The Power of the Protest: A Series of Student-led Coalition in the Face of Political Crisis

Edited by Tasmiyah Randeree

The Ford government’s announcement regarding changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) sent shockwaves among post-secondary students, student unions and levies across the province. In an announcement made on Thursday, January 17th, Progressive Conservative MPP, Merilee Fullerton announced that tuition will be slashed by 10 percent, eliminating non-needs-based grants and ‘free tuition’ introduced by the previous Liberal government in 2017. Students are also given the option of opting out of ancillary fees which include student unions, groups and publications. While students are already given the option to opt out of some fees, the mandate under the revised OSAP plan grants the provincial government into deciding mandatory fees that fit under their agenda. As a result, student unions and groups are at risk of losing funding to provide services such as catered meals, on-site printing and student events. Student publications are at risk of funding as well, threatening the quality of student journalism and campus coverage. The provincial government was met with criticism especially for not consulting with student groups prior to making the announcement.

Fullerton’s announcement comes after Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk found that the program could cost $2 billion annually by 2020/2021.

 

Calls for Immediate Action

Within 24 hours of that unexpected announcement, student activists and politicians alike gathered to organize several rallies and protests in response to the government slashing free tuition. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) organized a protest on January 18th with thousands of students marching to Queen’s Park from University Ave, decrying the massive changes made to OSAP. Students held witty handmade signs, several jabbing at Premier Doug Ford’s short-lived academic career at Seneca College.

Students also turned to social media to express frustration on the revised policy, creating student advocacy groups and pages. Students for Ontario, a student-led coalition group, was created by several UofT students, boasting over 710 members. The group also posts several event pages regarding rallies and protests across the province. A province-wide march for students’ rights will be held on February 4th in collaboration with several university student unions and advocacy groups.

 

A distant cry from the sidelines

Not much has changed in the realm of student politics against sweeping political action. For many, the protests against the Ford government echo a similar 2012 phenomenon. Students from Quebec protested tuition hikes after Liberal Premier, Jean Charest, released a proposal to increase tuition from $2168 to $3793 from 2012 to 2018. Photographs captured the tense scene between officers and student activists, utilizing methods such as tear gas and pepper spray. Students also went to extremes, causing public havoc by placing smoke bombs in Montreal’s subway and breaking windows at the University of Montreal. The government also passed Bill 78, an emergency law which banned protesting near university grounds and required police presence at large protests, in an attempt to settle down the protests. Protests continued on for months until the following academic year when students returned to classes. The Parti Quebecois was later elected, halting any tuition hikes and changes.

The red square still stands as a symbol of protest against tuition changes, mainly used in both the 2005 and 2012 Quebec protests.

 

What’s next?

Students can only hope that enough action on their part can lead to immediate change on the provincial government’s part. Though, with enough protests, time and time again, has the government really learned their lesson?