Ontario’s marijuana regulation plan is neither inclusive nor effective

The provincial government should permit private dispensaries and designated establishments for consumption

Ontario’s marijuana regulation plan is neither inclusive nor effective

On September 8, 2017, Ontario became the first province in Canada to publicly release an official plan for the upcoming legalization of marijuana. The federal government seeks to legalize by July 1, 2018 but has left it up to individual provinces’ discretion to determine the finer details of how the substance will be sold, who will be allowed to consume it, and where usage will be permitted.

Whether Ontario’s plans will be successful remains to be seen, but the government’s emphasis on publicly-owned stores and privatized consumption could ultimately work to its detriment.

The framework issued by the Ontario government has three key features.

First, marijuana will legally only be sold online and in stand-alone stores run by a subsidiary corporation of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), thereby establishing a government monopoly of all legal consumption. This means all private dispensaries will remain illegal and will continue to be prosecuted.

In this vein, the Ontario government plans to have 40 stores open across the province by July 2018, some in places where illegal dispensaries are already located. That number will increase to 80 stores by July 1, 2019 and 150 by 2020. In addition, an online system will be implemented by July 2018 to ensure the wide expansion of the market, especially in catering to more remote areas where it is less likely for official stores to be established.

The second feature of the framework is that sale and consumption are limited to those at or over the age of 19, in line with the legal alcohol consumption age. If caught, underage users will have their marijuana confiscated, though the government has stated the enforcement focus will be on “prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing [youth] into contact with the justice system.”

Finally, all consumption will be restricted to private residences, at least for the time being. Private businesses catering to consumption, such as vapour lounges, will not be permitted.    

For a number of reasons, the provincial government’s proposed framework for legalization is neither effective at discouraging illegal consumption nor inclusive of users. Allowing private dispensaries and designated consumption establishments to operate alongside government-owned stores would be a more effective approach to regulation.

Legalize private dispensaries

Jenna Valleriani is a U of T PhD candidate in Sociology and Addiction Studies whose research focuses on medical marijuana. Valleriani was disappointed but not particularly surprised when she learned Ontario had decided to pursue a government-controlled distribution model.

“I was really intrigued that the whole conversation was framed as an either or,” Valleriani said. Like many other critics of the proposed plan, she would like to see a mix of both government stores as well as licensed and regulated private stores in order to offer Ontarians “the best of both worlds.”

Contrary to popular perception, the dispensaries that currently operate in Toronto are doing so illegally — and this will not change under the new legalization plan. However, Valleriani believes that most dispensary owners would likely welcome the chance to become licensed and conduct their business legally. Dispensaries have been thriving for a long time in spite of police crackdowns and security issues — it is questionable whether the new regulations will do much to change that fact.   

Restricting legal purchase to government-run stores also raises the question of supply. Establishing 150 dispensaries in Ontario — a goal that will only theoretically be reached in three years — is nothing compared to the high number of illegal dispensaries that are currently supplying users with their product. Legitimizing just a fraction of establishments will severely limit access, even with online sales.

Though Health Canada has doubled its staff to accelerate the licensing process for marijuana producers, many industry experts estimate that customers will still face shortages in the first few years of legalization due to lack of supply. Shortages, in turn, would send customers right back to the illicit market, which is exactly what the government is trying to avoid.

Private stores are also popular for the sheer variety of products they offer. Valleriani believes it is highly unlikely that government stores will sell oils and edibles — products that consumers have been obtaining from dispensaries over the years.       

On top of this, the continuation of policing, shutting down, and prosecuting dispensaries is a wasteful burden on already strained law enforcement and court resources. Targeting dispensaries in this way has been largely ineffective; where one store shuts down, another pops up in its place. In fact, alleviating this burden from the criminal justice system was one of the main reasons for decriminalizing marijuana in the first place. If Ontario continues to shut out private establishments from the market, it will be back to square one.

Working with dispensaries instead of against them could avoid all of these problems; a more open, mixed system of regulation has better chances of squashing the illicit market.

Legalize public consumption establishments

The plan also restricts consumption to private residences for the time being. The government has expressed plans to consult on the “feasibility and implications of introducing designated establishments where recreational cannabis could be consumed” — a proposal that is vague and shows a lack of real commitment to legalizing said establishments, which ought to be a priority moving forward.

The current plan’s emphasis on private residences as the only place for consumption is not inclusive, and it prioritizes homeowners. It leaves people who rent, lease, live in shelters, or are homeless without a safe or legal place to consume. Residents who don’t own the buildings they live in are left at the whims of their landlords as to whether or not they are allowed to consume in their homes. It is well within the powers of condominium boards or apartment building managements to ban marijuana on their property. Therefore, these residents are put at increased risk of incurring criminal charges when they inevitably turn to public places to consume.

This rule also disproportionately affects students of legal age, including those who live on residence during the school year. Dormitories are owned and controlled by the university, and U of T is a public establishment. It is unclear whether students will be banned from consuming marijuana on campus — particularly in light of recent announcements that the university is investigating a smoking ban. Legalizing designated establishments for consumption would provide students with a safe alternative.

At the same time, Valleriani recalls a professor at Trinity College, now retired, who was prescribed marijuana for medical purposes. Accommodations were made to set up a sort of ‘vapour lounge’ area for him in the basement of the college. The existence of bars near and on U of T campuses, events where drinking is permitted, and the designated smoking spaces currently in place on campus show that it is possible to make allowances for the consumption of controlled substances.

The idea of creating a designated place for consumption at U of T is not as outrageous as it may sound, and Valleriani thinks universities will ultimately need to “figure something out.”  Such an arrangement, however, would require the legalization of designated establishments for consumption, an option that the proposed regulation framework does not allow.

With nine short months until marijuana legalization launches in July, little time remains for Ontario to perfect its plan. Costs of purchase, whether the product will be taxed, and where government stores will be set up are decisions that have yet to be made. In this time, the government also needs to critically evaluate their plan and recognize its weaknesses in achieving the ultimate goal of eliminating the marijuana black market. Legalizing private dispensaries and designated consumption establishments will help bridge those gaps.    

Ramsha Naveed is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Political Science.

Editor’s Note (September 25): This article has been updated to clarify that the sentence “a more open, mixed system of regulation has better chances of squashing the illicit market” is the opinion of the author and not Valleriani. 

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

Report criticizes funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions for only rewarding enrolment growth

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

A provincial government report has found that U of T is playing a lead role among Ontario’s universities.

The report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) entitled, “The Differentiation of the Ontario University System: Where are we now and where should we go?” singled out the University of Toronto as “Ontario’s flagship institution.” This report looked at the differentiation of universities in Ontario based on equitable access, student acceptance, the learning environment, and student graduate achievements.

The report indicated that University of Toronto is excelling in notable platforms such as a strong and equitable learning environment, as well as being a model for other universities in Ontario.

HEQCO is an independent government agency that is responsible for recommending and researching higher educational policy. HEQCO suggests policies or forms of practice to substantially increase equitable entrance and success for students, and greater financial policies to support students.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler was elated by the report findings.

“This analysis confirms U of T’s flagship position within the Ontario system, as an institution of research and teaching that is recognized around the world,” Gertler told U of T News.  “We need to do all we can to attract the best minds to our campuses, to provide the best learning environment to our students and give them the kinds of opportunities that prepare them well for lifelong success.”

HEQCO also recommended that U of T could improve in some areas, one of which was in relation to diversification of revenue sources; according to HEQCO the university relies too heavily on enrolment growth.

The report recommends restructuring the funding strategy in order for U of T to maintain its status as an internationally competitive university.

Gertler noted in the U of T News report, “This report acknowledges that a one-size-fits-all funding model makes it increasingly difficult for us to deliver on this commitment.”

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Premier announces seven new ministers and more women in cabinet

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a shuffle and expansion of her cabinet, which will now contain more female ministers. Wynne stated, “These ministers bring experience, energy, fresh ideas and diversity to the cabinet table.”

Some of the long-term ministers who were also part of former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet will remain, including Charles Sousa as Finance Minister, Eric Hoskins as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and Glen Murray as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Ontario’s cabinet will be expanded from 27 to 30 minister positions.

“Wynne expanded the size of the cabinet so she could appoint more women,” said Nelson Wiseman, U of T professor of Canadian politics and director of the Canadian Studies program. “I think Wynne felt pressured after Trudeau appointed women to as many cabinet portfolios as men.”

In comparison, Wynne created a 40 per cent female cabinet, and Trudeau created a 50 per cent female cabinet.

Wynne’s expansion also creates three new portfolios, as she divided some of the larger ministries. There are now separate ministers for Housing, International Trade, and Infrastructure.

Included as new members of the cabinet are: Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Chris Ballard, Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Minister of Housing; Marie-France Lalonde, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs Minister and Minister of Government and Consumer Services; Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; Eleanor McMahon Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport; Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy; and Indira Naidoo-Harris, Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan).

These changes to the cabinet come after four ministers recently announced their departure, including former Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur and former Chair of Cabinet Jim Bradley.

According to Wiseman, “Election campaign planning begins much earlier now so that MPPs are asked to commit now to whether they will run again in 2018. Since some cabinet ministers were not planning to run, [Wynne] had them resign now to open up some cabinet posts.”

The announcement also included Deputy Premier Deb Matthews’ new appointments as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Digital Government.

“Wynne trusts her advice, judgement, and competence,” Wiseman stated.

Matthews’ appointment to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development will see her take on the responsibilities of the recently revamped Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Previously, Reza Moridi served as Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities; Moridi will now serve as the Minister of Research, Innovation, and Science.

Within her new role, Matthews will be overseeing the launch of the Ontario Student Grant program in September 2017, which is expected to lower or cover the costs of tuition for university students. In addition, Matthews will be charged with equipping the Ontario workforce with the necessary skills in order to compete within the global economy.

Province orders universities to establish sexual violence policy by January 2017

Ontario passes legislation combatting sexual violence, harassment

Province orders universities to establish sexual violence policy by January 2017

On International Women’s Day, March 8, the Ontario government passed the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.

The legislation was first introduced in October 2015 as part of the government’s broader action plan against sexual violence. The plan also includes the It’s Never Okay campaign, which seeks to “make workplaces and campuses safer from and more responsive to sexual violence and harassment.”

By January 2017, Ontario’s colleges and universities will be required to have a policy in place addressing sexual violence. According to the legislation, policies must involve students and set out a response process for the institution. Under the new law, policies will be reviewed every three years. The reviews will also take student input into consideration.

Ellie Adekur, graduate student and organizer with Silence is Violence U of T, expressed doubts about the act.

“First, the report takes a zero-tolerance approach to any form of sexual violence on campus, but does little to address steps the university will take in the event of a complaint,” she explained, with emphasis on how the report doesn’t address issues that come with how “decentralized the [university’s] resources are.”

Second, Adekur finds that the report places emphasis on education, professional development, and consent but doesn’t thoroughly explain what “comprehensive” and “adequate education” look like.

One of the recommendations of U of T’s Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence was the creation of a stand-alone policy and protocol on sexual violence.

“The ministry anticipates coming forward with regulations that will set out more detailed requirements for the policies around reporting to get feedback on the implementation of the policies,” said Linda Mackay, manager of issues and media relations for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Of more than 100 colleges and universities in Canada, only about two dozen have stand-alone sexual assault policies. Some provinces, such as Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and most recently, British Columbia, have taken steps to establish policies of their own.

The Ontario government also released a progress report on It’s Never Okay, which states $2.2 million has been invested over three years to ensure that students are provided with information during orientation week and throughout the year about how to prevent sexual violence and harassment.

“The report won’t change the culture of silence because the culture of silence around sexual violence is the bedrock of our institution,” Adekur said. She believes that the university needs to initiate projects that privilege the voices of students, faculty, and survivors — people of colour and equity-seeking groups chief among them.

Adekur said that she would like to see an apology from the university that acknowledges the institution’s history of silence on issues of sexual violence, referring to U of T’s approach thus far.

“The University of Toronto does not want students to come forward with complaints of sexual violence on campus. The University has continuously shut down different forms of student organizing that shed light on the realities of sexual violence on campus, and has worked to co-opt movements on campus by offloading surveying work onto students, and wrapping them up in committees (very much like this one) that have no real decision-making authority at the University,” she said.

“The University can say that it is taking steps to address sexual violence through this committee, but thinking about its structure, its composition, the recommendations and the total lack of accountability is revealing in that we see the University is able to distance itself from any real responsibility to survivors,” stated Adekur.

Proposed standardized tests miss the mark

Measuring the three Rs won't solve shortage of soft skills

Proposed standardized tests miss the mark

EARLY in February, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) proposed instituting basic testing at the start and end of students’ post-secondary studies. The online test would be 90 minutes long and examine literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills. 

This fall, HEQCO will be rolling out a pilot project to test incoming students and is currently seeking colleges and universities to participate in the process. U of T has declined to participate, although director of news & media relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans has said that U of T “looks forward to reviewing the evidence from the pilot projects at other universities.”

While there is certainly value in this proposal, it is important to be realistic about the prospects and critical of how this approach could subvert a student’s curiosity and engagement with wholesome learning. I see several issues that limit this project’s potential effectiveness. 

The test doesn’t seem to correspond to or adequately address the concerns of employers, which HEQCO says it is seeking to do. Employers have repeatedly stated that they value ‘soft skills’ in graduates, but they feel university graduates often lack these skills. For instance, a 2015 study showed a mere 34 per cent of employers believed university graduates are properly equipped for the workforce.

This HEQCO test seems to neglect the ‘soft skills’ — such as teamwork, communication, and confidence — of which employers are primarily concerned. A 90-minute online test is not going to say anything about your ability to work cooperatively in a team to address complex issues, while managing multiple deadlines.   

Of particular concern is how these test results could come to be used to help determine institutional funding. Although Queen’s Park hasn’t stated that the test results would play into institutional funding, the government’s plan to begin using ‘learning outcomes’ when determining funding suggests that the HEQCO test would be involved in the process.

I have enjoyed my time at U of T and had what I think to be a fruitful educational experience. I didn’t come to U of T to improve my literacy and numeracy. I came for an excellent liberal arts education and to fulfill my passion by learning about sociopolitical issues. It seems possible the HEQCO test could help promote a dulling-down of curricula in favor of reviewing the three Rs, all in order to solicit support from Queen’s Park. 

There are, however, some merits to the proposal. Like other students growing up in the United States, I was very familiar with standardized testing and had to take the SAT and ACT when applying to university. The proposed HEQCO test seems to roughly parallel these tests and might provide a sense of students’ competence in the three Rs upon university entrance. Simultaneously, the proposed HEQCO test influences admissions (since they are to be administered after entrance into university) and would not be as susceptible to the stress frequently accompanied with writing the SAT and ACT.

If HEQCO data was used solely to provide targeted programs that help students who might be struggling with competency in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving, then I would definitely support it. Yet, imposing these standards upon a broad range of students is likely to be counterproductive. Furthermore, we should be cautious not to place too much importance on data from tests in determining curricula and provincial funding.   

At the minimum, HEQCO’s proposed test will do nothing to improve the ‘soft skills’ employers want. Career-integrated learning would present a better approach to these skills that U of T should implement. A more holistic approach to education reform will ensure changes are more meaningful and effective.

Sasha Boutilier is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science and ethics, society, and law.

A budgetary balancing act

Ontario makes strides toward accessible post-secondary education, but glaring omissions call its long-term efficacy into question

A budgetary balancing act

ON February 25, the 2016 Ontario budget was released; one of its priorities focused on satiating the insistent requests from student groups -— free tuition for students from low-income backgrounds. But when the government offers you a free lunch, it pays to be skeptical.

While this budget takes steps toward more equitable financing for post-secondary education in Ontario, our province still has a long way to go before university education is equally accessible.

Not free for everyone

The budget provides most college and university students whose family income is less than $50,000 a year with enough grant funding to cover their entire tuition. The government stipulates that no student will receive less funding under the new plan than they would have received from the pre-existing 30% Off Tuition Grant.

This commitment certainly signals progress; however, it is not free, and it does not provide enough funding to cover degrees with higher-than-average costs.

The government estimates average undergraduate university tuition costs $6,160, while Statistics Canada averages it at around $7,868. As a result, there is a $1,700 shortfall.

This is because the government calculated average cost of tuition based solely on arts and science degrees, which doesn’t fully account for more expensive degrees, such as those in commerce, engineering, or computer science. This appears to be poor planning on the part of the government, as careers that stem from some of the more technical degrees flow into some of the least saturated job sectors in Ontario.

The plan will come at “roughly no cost” to the government, meaning that the funds used to offer finance tuition represent no increase to public funding invested in higher education but merely a redistribution of existing resources.

Streamlined funding

The Ontario Student Grant (OSG) will consolidate all other grant programs currently operating under Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), while tuition and education tax credits will be discontinued and reallocated to pay for the OSG. This is predicated on the assumption that “[g]rants are more effective than tax credits at targeting financial support to students with the greatest needs and providing support upfront,” which seems to reign true.

A deeper look into the student assistance system, however, reveals troubling possibilities for some students that are not addressed within the new structure. Co-op students and students who work are likely going to pay tax on income that was not previously taxable. While this will not restrict all students that fall into this category, it is worth noting that some students with higher incomes seek them out because they do not qualify for other forms of government support.

Financial need will continue to be largely based on family income under the new system. While we can be fairly confident that students coming from low-income families are in need of assistance, it is less clear that all students from high income families do not need assistance.

To the government’s credit, some attempt has been made in the budget to rectify this problem. Parental and spousal income will be less of a determining factor when assessing students’ financial need than it has in the past. Grants will also be available to mature students as eligibility will no longer be tied to the number of years a student has been out of high school.

For some students who, despite these provisions, rely on income other than government grants and loans to fund their education, this budget is not expected to deliver much relief. Students should view this as an omission on the part of the government and should lament the fact that students whose need is not easily quantifiable are likely to be left behind.

Student debt goes unaddressed

There is no mention in the budget of debt forgiveness, something that student groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance have been calling for for a long time. Student debt in Canada is high; grads are routinely saddled with more than $20,000 to pay back as they enter the workforce. There is a six-month grace period after graduation during which students do not have to make payments, a provision that will be carried over in this budget.

It is worth noting that, while the government must start somewhere to increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, this plan creates a sizeable disparity in terms of incurred debt between low-income students entering post-secondary education in 2017 and those graduating in the same year. The class starting university in 2017 will be better supported than it otherwise would have been, but nothing has been done to address the mass of university graduates who are currently under-employed and struggling to pay off debt.

Tuition increases

The proposed reforms of student assistance will come into effect at the same time that the government’s existing Tuition Fee Framework expires — the current system restricts institutions from increasing domestic undergraduate tuition fees by more than three per cent per year. There is no commitment in the budget to renew this cap, nor has the government committed to extending the cap beyond 2017.

Last week, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi stated that the OSG would be tied to inflation and tuition increases. The fact that this is not written in the budget, however, is deeply concerning. If there is no policy or mechanism to adjust the grant in keeping with changing tuition, then the grants will become less effective each successive year.

These tuition fee caps matter to U of T students. In the 2016–2017 fee schedule released February 11, domestic tuition fees are set to rise by the maximum amount yet again. If the government is to commit to the goals they have outlined in this budget, they must not congratulate themselves too quickly. The effectiveness of their plan is contingent upon many other policies, chiefly tuition regulation.

The Ontario government’s overhaul of the existing student assistance programs, while not free, makes significant improvements to equitable access to university education in this province — changes that in many ways are well worth their price tag. The priorities now become ensuring that changes like these reach the students who need assistance most and maintaing an effective system in the face of a changing funding landscape. 

Tuition fees continue to rise

U of T releases fee increase schedule for 2016–2017

Tuition fees continue to rise

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are set to rise again. Following the release of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework report, U of T has announced an increase in tuition fees for the 2016–2017 academic year.

The increases amount to an average of three per cent for domestic programs.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework for 2013–2017 reduced a previous five per cent overall cap on tuition fee increases to an overall three per cent cap, which resulted in smaller tuition increases in comparison to the years between 2006–2013. 

An overall three per cent cap means that individual tuition fees may be more or less than three per cent, so long as the university’s total tuition increases averages out to three per cent. These tuition increase restrictions do not apply to international student tuition fees. U of T is able to raise international student tuition without having those increases factor into a calculation of overall tuition increases.

The 2016–2017 tuition fee schedule for international students entering any of U of T’s three campuses will see a nine per cent rise for arts and science programs and an eight per cent rise for applied science and engineering programs. 

Most international students will experience tuition fee increases of five per cent.

Overall, the average increase for international students will be at 5.9 per cent, which is close to the five per cent increase for domestic students’ professional programs.

For a comparative example, the 2016–2017 planned increase for the undergraduate dentistry program is $1,780 for domestic students and $3,440 for international students; both figures represent a five per cent increase for their respective tuition fee rates.

Students skeptical after Ontario budget promises “free tuition”

Average tuition does not include professional, international, part-time, or graduate students

Students skeptical after Ontario budget promises “free tuition”

The recently proposed 2016 Ontario budget promises free average tuition for students whose household income is below $50,000.

Under the proposed framework, approximately 50 per cent of students whose family income is $83,000 or less will be eligible for grants in excess of average tuition. Currently, the government supports students’ educational costs through OSAP loans, tax credits, as well as through various grants. As of 2017, these existing funding structures will be amalgamated into a single grant: the Ontario Student Grant (OSG).

“For Ontario to thrive in the knowledge-based economy, the government needs to ensure all members of society are given the opportunities, as well as the tools, they need to succeed,” reads part of the report.

“Last Thursday… was the best day of my life as a politician,” said Reza Moridi, the minister of training, colleges and universities. Moridi described the new idea as a milestone and considers free tuition to be the budget’s centerpiece.

When asked about the issue of increased enrolment in the future, Moridi cited another significant part of the budget: the establishment of new university campuses, such as York University Seneca in Markham, and a new proposal for a campus in either the Halton or Peel region.

The budget ties in with the Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs), a move towards post-secondary differentiation. In the summer of 2014, U of T agreed to identify its primary strengths in order to channel funding into areas where the university appeared to be most successful.

Under the SMAs there was criticism that nothing was being done to make university education more affordable. There was fear that specializing funding to some programs would leave other “niche programs” vulnerable while larger programs received even more funding.

The students united

Jasmine Denike, vice president, external of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) said that the union is dedicated to fighting for accessible and affordable education. “I’m thrilled to hear the words ‘free tuition’ come out of the mouths of many politicians, and we see this as a fantastic first step towards accessible education for all students,” Denike said.

However, Denike said that the UTSU is disappointed that the budget only addresses the ‘average tuition’ of $6,160 without taking into account the fees paid by students in professional programs, part-time students, graduate students, and international students. “There are domestic Professional Faculty students who are paying over $15,000 a year, and international students are still paying unbelievably high costs of over $35,000, not including other living expenses,” Denike said.

In response to  the criticism of the new budget, Moridi asked “what is wrong with giving every single individual young person access to education?”  He said that the current goal is to ensure everyone has equal access to undergraduate education.

Moridi believes that education is “the best investment” and that everyone should welcome the proposal. Moridi said that he thinks the right decision has been made and that the new budget removes barriers and opens the doors to education to every single person seeking post-secondary education in Ontario.

“Free” tuition

The figure that the budget uses for average tuition is $6,160. However, according to Statistics Canada, the average tuition for undergraduates in Canada is currently $7,868. Not only is there a $1,700 gap, it also does not include the increase expected in tuition in 2017.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) welcomes the announcement by the Ontario government, though he disagrees with the government’s use of the word “free.”

“Many questions remain about whether or not this will cover students whose fees are deregulated and higher, Computer Science students for example.  There is still a lot to improve on and we have to start talking about direct funding of institutions and the rising cost of tuition fees instead of just tackling financial aid,” Shihipar said.

Shihipar also expressed concern that the grant may not work, should the three per cent cap on yearly tuition increases expire in 2017 and tuition fees cease to be regulated. He noted that the grant is a positive step  for Ontario and said that the concept of free tuition as a viable structure is welcome.

Shihipar calls upon students to “pressure the government to go further to making our post secondary education system truly accessible and free for all.”