Ontario Campus Conservatives debate public transit, mental health at regional conference

OPCCA conference opportunity for students to craft, propose policies

Ontario Campus Conservatives debate public transit, mental health at regional conference

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) hosted its South Regional Policy Conference on January 19 at UTM. Students gathered to debate and pass policies on transit and mental health.

The conference, as its chair and former president of UTM Campus Conservatives Philip Power explained, was a chance for students interested in politics to gain experience in policy-making.

Public transportation and mental health were the two main topics up for debate at the conference. The conference was structured as a general debate — students formed delegations to propose appropriate policies — followed by a debate to amend the proposals.

Any amended policies that received a majority of the room’s vote would pass and be recommended to the OPCCA committee.

Following a talk by Mississauga—Lakeshore MPP Rudy Cuzzetto, the chair led a vote on which topic to debate first; public transportation beat out mental health by a landslide.

The general debate saw a myriad of proposals, including privatizing the transit system throughout the province, “uploading” the TTC to the provincial level, reducing travel times and costs, increasing transit service between Toronto and the Niagara region, and increasing the speed limit on the Queen Elizabeth Way.

Students expressed concerns regarding the cost of implementing certain proposed policies — namely uploading the TTC to the provincial level and building additional subway tracks.

Ultimately, policies proposing regular transit service in the Niagara region, increased private sector investment in public transit, and increased express bus routes to postsecondary campuses passed.

This gave way to the topic of mental health among students. In the interest of time, the chair dispensed with amending policies, which resulted in far fewer proposed policies.

“There has to be a protocol followed that if you’re being provided with [mental health] resources then you need to follow through with them, and if you’re not, then the university is not to blame for the repercussions,” proposed student Meara Deery.

“In contrast to that,” said student Ethan Bryant, “whereas mental resources and policies on Ontario’s postsecondary campuses fail to address their mental issues, be it resolved that there be an evidence-based… standard of mental health resources, one centred on accessibility and transparency.”

Deery’s proposal failed while Bryant’s proposal passed unanimously; this brought the OPCCA South Regional Policy Conference to a close.

Conservative MPP justifies charging interest during six-month grace period for recent graduates

Rudy Cuzzetto says policy is motivated by fiscal conservatism

Conservative MPP justifies charging interest during six-month grace period for recent graduates

At a conference for Progressive Conservative (PC) students held at UTM on January 19, MPP Rudy Cuzzetto justified his party’s recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP), which were announced on January 17 as part of sweeping changes to postsecondary education.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) South Regional Policy Conference was a chance for OPCCA clubs around Ontario to network and brainstorm policy proposals. 

During his speech, Cuzzetto — who represents Mississauga—Lakeshore — spoke specifically on the government’s change to OSAP’s six-month grace period, which was a policy that there would not be interest collected on provincial student loans during the six months following graduation.

In response to a student’s question about the “motive” behind the change, Cuzzetto justified his party’s decision as fiscal conservatism in practice.

“That whole program is costing us $2 billion,” said Cuzzetto. “That’s what it comes down to. It was a $15 billion dollar deficit and $345 billion debt.” 

In actuality, the Office of the Auditor General in Ontario projected that the cost of providing low-income students free postsecondary education “could grow to $2 billion annually by 2020-21,” rather than this year.

Cuzzetto acknowledged that requiring interest to accrue during the six-month grace period was a difficult choice. “Sometimes, we’re not going to like everything that we do. But sometimes we have to make tough choices,” he said. 

He argued that the PCs were making “tough choices” that he perceived the previous Ontario Liberal Party has been unwilling to make.

He also noted that the financial burden of the program would apply to people like the attendees’ family members. “Don’t you think we’re taxed too much already in Ontario?” he asked the attending audience. Most students murmured in approval in response.

Cuzzetto qualified his statement, saying that he does think taxation is necessary. “But we have to find efficiencies and run the province more efficiently,” he said.

Yousuf Farhan, Treasurer & Director Technology of the UTM Campus Conservatives, followed by asking Cuzzetto how the PC party is planning to address possible increases in tuition for students in deregulated programs not subjected to the PC’s 10 per cent cut in tuition fees, such as programs in Computer Science.

In response, Cuzzetto said that he “won’t be able to answer that,” but would be able to get him relevant information at a later point in time.

The Varsity was unable to confirm whether or not deregulated programs would be affected by the cut.

Farhan also asked if the PC party was aiming to significantly reduce the province’s fiscal deficit and eliminate Ontario’s debt by the end of its four-year term.

Cuzzetto said that the PCs were “probably not” going to eliminate the province’s debt in four years, but he is hopeful that the party could reduce the deficit, contingent on a strong economy and its continual elimination of inefficiencies.