On March 20, around 150 UTSG students took part in a province-wide walkout to protest the Ford government’s announced unfunded tuition cut, changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and an opt-out option for certain incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The students began by rallying at Sidney Smith Hall before marching on Simcoe Hall. 

The walkout was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in conjunction with campus groups as part of a province-wide campaign to bring awareness to the postsecondary funding changes. The protesters were joined by representatives from the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, the Arts and Science Students’ Union, and the Graduate Students’ Union. 

The Student Choice Initiative (SCI) is one of the other changes announced by the provincial government that would mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees. It threatens the funding of many organizations that rely on mandatory student levies for funding, including the student unions in attendance at the protest. 

In its January announcement, the Ford government characterized the mandate as giving students the freedom to choose what they would be funding. For organizations like the CFS, this could mean a severe funding cut.

However, the CFS has a plan to keep organizing even with potential losses of revenue. CFS–Ontario Chairperson Nour Alideeb said in an interview with The Varsity that while she can’t speak to the specifics of how the CFS will operate on a reduced budget, it does have a plan for continued advocacy.

“We have strength in numbers, and the reality is that this government’s going to be removed in the next four years, and there will be governments that will be around after that… Because of our strength in numbers, we are actually able to create change,” said Alideeb, also expressing a hope to unite campuses across the province to repeal the SCI. 

While protests continue across the province, the fight to reverse the Ford government’s changes continues at Queen’s Park. Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Spadina—Fort York and Critic for Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Glover has announced that he will be introducing a private members’ bill next week. 

The bill is set to ask the Ford government to relieve student debt by converting all future OSAP loans into grants, and ending interest on student loan debt by the provincial government.

In a statement released to The Varsity, Glover wrote, “Cutting and ultimately eliminating student debt will also be good for our economy. Currently students and graduates are saddled with debts that can take decades to pay off.” Glover sees student debt as restricting participation in the economy and hopes that the government will see education as an “investment in our future, both economically and socially.”

Editor’s Note (4:00 pm, March 27): This article has been updated to clarify that the CFS organized the walkout in conjunction with campus groups, as well as that the protest was also in relation to the SCI.