Call for free education lands in the legislature

Petitions delivered with 40,000 signatories a day before the national student day of action

Student and faculty representatives delivered petitions with more than 40,000 signatures to the Ontario Legislature today, calling for free post-secondary education, increased funding for colleges and universities and quick action to deal with Ontario’s student debt crisis.

“This conversation about free education is one that needs to happen,” said Rajean Hoilett, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) chairperson. “We don’t see this as a lofty ideal, we see this as a tangible next step towards developing this province.”

Peggy Sattler, the Ontario New Democrats’ advanced education and skills development critic, will read the petition during question period in the legislature tomorrow.

“I want to congratulate CFS on undertaking this campaign, and I will be proud to present those petitions in the legislature tomorrow,” she said. Sattler added that people in Ontario understand that the debts that students in the province are graduating with are preventing them from having families and contributing to economic health of Ontario.

The petition delivery was part of the fight the fees campaign, which is also holding a National Student Day of Action tomorrow, with rallies calling for free education for all happening across Canada. The day of action comes eight months after the Ontario government made headlines with the creation of the Ontario Student Grant, a plan to make average tuition free for eligible low and middle-income students.

Gayle McFadden with more than 40,000 signatures on petitions calling for free education, more funding for colleges and universities and action on student debt. Photo by Steve Cornwell

Gayle McFadden with more than 40,000 signatures on petitions calling for free education, more funding for colleges and universities and action on student debt. Photo by Steve Cornwell / The Dialog

Gayle McFadden, CFS-O’s national executive representative, welcomes the changes but sees the need to push reforms to post-secondary tuition further.

“This is a grant, and it’s a good grant, but it’s not free education,” said McFadden.

She added that although the Liberal budget announcement encouraged politicians and media to talk about free education, “we need to be calling for what free education actually is, which is the elimination of tuition fees and the abolishment of barriers to post-secondary education.”

On Sunday, the federal government put out a release announcing that Canada Student Loan borrowers would not have to pay back their debts until they make $25,000 a year, effective Nov. 1.

Hoilett thinks that the timing of this announcement is curiously close to the Nov. 2 day of action.

“It seems really reactionary that two days before students from across this country take action for free education this government re-announces something that came out in the last budget,” said Hoilett.

Students at George Brown College are meeting for a free breakfast at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday in the St. James Kings Lounge before boarding buses that will go to Ryerson University for the rally and protest march to Queens Park. A bus will also leave from the Casa Loma Student Centre at 10:30 a.m..

Linda Kohn, board director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Rabbia Ashraf, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson and Brie Berry from the Black Liberation Collective at the University of Toronto joined Hoilett, McFadden and Sattler at the petition delivery.

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Call for free education lands in the legislature