Hundreds march against Ford’s cuts to OSAP, post-secondary student fees

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By Rhea Singh

Hundreds of students marched against Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and students’ fees on Monday at a rally organized by youth organizations Students for Ontario, March for Our Education and Ontario Students Action Network (OSAN).

The march began at University Avenue at Armoury Street, and rallied students from OCAD, George Brown, Sheridan, University of Toronto (U of T) York University, Ryerson University and more to Queen’s Park.

The rally is one of many that students have organized since educational policy changes were introduced by Ford’s government on Jan. 17. The changes will include cutting free tuition for low-income students and charging interest during the six-month grace period after students graduate.

Organizer and member of Students for Ontario, Aiman Akmal, spoke at the rally about how she thinks students have been reacting to the cuts.

“Doug Ford and his government will not get away with throwing the interest of students for the sake of efficiencies,” said Akmal. “[Ford’s] government can claim to have consulted students, but…we, the students, were not consulted.”

According to Akmal, the 10 per cent tuition cut will force universities and colleges to slash essential student services to compensate for the loss in funding. She said the minister of training, colleges and universities, Merrilee Fullerton, was unable to name student groups that assisted in the conservative government’s decision making.

Addressing Ford directly, Akmal said, “Students, Mr. Ford, are not inefficiencies…Access to quality education regardless of economic background is not an inefficiency,” said Akmal.

Other speakers included Nour Alideeb, current chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, U of T student Tyler Riches and Le Nguyen from Students for Ontario and MPP Marie-France Lalonde of Orlean-Ottawa.

Fourth-year Ryerson computer science student David Jardine said it is important to show that students are upset about the OSAP cuts and that they won’t forget about it.

“I hope that the image of over a thousand students standing in front of Queen’s Park will really send [the government] a message of ‘we are not going away’,” said Jardine. “We were angry two weeks ago, we were angry a month ago when it was announced and we’re still angry today and until this is taken back.”

The provincial government’s changes will now make low-income students whose families make $50,000 or under have at least 10 percent of their assistance in the form of a loan. The elimination of mandatory ancillary fees will start in the coming fall when students will have the option to save up to $2000 in opt-outs and risk defunding services across campus.

Winnie Murphy, a second-year student in the film and television program at Sheridan College, said as a low-income student that taking away free tuition for low-income students is stripping them of their rights.

“Without OSAP I wouldn’t be able to get my degree and make a better living for myself,” said Murphy. “So the fact that that’s being threatened means not only me but thousands of other Canadians aren’t able to make a better life for themselves.”

Murphy said she believes Ford’s government is affecting younger generations of Canada in particular with these cuts.  

“I just want Doug Ford to leave us alone. It’s not his place as he comes from a very wealthy family and doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle,” she said.

At the rally, students weren’t the only ones fighting against the post-secondary education changes that made under Ford’s government. Marissa Olanick, a York University graduate and organizer at Socialist Fightback, said the only way to create change is through student strikes and the help of students’ unions.

“Changes to student fees mean that students’ main methods of organizing through student unions are going to be undercut, and that needs to be resisted,” said Olanick.

Concerted action would be the main method to fight against the cuts, she said, and students “need to build up one-day demonstrations, sit-ins, applications and strike votes on-campus,” to build momentum for their movement.

“It’s time to stand up and push back, and let Ford know that he is going to meet with resistance.”

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