Over 200 students from UTM travelled to Queen’s Park last Wednesday for the Canadian Federation of Students’ National Day of Action, arguably the organization’s most criticized initiative. Members of the CFS across Canada protested high tuition fees and student debt.
According to the CFS, the Liberals promised a 30% tuition cut and, because the actual grant is not accessible to all students, McGuinty failed to follow through on his promise. On the Liberals’ website, the election platform on education states that the promised grant would amount to 30% of the cost of tuition. It does not promise a comprehensive tuition cut.
The CFS states that the province should use the $430,000 project for a universal 13% tuition cut rather than 30% for a portion of students. The grant excludes international, part-time, mature, and second-entry program students. Students from families with an annual income greater than $160,000 are also exempt from the grant.
“They could probably do more for mature students, and hopefully that will get worked out as the deficit goes down,” said Jonathan Scott, a third-year English student and the president of the Trinity College Young Liberals. “It’s absolutely dumb to say that everyone should get 13% off, because that’s like being against progressive taxation. I think that adding this grant for lower- to middle-income students is a really good step that they should be applauding rather than protesting.”
UTM students met with those from U of T, U of T Scarborough, McMaster, Western, and York at Convocation Hall and paraded through surrounding streets to Queen’s Park. The procession was led by CFS-Ontario Chair Sandy Hudson, UTSU VP External Shaun Shepherd, and Sajjad. They cheered slogans like “Fuck fees”, “When I say cut back, you say fight back”, and “The students united will never be defeated”.
At Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong and PC MPP Rob Leone addressed students, spoke against tuition increases, and criticized the McGuinty government.
“I’ve talked to students that tell me they want change to make sure that education is accessible and affordable for everyone. We stand in solidarity with you,” Leone said.
The provincial Conservatives oppose the grant, stating that it is fiscally irresponsible of the McGuinty government, considering that Ontario still carries a large deficit.
Leading up to the rally, UTMSU spent months promoting it. Past protests have come under harsh criticism for the egregious amounts of student money used to fund a CFS initiative. In 2010, UTMSU spent over $10,000 on transportation and merchandise such as t-shirts, posters, balloons, buttons, and food.
Munib Sajjad, UTMSU’s VP External, stated that he was uncertain of how much student money was spent on this year’s rally, but he insisted that expenses had decreased since previous years.
“The rally is the primary way for students to get out to show their opposition and show how many students care,” Sajjad said. “They march towards their cause. The Drop Fees Campaign isn’t just one day of action where people get out and shout. It’s about constantly engaging students.”
Instead of holding a rally last year, the CFS decided to concentrate on the launch of their federal campaign, “Education is a Right”. The organization held National Lobby Week, where representatives from student unions met with MPs to advocate for increased federal transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education, the creation of a federal Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Research, and the conversion of loans from the Canadian Student Loan Program into non-repayable grants.