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Ontario Liberal leadership candidates promise reversal of Ford policies

Mitzie Hunter, Alvin Tedjo, Michael Coteau, Kate Graham, Steven Del Duca on their plans
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Queen's Park, the seat of the Ontario government.DINA DONG/THE VARSITY
Queen's Park, the seat of the Ontario government.DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Following the resignation of Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario Liberal Party will be electing a new leader in March 2020 to challenge Premier Doug Ford in the 2022 election. In the past year, the provincial government, led by Ford, has made several significant changes to postsecondary education, most notably the restructuring of Ontario university and college funding, cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

In an article from The Queen’s Journal, all Ontario Liberal Party leader candidates announced their intentions to restore OSAP and reverse the SCI if elected as premier.

The Varsity spoke to all five candidates about their plans for postsecondary education: Mitzie Hunter, Scarborough—Guildwood MPP and former Minister of Education; Alvin Tedjo, former Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities; Michael Coteau, Don Valley East MPP and former Minister of Community and Social Services; Kate Graham, a political science teacher at the University of Western Ontario; Steven Del Duca, former MPP for Vaughan and Minister of Economic Development and Growth.

Mitzie Hunter

Hunter said she will reinstate $750 million in OSAP cuts: “I’m hearing directly from students who have lost thousands of dollars that they were previously receiving under the former Liberal government, and they no longer [receive] as a result of the Ford cuts. This is delaying their completion of their programs and this helps no one.”

“It’s certainly a challenging bar for various universities and colleges because each of them have different conditions in which they operate,” said Hunter, on the topic of tying funding to performance metrics. She also expressed concern about equity in the new postsecondary funding system.

In addition, Hunter plans to increase the interest-free grace period to two years, as well as provide mental health coverage through OHIP to people under 30.

Alvin Tedjo

On the Ford government’s announcement that 60 per cent of postsecondary funding will be tied to performance metrics by 2024–2025, Tedjo said, “I think in theory it should be a good thing. But in practice, I worry that the Ford government will use it to manipulate what they want more out of the system and in their own ideological way and not in a fact-based way.”

To Tedjo, the SCI is “[the] government attacking student leadership, attacking student program, attacking student life, attacking student media outlets, because they’re afraid of it. They’re afraid to give students that voice… And we’re seeing how devastating it is for a number of governments and student groups, in terms of what they’ve been able to do.”

Tedjo’s campaign is exploring the idea of universal basic income and universal child care, especially for students with dependents.

Michael Coteau

Instead of focusing solely on academic success through performance metrics, Coteau believes we should also be “looking at the health and well-being of students, looking at ways for the university to benchmark and make improvements in those areas.”

“I think some of the pieces that we should be looking at — and this is what we’d need from the [Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities] — is, number one, enrollment numbers,” said Coteau on understanding the effects of the OSAP cuts, emphasizing that the ministry should look into Indigenous and low-income enrollment.

“If I was the premier of Ontario, I would reverse those cuts immediately and I would continue to explore ways to invest [in] postsecondary education and training only because I believe that is probably our number one economic development strategy by getting people ready for the new economy and the opportunities.”

Kate Graham

In an email to The Varsity, Graham wrote that in her experience as a university instructor, she saw “how damaging the recent OSAP cuts have been for students.”

“Even in the single year of expanded OSAP, the initial numbers showed increased enrolment from Indigenous students and mature students — we heard stories of people going back to school who would never been able to afford it otherwise.”

Graham added that she believes “investing in people and their skills is the best kind of investment.”

“I would plan to bring back funding into the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities: not only for student aid, but for the direct funding of institutions that has also been cut by this government.” Graham would also reverse the SCI if elected premier.

Steven Del Duca

Del Duca told The Varsity that, if elected, he would reverse the SCI, “bring back truly affordable tuition,” and “[restore] an OSAP upon which students can rely.”

He called out Ford’s policies by saying that the cuts the current provincial government have made come “at the expense of student experience and success.”

“I will fight so that every single individual in Ontario has a genuine opportunity to go as far in life as their talent and effort can take them. To accomplish this, high-quality education must be accessible regardless of income level.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Editor’s Note (September 24, 12:39 pm): This article has been updated with comment from Graham.

Editor’s Note (September 24, 1:04 pm): An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that The Varsity had reached out to Graham for comment. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s Note (September 29, 3:16 pm): This article has been updated with comment from Del Duca.