An Ontario court’s rebuke of the Ford government’s “student choice initiative” means full funding can be restored to vital clubs and on-campus services, post-secondary student leaders say.
While they did not know how soon that could happen, “we’re hoping the fees will go back into regular collection as soon as it’s possible,” said Kayla Weiler of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students.
“I think particularly of food banks, and how they’re unable to budget for the upcoming semester because of the Student Choice Initiative.”
A divisional court ruling released Thursday said the province overstepped its authority — interfering with the autonomy of post-secondary institutions and student governments — when it forced colleges and universities to make some “ancillary,” or additional, fees opt-outable.
Leaders with the Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students, who launched the case back in May, had argued that without the fees — which are democratically approved, in some cases by campus-wide referendums — groups could not offer much-needed supports and services.
“This is a historic day for students,” said Weiler, adding that student governments, food banks, support for LGBT students, legal clinics and campus radio stations and papers were all impacted by the government’s changes.
“Student unions belong to, and are funded by students and the government has no authority to interfere with them” she said.
“… It is clear that this government is not for the students,” she said at Queen’s Park.
“The campus life that students deserve will be restored,” added Fatima Babiker, president of the York University student government.
When asked to comment on the ruling, Premier Doug Ford — in Ottawa Friday to meet the prime minister — said “I can’t right now.”
Last January, the government announced a number of changes for the post-secondary sector, including a 10 per cent tuition cut, changes to the financial aid system as well as making many ancillary fees optional to give students’ choice and help them save money.
The fees, which in some cases add more than $1,000 to the tuition bill, are used to fund on-campus clubs and student governments, but those that support health and wellness or campus safety, remained mandatory.
Jenessa Crognali, a spokesperson for Attorney General Doug Downey, said “we are reviewing the decision that was released (Thursday). As this matter is in the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to comment.”
It is unclear if the government will appeal the ruling.
New Democrat MPP Chris Glover, his party’s post-secondary critic, said this is yet another example of courts overturning ill-thought out Ford government’s initiatives.
“The court was unequivocal about their condemnation of the actions of this government,” he said of the unanimous decision.
“I am very glad to see the courts rein in the provincial government, even ordering the Ford government to pay the Canadian Federation of Students’ legal fees” of $15,000, Glover also said. “It’s clear that Ford’s attacks — from municipal elections, to business contracts, to students’ unions — are attacks on the legal and constitutional rights of Ontarians.”
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He called on the government to make up the loss of funding to campus organizations that are now struggling.
The student groups were aided by a number of labour unions in their court fight.
Weiler of the CFS — which is mainly funded via ancillary fees by its member campuses — said student fees are there for programs that help students, and “help fill the voids.”