After four controversial years of Liberal reign, a new government will emerge from the provincial election on June 7. Ontario is poised for big change — and not just because change is inherent to elections.

Kathleen Wynne, the well-qualified, perpetually unliked Liberal premier, has already conceded the election — telling voters to not worry about her being premier and to vote in as many Liberal candidates as possible, instead.  In a pessimistic call for strategic voting, the Toronto Star’s editorial board has urged Ontarians to vote for Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP) — to stop Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives (PC) from occupying the top post in Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, the Green Party remains a fringe option but reminds us of the necessity of a sustainable future.

The fall of the Liberal centre means that the future of students’ issues are at a crossroads between arguably the two most ideologically divergent parties. The party that wins will control an economy that will very seriously affect you over the next four years. Tuition, youth unemployment, housing, and transit are the big issues that should be on your mind as students, graduates, and future workers.

As of 2016, millennials outnumber baby boomers by 3.5 million in Canada, so student turnout at the polls could cause significant change for the future of Ontario. Do your part — review the big issues, as we describe them, and be informed when you take to the ballot box on June 7. If you understand what is at stake, you will know that you have no other option than to vote — whatever the party.

Tuition

Arguably the most concerning issue to students’ pockets is the rising cost of tuition and debt that accumulates from postsecondary education. In March, the Business Board of the university’s Governing Council approved widespread tuition fee increases, with three per cent raises for domestic Arts & Science, Architecture, Music, and Kinesiology & Physical Education faculties, and five per cent for the Engineering faculty.

A 2015 analysis found that Ontario has one of the least affordable tuition rates in the country for median-income families. This past academic year, Canadian full-time undergraduate programs cost students an average of $6,571, which increased by 3.1 per cent from the previous year. For students in Ontario studying business or the sciences, however, tuition fees exceeded this average, with fees for business programs topping out across Canada.

Provincial and federal policies have been implemented to offset the cost of postsecondary education, and to encourage students from lower-income families to pursue further education. As a result, student enrolment in postsecondary education has steadily increased since 2001, especially of students with lower parental incomes.

Federal and provincial financial assistance programs, like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), mainly use family income to assess which students are eligible for grants. However, strict cutoffs for OSAP eligibility mean that many students cannot afford postsecondary education. In that case, students often take out high-interest loans and accumulate student debt. In 2017, the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) was formed to help students in such tricky situations by easing restrictions to financial assistance. However, the OSG was designed to cover the ‘average’ tuition costs of a student’s program, despite the fact that many programs cost significantly more. The government did not invest new funds into this initiative.

The rising cost of tuition is a central election issue. The NDP mapped out a 10-year plan to convert all student loans to grants and forgive interest on all provincial student loans. The Liberals will put new funds into the OSAP program, particularly in the form of grants, as opposed to simply shifting funds around. The Green Party aims to eventually guarantee fully public tuition for all. The PCs have not yet discussed their take on tuition costs.

Youth unemployment

Ontario is one of the worst provinces in Canada for young job-seekers. Many recent university graduates have difficulty securing work in their field of study following graduation. A 2014 Canadian Teachers’ Federation report, referenced by CBC News, states that more than 40 per cent of youth in Canada are unemployed, working fewer hours than they desire, or have given up on the job hunt entirely. Since previous work experience is greatly preferred by employers, many new graduates have difficulty getting their foot in the door. Challenges in finding work are even more pronounced for already marginalized young people, such as those who are racialized, LGBTQ+, disabled, or low-income.

Those who do find work are met with a changing employment landscape. Increasingly, people are being hired on short-term contracts or as temporary workers, leaving them with no job security and a great deal of stress. Additionally, these jobs often have irregular hours, low pay, and no benefits. ‘Side hustles’ are becoming increasingly common for millennials in order to make ends meet. These bleak prospects are of particular concern for new graduates, since many face large debts upon completing their studies. Students need more assurance that the time, energy, and funds invested into their degrees will not be for naught.

In their platforms, all of the parties express interest in creating new jobs in Ontario. The Liberal Party highlights its record of creating nearly one million new jobs since the recession, and plans to continue this success by attracting industry, investment, and innovation to the province. The PCs plan to create jobs by lowering business taxes, stabilizing hydro bills, and cutting red tape. The Green Party is interested in creating more green jobs. The NDP plans to create more opportunities for postsecondary students to gain real-world work experience while they complete their degrees. The NDP also plans to allow more workers to unionize to improve the current problem of precarious work.

Housing

The Varsity’s 2018 Winter Magazine highlighted a serious yet largely invisible issue: student homelessness. As the Parkdale rent strike demonstrated last year, affordable housing constitutes a crisis in Toronto. Even though a 2017 U of T report indicated that U of T needs 2,300 beds by 2020 to meet housing demands, the City of Toronto has largely opposed housing expansion projects — such as the proposed Spadina-Sussex building near campus.

A heated housing market and gentrification have culminated in skyrocketing rent and a lack of affordable housing, affecting vulnerable communities — including students — the hardest. Students are often left to pay more to access housing, with compounding debt on top of their tuition. In the GTA, 23 per cent of residents pay half their income on rent. A lack of supply and intense demand for housing has led to unreasonable rental rates. However, students must concern themselves not only as current tenants, but also as near-future homebuyers who will be affected by the next government for up to four years. The rate of Canadian renters is currently higher than the rate of homebuyers, meaning that home ownership is an obstacle for young graduates and workers.

Ontario is in desperate need for an increased supply in affordable housing. All parties agree that there must be change, and that people should be able to access the housing market without taking on unreasonable risks or burdens. The Liberals’ Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan (FHP) of April 2017 was intended to improve rental affordability for all units in the province. They hope to continue to extend the FHP, increase the supply of housing, and protect renters and real estate consumers, with a $1 billion investment in affordable housing. Following sharp criticism, Doug Ford backstepped from his housing development proposal in the protected Greenbelt area, and has instead pledged to increase housing supply and cut red tape. The NDP views housing as a human right and has promised 65,000 affordable homes over 10 years. The Green Party announced that its housing plan will prioritize seniors, youth, and families.

Transit

Transit is a hot-button topic for U of T students in the upcoming Ontario election. The voter participation seen in the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) failed U-Pass referendum illustrates the crucial role that affordable transit plays for students.  In March, a total of 12,428 students turned out, with 35.4 per cent in favour and 65.6 per cent in opposition of the U-Pass. If approved, U-Pass would have provided undergraduate St. George students with a discounted TTC metropass, but with little option to opt-out.

Transit is not solely an issue for St. George students. Students at UTM and UTSC rely on GO Transit and the TTC to attend classes and also get around the GTA.

In the upcoming Ontario election, it is in the best interest of students who use transit to support candidates who prioritize low-cost and reliable transit. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s campaign promise to reduce GO Transit fares for PRESTO users is an example of such a policy. The Liberals also pledge to invest $79 billion for different public transit projects. The PC Party supports underground transit and has committed an additional $5 billion for transit infrastructure, including subways and relief lines in Toronto. Meanwhile, the NDP and Green Party promise to fund 50 per cent of the TTC’s operating costs.

U of T residents in the University—Rosedale electoral district can vote at Hart House from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on June 7.

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