Editorial: Doug Ford’s New Legislation Directly Attacks Student Unions and the Press

Students Need More Say in How Their Own Money is Spent

The Ford government in Ontario recently announced they will allow students at post-secondary schools to opt out of any fees deemed “non-mandatory.”

“Essential campus initiatives” fees will still be mandatory, but the education ministry in Ontario has made it clear “essential” services will only include those offered by university and college administrations.

This legislation will directly disrupt the functioning of student groups by threatening the funding of student papers and student unions. Most student unions, associations, and papers are independently funded through student fees. These fees help students find employment, provide student-led services on campus, and allow students to advocate for themselves.

This move from the Ford government implies these fees are not essential for the university to function. We disagree, and consider this an attack on not only the free press, but also on students’ right to organize themselves politically. Student unions and student journalists work to hold institutions accountable. They also allow students to make meaningful contributions to their community.

Universities shouldn’t only exist to provide students with an education— universities are also community hubs where students organize themselves and assert power democratically. All this requires reliable funding. The idea that universities should only exist to provide students with a degree is a neoliberal idea of how universities should operate, but historically universities haven’t been viewed through this lense. University isn’t just about showing up to class.

University administrators should not be in a position to decide if student unions are “essential” enough to deserve reliable funding. Student groups need to be able get their funding independently, without the interests of administrators getting in the way of that.

Student fee-levies are democratically agreed upon through referendum votes. Saying this funding model should be scrapped implies that students’ say on how they want their money used is irrelevant. Ford has clearly demonstrated he doesn’t have students’ interests in mind, forgoing consultation with student groups while at the same time operating under the facade that “free speech” is under attack in Ontario’s universities. Universities and colleges can now face funding cuts if they fail to put in place “free-speech” policies that allow controversial speakers on campus among other requirements. Ironically, this change concerning how student fees will be collected will directly weaken students’ ability to exercise their own free speech.

All this comes as the Ontario Student Assistance Program is eliminating its free tuition program for low-income students. The Ontario government claims it’s no longer necessary since tuition will be reduced by 10 per cent. Plans for a French-language university in Toronto have also been scrapped, despite wide backlash and a federal government’s promise for funding.

Is this what it’s going to take to finally get Ontario students to start their own Maple Spring? We hope so.