SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

A day after the provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced sweeping changes to postsecondary education, student unions and groups across Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park early Friday afternoon to express their outrage. 

U of T student groups, including the Arts and Science Students’ Union and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Toronto, met at Sidney Smith Hall, marching toward the Ontario Legislature Building and occupying a stretch of College Street.

Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were announced on Thursday in a press conference organized by PC MPP Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. When asked by The Varsity if students were consulted about Ford’s proposals regarding tuition and OSAP cuts, as well as the decision to opt out of ancillary fees, Fullerton vaguely stated that they had done so, but did not name individual groups.

Speakers express concern about effect on students

Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFSO), spoke first and heavily criticized the PCs for attacking students across the province under the announcement.

The CFS is the largest student organization in Canada and represents five student unions at U of T.

“Today we are gathered outside of Queen’s Park to send a very clear message to the Ford government… that students will not be fooled,” Alideeb said.

“Yesterday, the government chose to pick a fight with students… As the announcements unraveled, it turned out that this is a reckless attack on students and their families, on academic workers, on faculty, on universities and colleges across the province.”

Deputy Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), Sara Singh, alongside MPP Joel Harden of Ottawa Centre, Bhutila Karpoche of Parkdale—High Park, and Rima Berns-McGown of Beaches—East York, also attended the rally to express solidarity.

“These investments in public services are what are going to drive our economy forward, which are going to make sure that you all have the best opportunities you can as students,” said Singh.

“As we head into that next election, you all are those future voters. You are all those decision-makers that are going to make sure that we’re shaping the province we want.”

Ontario students decry sweeping changes without student consultation

James Chapman, a fourth-year U of T student and the co-chair of the U of T New Democrats, criticized the decision from the Ford government.

“I think there’s two reasons students are gathered here today,” said Chapman. “One is to tell Doug Ford that we think it’s unacceptable that the grants and loan combination that was created by the previous government after years of fighting by students on the ground is being removed. The second thing is that we’ve seen this time and again from this government where it’s a revenge plot against voices of dissent followed by complete chaos.”

Chapman noted that the most appalling part of the announcement would be the effect on marginalized students. “Those are the students who are accessing the services that largely the campus unions provide.”

Tom Fraser, a third-year U of T student, slammed the Ontario government for the apparent lack of consultation of students in the decision. “I’m here today because I’m mad as hell about every single cut that’s coming from this government,” he said.

In a similar vein, Clement Cheng, a fourth-year student at U of T and member of U of T’s Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter, commented on the future of funding for student unions and resources on campus.

“We are being saddled with even greater debts. We’re being given worse educational opportunities,” said Cheng. “Everything that we cherish about the university… all of that is under threat.”

Ashlee Redmond, a fourth-year student on the Innis College Council, shared the same sentiments as Cheng, commenting on the quality of student services and resources.

“Events on campus are going to have to become a lot more exclusive, especially if students have the option to opt out of annual fees,” she said.

“There’s going to be a drastic drop in the number of students who are able to attend postsecondary.”

Editor’s Note (January 18, 11:52 pm): The article has been updated to clarify that the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was not affiliated with the protest. UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin was present but attended in a personal capacity.

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