” said Stewart, adding: “What we’re asking them to do is to renew that investment and get more public dollars going into the sector.”
With added provincial government funding, Stewart said that pressure would be taken off universities to increase tuition fees, thereby improving the quality of education and creating better working conditions for faculty members.
“It’s an exciting time … there are lots of challenges, but we look forward to working with the new government,” said Stewart.
Colin Zarzour, member of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) steering committee and the academic affairs commissioner of the Queen’s University Alma Mater Society, agreed that a lot can be done for postsecondary education in Ontario in the next four years.
“Right now, the university sector, and postsecondary education sector as a whole, is in a state where it’s volatile and delicate,” said Zarzour, adding: “We definitely need to have a more focused approach on certain items.”
One of the main concerns for the OUSA is improving student aid. Zarzour said that some provincial funds should be reallocated to student aid tax credits to help middle- and lower-income students. He also said that more should be done to improve online learning resources and integrate job experience with educational institutions.
“[Education] is not really one that could afford to be sacrificed in times of austerity… The education of society is not something we throw to the wayside when times get tough,” Zarzour said.
The legislature returns on July 2.