University suspends incidental fee opt-out portal following court decision quashing Student Choice Initiative

Students required to pay all incidental fees, Ford government appealing ruling

University suspends incidental fee opt-out portal following court decision quashing Student Choice Initiative

Following a Divisional Court of Ontario ruling in November, the University of Toronto has decided that all students will be required to pay the full incidental fees — both optional and mandatory — for the winter 2020 semester.

In its ruling, the Divisional Court found that the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the mandate for universities to implement opt-out options for certain incidental fees — impugns on their autonomy. In early December, The Globe and Mail reported that the Ford government would be seeking an appeal of the court’s decision.

The SCI’s tumultuous journey from the government’s executive action to the impending court appeal has played out over the past 12 months. It began with an announcement in January of last year, followed by multiple student-organized protests and confusion within universities regarding the government’s “essential” and “non-essential” fee categorization.

For the fall 2019 semester — the only semester where the SCI was implemented — students could opt out of an average $60 out of $850 of incidental fees, according to of fees across campuses and colleges.

Province appeals court decision

Honourable Justices Harriet Sachs, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau wrote in their decision to strike down the SCI: “Universities are private, autonomous, self-governing institutions. They are ‘publicly assisted,’ but not publicly owned or operated.”

As a direct admonishment of the government’s argument, the justices wrote that for over a century, “Ontario has had a legislated policy of non-interference in university affairs… conferring on university governing councils and senates the authority and responsibility to manage university affairs.”

A brief obtained by The Globe and Mail on the government’s appeal of the SCI outlined the province’s argument for its appeal of the Divisional Court’s decision, primarily hinging upon the court’s decision that the SCI had overstepped the province’s authority in the governance of universities.

As part of its appeal, the government is arguing that the autonomy of colleges and universities is not being violated: “Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence.”

The government brief further stated, “Universities remain free to exercise their independence and autonomy through the choice to accept public funding, subject to whatever conditions are attached.”

Provincial operating grants make up 24.1 per cent of the university’s overall 2019–2020 revenue, with its core operating grant standing at $578.2 million per year. However, since 2017, the university has actually received more money from international student tuition than from the province.

“The decision on what financial barriers to education are sufficient to warrant a policy response is precisely the kind of value-driven determination for which elected decision-makers ought to be accountable to the public,” argues the government in its brief. “And should attract deference from a reviewing Court.”

In one of the few comments that Minister of Colleges and Universities (MCU) Ross Romano has publicly made since taking the MCU position from Merilee Fullerton — under whom the SCI was implemented — Romano remarked that “I’m not able to elaborate… but what I can say is that we have protected certain programs or certain services as essential,” as iPolitics.ca reported.

Downtown Legal Services (DLS) was among the many organizations that faced serious cuts from the Ford government. Lisa Cirillo, Executive Director at DLS, spoke to on what a government appeal could mean and look like.

“The court has laid out really firmly: this is the territory of universities and student unions within the universities, and we don’t believe that you can encroach on that,” Cirillo said.

Cirillo refers to a passage in the decision where the court rebuked the government’s argument that the SCI was outside of the court’s jurisdiction of review, saying that doing so “would undercut the supremacy of the legislature and open the door for government by executive decree, a proposition repugnant to the core principles of parliamentary democracy.”

University suspends opt-out portal

“The University suspended access to the online site that enabled students to opt out of incidental fees for the winter term, following the decision of the Divisional Court regarding the Student Choice Initiative,” wrote a university spokesperson to The Varsity.

As the SCI was overturned, universities had the choice to independently continue or discontinue opt-out portals for their incidental fees. U of T has decided all students must pay fees for the winter 2020 semester, and has thus shut down the online opt-out portal on ACORN.

“Opt-out selections for the Winter 2020 term are not available. Students will be required to pay all optional and mandatory fees for the Winter 2020 term.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities for comment.

What’s next for the Student Choice Initiative? Downtown Legal Services’ perspective on court decision

U of T closes online portal, uncertain future for SCI

What’s next for the Student Choice Initiative? Downtown Legal Services’ perspective on court decision

On November 21, the Divisional Court of Ontario struck down the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), leaving postsecondary institutions and student associations uncertain about how to proceed. Downtown Legal Services (DLS) Executive Director Lisa Cirillo told The Varsity that any plans by the province to repeal the decision or introduce legislation will be difficult.

While stakeholder groups struggle to make sense of the future, U of T has removed its incidental fee opt-out portal online as it “evaluate[s] the technical impact of the Divisional Court’s decision,” wrote a university spokesperson. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) wrote to The Varsity that it “is currently reviewing the decision.”

Background of the SCI

In January, the SCI was announced as a provincial mandate to Ontario universities and colleges that opt-out options be provided for certain incidental fees that were deemed “non-essential,” with the government outlining the criteria for mandatory fees. In May, the York Federation of Students (YFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) launched a legal challenge against the SCI, requesting that the court quash the initiative.

Following a court hearing in October, the Honourable Justices Harriet Sachs, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau ruled in favour of the YFS and the CFS–O, finding that the province was acting illegally by interfering in the relationship between postsecondary institutions and student associations.

Downtown Legal Services on the effects of decision

DLS is a legal aid clinic that is partially funded by student levies; it felt the effects of the SCI first hand. At its Annual General Meeting earlier this year, the University of Toronto Students’ Union announced that DLS had 19 per cent of students opt out of its fees.

Cirillo believes that while the government has the ability to appeal the decision or use the legislature to expand the powers of the province, the path ahead will be difficult for the province. “The court has laid out really firmly: this is the territory of universities and student unions within the universities, and we don’t believe that you can encroach on that.”

Recapping the court’s decision and the arguments presented by both sides, Cirillo said: “The court granted the application on the basis of the first [argument], they said that these directives were illegal and inconsistent with the legislative schemes… And they found they didn’t have to go to the other two arguments because they could decide the case on the basis of the first one.”

“The government had no legal basis to issue this directive, but I think it leaves us in such an interesting place because the universities and colleges had to comply,” Cirillo said. “[But] they’ve all created this enormous new electronic registration infrastructure that provides opportunities to opt out.”

On what quashing the directive will entail, Cirillo says that universities, independent from the government, could continue to open their opt-out portals, but whether that would be the case is up to the institutions themselves.

Cirillo points out a particular passage that summarizes the court’s answer to the province’s argument that the SCI couldn’t be struck down by the courts: “Neither argument justifies exempting the impugned directives from judicial review for legality. To hold otherwise would undercut the supremacy of the legislature and open the door for government by executive decree, a proposition repugnant to the core principles of parliamentary democracy.”

Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative quashed in Ontario court

Student groups celebrate victory, with apprehension toward decision’s uncertain consequences

Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative quashed in Ontario court

On November 21, the Divisional Court of Ontario unanimously ruled in favour of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) in a legal challenge that repealed the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

The SCI — which took effect at the beginning of the 2019–2020 academic year — was a controversial directive from the province’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) that allowed postsecondary students to opt out of certain incidental fees deemed “non-essential.”

While student groups have been celebrating their victory over the Ford government in court, the specifics of the SCI’s demise remain in legal ambiguity.

Substantial funding changes for student groups

The SCI was created by the provincial government to direct colleges and universities to allow students to opt out of “non-essential” incidental fees, with guidelines for “essential” fees laid out by the province.

“Students are adults and we are treating them as such by giving them the freedom to clearly see where their fees are currently being allocated,” announced then-Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton at a press conference on January 17.

The policy was part of a broader set of sweeping changes to postsecondary education, including to domestic tuition and the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Despite multiple student associations organizing marches, and critics opposing the policy, the province went forward with its directive to universities and colleges, and categorized fees as “essential” and “non-essential.” The opt-out policy’s guidelines were officially released in March, and were implemented at the start of the 2019–2020 academic year.

During its Annual General Meeting in October, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) revealed the opt-out rates for specific fees, and noted that it saw an average opt-out rate of 23.6 per cent. Substantial funding changes were made to student aid, clubs funding, and orientation as a result. The SCI also had an impact on other student groups, including college student societies, levy-funded groups, and campus media — including The Varsity.

The success of legal resistance

In their application for judicial review that was filed on May 24, the CFS–O and the YFS claimed that the MCU lacked the legal authority to implement the SCI, and was also in breach of procedural fairness as it failed to consult with or adequately notify student groups.

On October 11, Honourable Justices Harriet Saches, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau heard arguments from the applicants, the CFS–O and YFS; the province; and two intervenors: the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) in favour of the CFS–O and YFS; and B’Nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights, in favour of the government.

The Divisional Court of Ontario concluded on November 21 that “Ontario does not control [the relationships of student associations and universities] directly or indirectly.” It went on to note that the province’s cabinet and ministry had no authority to interfere in the internal affairs of student associations.

The court ruled that the application of certiorari — an appeal of legislation and court decisions — was granted and revoked the SCI.

Responses to the ruling

“I’m ecstatic about this,” said MPP for Spadina–Fort York, and the Ontario New Democratic Party’s postsecondary critic, Chris Glover, in an interview with The Varsity. Glover has been a vocal advocate against the SCI since its announcement. He joined CFS–O National Representative Kayla Weiler and YFS President Fatima Babiker at a press conference on November 22, announcing the end of the SCI.

“You cannot just undermine the legal rights of students and their unions and the services that they provide on campus,” said Glover. He also expressed his belief that the language of the court’s decision would impede any attempt by the province to reinstate a similar mandate. “So, this is a landmark decision.”

Glover also called on the Ford government to pay student groups the fees that were lost in the first opt-out period for the fall 2019 term.

CFS–O Chairperson Felipe Nagata is celebrating alongside Glover and his colleagues. Despite the CFS fee having one of the highest opt-out rates that the UTSU reported, Nagata is dedicated to a collective union: “Victories like this one today just show how much strength in numbers that we have.”

Michael Mostyn, CEO of the intervenor group B’nai Brith Canada, lamented the government’s loss in court and promised to intervene again if the government decides to appeal the decision: “There may also be a legislative solution to ensuring that Jewish students are no longer obligated to self-discriminate against themselves through mandatory student union dues, and we will be sharing our further thoughts in this regard with the Government of Ontario.”

In the past, B’nai Brith has criticized student groups, including the CFS, for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Israel movement, which it calls anti-Semitic. B’nai Brith also led an opt-out campaign against the CFS under the SCI.

However, the UTGSU, the other intervener, called the decision a “historic victory not just for the UTGSU, but for students across the province and for the student movement broadly.” Branden Rizzuto, former Finance Comissioner of the UTGSU, writing on behalf of the UTGSU’s Legal Ad-Hoc Committee, agreed with the court’s ruling and recognized the SCI as an “attack on the democratic autonomy of Ontario student associations.”

“We don’t know the ramifications of this decision”

Other unions have expressed similar sentiments of relief at the court’s decision, although with some hesitation. UTSU President Joshua Bowman wrote that the union will continue to operate as if the ruling had not happened, and explained that this is “because we don’t know the ramifications of this decision, and because it is apparent that the university doesn’t either.”

Apprehensive of the court’s decision and action that could still be taken by the province — such as an appeal to the decision or legislation to enact similar policies — Bowman is skeptical of the real impacts of the SCI being overturned. “The underlying message of this decision is that the provincial government does not have the authority to circumvent student unions and university governance structures through ministerial action,” wrote Bowman. “This decision has not led to us being consulted further, or even being communicated with further.”

In response to the announcements in court, U of T preferred not to comment until a later date. “The University is aware of the decision of the Divisional Court and is evaluating the technical impact. There will be an update next week,” wrote a university spokesperson to The Varsity.

An MCU spokesperson also deferred commenting on the decision, writing to The Varsity that it is “currently reviewing the decision… We will have more to say on this at a later date.”

—With files from Hannah Carty.

Read the full court decision that struck down the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative

Divisional court rules incidental fees fall outside provincial authority

Read the full court decision that struck down the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative

In its unanimous decision to overturn the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) earlier today, the Divisional Court of Ontario declared that the Ontario government lacked the legal authority to govern fee collection and agreements between the university and student associations. 

Announced in January, the SCI was a provincial mandate to Ontario universities and colleges that opt-out selections had to be provided for “non-essential” incidental fees, with the government outlining the criteria for “essential” fees. In May, the York Federation of Students (YFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) launched a legal challenge against the SCI. 

The intervenors in this case were the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, in favour of the applicants, and B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights, in favour of the Government of Ontario. 

Following a court hearing in October, the court ruled in favour of the YFS and the CFS–O today. It found that: “Ontario does not control [the associations of student associations and universities] directly or indirectly.” It went on to note that the province’s cabinet and ministry had no authority to interfere in the internal affairs of student associations.

The decision was rendered by the Honourable Justices Harriet Sachs, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau.

The Ontario government contested the application for judicial review by arguing that the SCI was a “core policy choice” that was not subject to the courts, and that the government was exercising its “prerogative power over spending.” The court contradicted this, saying that this was clearly within its “public law mandate.” The court also wrote that the government had no authority to overturn democratic student procedures, including referenda.

Despite arguments made by Ontario that the financial harm caused by the SCI presented by the applicants was “speculative and unsubstantiated,” the court sided with the applicants. The applicants argued that university guidelines, and the role of student associations in governance, are outside of the Crown’s power over spending, contrary to the “statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”

Concluding that the application of certiorari, or an appeal of legislation and court decisions, was granted and “[quashes] the impugned directives,” the court also announced that the parties agreed to Ontario “[paying] the applicants’ costs in the amount of $15,000 inclusive.”

According to CBC News, the court’s decision is being reviewed by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, which will comment at a later time.

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View this document on Scribd

University Affairs Board presents updates on mandated leave policy, reviews sexual violence policy

Vice-Provost, Students, explains long Student Choice Initiative winter opt-out period

University Affairs Board presents updates on mandated leave policy, reviews sexual violence policy

On November 13, the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board passed its yearly review of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), its three-year review of the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, and the university’s report on non-academic disciplinary cases. The report on the UMLAP revealed that out of eight cases in the past year, two students requested a review of the decision to use the policy on them, though the university ultimately upheld its original decisions.

Student Choice Initiative

Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh led most of the meeting, giving reports on the various policies up for review and on the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the province’s mandate for universities to create an opt-out option for some incidental fees. The winter opt-out period for students — running from November 1 to January 20 — has already begun, Welsh announced at the meeting.

Welsh attributes its lengthy time-frame, weeks longer than the summer opt-out period, to the deadline for adding and dropping classes, and its effect on a student’s full-time or part-time status. The vice-provost also announced that between the last fall collection period and this past one, there was a two per cent reduction in incidental fees collected through the university due to the SCI.

University-mandated leave of absence policy

The UMLAP received an update since its implementation last year. The controversial policy has seen an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint and waves of student protests.

Welsh reported that the policy had been used in eight cases in the past year, emphasizing that it was only used as a last resort. Two of the student cases took voluntary leave from the school. Of the remaining six, two students requested a review of the policy’s implementation. For both, the policy was sustained, with one student requesting a tribunal, withdrawing the case before the hearing, according to Welsh.

Following her report, Welsh addressed concerns raised about the policy. Specifically, some worry of a broader deterring effect that the policy might have on students in seeking help from mental health resources within the university. Welsh, again, emphasized the extreme and serious nature of the cases on which the policy was enacted, which included risk of harm to others. She further pointed out that any request to invoke the policy needed to be made by a divisional head.

Sexual violence policy updates, non-academic discipline report

During Welsh’s presentation of the revisions for the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in its first three-year review, she lamented the Ontario government-imposed deadline for the report, which tightened the timeline for consultations, after winter exams had already began. Changes were also passed to the Code of Student Conduct to reflect the jurisdictional divide between the two policies.

Finally, Welsh presented the university’s annual report on cases of non-academic discipline: the governance document details specific counts of incidents. Among 12 cases there were 17 offences: 10 offences against persons, four offences of unauthorized use of university equipment, one offence against property, one abetting offence, and one offence of disruption.

Student groups adjust to reduced funding in face of SCI

Multiple clubs experience financial challenges, limitations in programming

Student groups adjust to reduced funding in face of SCI

As the fall semester opt-out period came to a close on September 19, levy-funded student groups are now receiving information on their funding for the semester. The Student Choice Initiative (SCI), mandated by the Ontario government earlier this year, designates certain fees as “non-essential” and requires universities to allow students to opt out of them as they wish.

The groups that are affected by this change include student unions, student advocacy groups, and campus media, among others. Many groups expressed to The Varsity that they are still unsure of the impact the SCI will have on their organizations, and that the winter opt-out period could yield different results.

Multiple groups, like the Sexual Education Centre (SEC), also noted that their overall opt-out rate was around 25 per cent. “This means no new books for our library, fewer fun events for UofT students, fewer special products of the month, and more,” wrote Leah West, Executive Director of the SEC, in an email to The Varsity.

“We know that many people rely almost exclusively on us for free safer sex supplies and menstrual products. We worry that the current funding cuts will put these groups at risk by making these things even less accessible,” West noted of the SEC’s operations in the coming year.

“These cuts strike at the heart of our organization,” wrote Students for Barrier Free Access (SBA) Board Member Alisha Krishna in an email to The Varsity. “We cannot provide the same services as previously, especially since we were forced to implement staffing cuts. Not only does this mean we must reduce the services offered to our membership, but it is also significant because SBA has always tried to hire marginalized, disabled people who face barriers to employment, which is something we must now scale back on.”

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) has also felt the impact of the policy. “The SCI has reduced the amount of money that LGBTOUT will receive this year by a fair amount, and it will definitely affect some of the events and programming we will be able to do,” wrote LGBTOUT Executive Director Cheryl Quan in an email to The Varsity.

Many groups’ levies are distributed through the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), including LGBTOUT and SBA.

“For the majority of these groups, we are their only source of income,” wrote Arjun Kaul, UTSU Vice-President Operations, in an email to The Varsity. He also wrote on the topic of UTSU’s opt-outs: “we are fortunate to be sitting at a relatively high percent of funds deemed ‘essential.’ We will likely have to trim some services, but fortunately, we have worked out plans to keep all of our services up and running, at the very least.”

Some groups expressed that while the SCI does not pose an existential threat to their organizations, they have had difficulty with the timeline of the opt-outs and the financial uncertainty before groups were made aware of their opt-out rate.

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) President Alexa Ballis wrote, “The biggest impact that the Student Choice Initiative has had on VUSAC is that it has made the budgeting process extremely difficult,” in an email to The Varsity. She added that “financial planning over the summer was almost impossible.”

Ballis criticized the process for not giving groups updates on their numbers before the fall opt-out period was over. She further noted that, because the fees must be itemized and funds cannot be moved around, this added difficulty for the VUSAC Commissioner’s planning.

University College Literary & Athletic Society (UC Lit) President Danielle Stella was more optimistic. “Our overall opt-out percentage is lower than expected and we believe the decrease in funding will be manageable,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity. She noted that the UC Lit is changing its budgeting system to accommodate the SCI, but are still reaching out to university stakeholders to address any shortcomings in funding.

The faces of Ford’s OSAP cuts

Three members of the U of T community share their stories

The faces of Ford’s OSAP cuts

Back in January, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced large-scale changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Notably, there were significant changes to grant-to-loan ratios, the defining guidelines of independent students, and the scrapping of the free tuition program for low-income students. The Varsity spoke to three members of the U of T community about the personal implication of these changes.

“Education is about liberation.”

Yasmin Owis, a first-year PhD student and research assistant at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at U of T, was confirmed to receive thousands of dollars worth of funding through OSAP in June. Two months later, her funding was recalculated to zero.

Thinking back on the completion of her first two degrees, Owis wrote that she had relied completely on OSAP to be able to afford her education. Without it, she wouldn’t have been able to get this far.

Although as a full-time PhD student she receives a funding package from the university that covers tuition, the amount she receives doesn’t account for all the soaring costs of housing, food, and transportation that come with living in Toronto.

“I’m taking on extra work in an already stressful first year of doctoral studies to cover the funding I lost from OSAP and applying to as many scholarships, grants, and bursaries as I can,” Owis wrote in an email to The Varsity.

Among students and families impacted by the Ford adminstration’s drastic slash of OSAP funding, Owis’ story stands as one of thousands.

For many postsecondary students across Ontario entering the new school year, the prospect of funding their education has become an anxiety-driven scramble for financial security before their fees are due.

This anxiety began metastasizing in January, alongside Ford’s announcement. The previous Liberal government had implemented a program that offered affordable tuition to students whose families earn less than $50,000 a year. Coming into power early last year, Ford’s administration disagreed with the sustainability of such a program.

Their response was cutting postsecondary tuition by 10 per cent, reducing the qualifying threshold for funding from $175,000 to $140,000, and requiring students under the $50,000 threshold to take on loans in addition to grants.

“It pulls focus away from academics and completing your degree to the best of your ability,” Owis wrote.

Compared to others, Owis believes that she is one of the lucky ones. Many of her friends that are without funding packages are taking out lines of credit, moving back in with their parents, and balancing three jobs with their course load.

The mental costs of such a workload can be stark.

“If you’re someone like me, who has both mental and physical health barriers, OSAP cuts [mean] that I have less funds for medication and mental health services that [are] not covered by my health insurance,” wrote Owis. “Those who already face challenges [with] affording education are not spared.”

“Despite having worked two jobs — both full time — this summer, the money I saved won’t even help.”

Morgan Murray, a third-year student double majoring in English and Cinema Studies, with a minor in Creative Expression and Society at U of T, has been commuting from Cobourg to the downtown campus for the entirety of her undergraduate studies. She wrote to The Varsity that she and her parents agreed on the commute to cut down on costs, but now, even that won’t be enough.

“A major part of that decision was because I wanted to put all my energy into my studies and extracurriculars, rather than working [a job] after class or on weekends,” wrote Murray.

As she now faces losing thousands of dollars in OSAP funding, the mounting costs that she didn’t anticipate are another pile of responsibilities slammed on top of her textbooks. Her summer funds will be funnelled to her basic amenities, like transportation, food, and textbooks. Any potential for a layer of comfortable cushioning in her financial situation has all but dissipated.

“As I’ve become more educated from university, whether it’s from my classes or the life lessons learned in between, it is very apparent that many people in government are not concerned about their citizens being educated,” wrote Murray. “If they did, they would find ways to benefit the lives of students and help make an accessible way for all to attend, regardless of their background or family income.”

As a result of the OSAP changes, many postsecondary students find themselves in a ‘catch-22’ situation. With less support from the government, students need to compensate by dedicating more time to pursue scholarships or potential jobs.

However, the more time spent on these activities, the less time students have to focus on their courses, which detracts from their ability to achieve a higher GPA. This then lowers their chances to receive merit-based assistance like scholarships that would alleviate their need to work a job, which swallows up time and perpetuates the cycle.

“It seems the only thing you can do is work harder than before,” Murray wrote. “It’s going to be difficult to not constantly worry about finances, but just taking it one day at a time is the best way to get through this.”

“The next step is to definitely fight back.”

“My heart sank when Ford [made the] cuts.”

Ananya Banerjee, Assistant Professor and Interim Program Director at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, has seen firsthand how the drop in OSAP funding has impacted many of her students.

“I had a number of our top applicants email me when they received an offer and saw the tuition cost of our program. Many simply said they couldn’t afford to enter our program as they didn’t get the OSAP amount [that] they needed,” Banerjee wrote to The Varsity.

Some applicants asked to be switched to part-time students so they could work on the side. “I noticed a high proportion of these top applicants were racialized and from low-income families,” wrote Banerjee. “Fewer individuals from marginalized communities will be entering our post-secondary education system, and those that do will spiral into severe debt in order to afford it, leading to a rise in mental health issues.”

Worries over losing a grip on postsecondary opportunities is shared amongst many. While the Ford government’s OSAP cuts impact different students in very different ways, one sentiment remains the same across each and every subject: a growing fear of the unknown.

“We have to commit as an academic institution to build a barrier-free and accessible education system until we have a change in government,” wrote Banerjee. “If we don’t, we are going to lose the brightest students who rightfully deserve to [be] part of the University of Toronto.”

“Our education is now a privilege.”

Ontario Liberal leadership candidates promise reversal of Ford policies

Mitzie Hunter, Alvin Tedjo, Michael Coteau, Kate Graham, Steven Del Duca on their plans

Ontario Liberal leadership candidates promise reversal of Ford policies

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.