Province-Wide Day of Action for a Poverty Free Ontario

BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)
by Corrie Sakaluk

Since the 1990’s, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has organized province-wide days of action in Ontario as part of our ongoing struggle for affordable post-secondary education. This year other groups have joined forces with the CFS through the Coalition for a Poverty-Free Ontario to host another mass mobilization on November 5.

According to Shelley Melanson, Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, the motivation for bringing groups in different sectors for this day of action is because “the government has already announced that there will be cuts to funding in the 2010 budget” and, in the past, different social justice groups have been pitted against one other and divided.
Melanson believes that now more than ever Ontario citizens “need to make it clear to the government that we are united on these issues”.

While increased unity on issues that affect all working people in Ontario is a positive step forward, there continue to be disagreements on Toronto campuses between student union organizers who (by the nature of their positions) are more heavily involved in national and provincial decision-making bodies of the CFS, and other radical political organizers. These tensions also filter out into the many communities connected to current students.

One major question is whether lobbying the government and pulling media stunts such as the November 5th Day of Action with the aim of swaying public opinion and influencing elections is an effective use of time and resources. In terms of affordable education, there have been few gains on a provincial level since the tuition freeze of 2005 was lifted by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal party…only to be re-elected in similar numbers shortly afterwards.

Achieving unity around a united goal has also been difficult. Another major point of contention on campuses in Toronto and across Ontario remains: should our primary call be “reduce tuition fees” or “eliminate tuition fees, free education for all”.

Over the past two years, CFS-member students unions have developed a new CFS campaign slogan “Drop Fees”, which is meant to bridge the divide between these two different positions with a catch-all phrase that can include both perspectives. This diverges substantially from the very specific “Reduce Tuition Fees” CFS campaign of the early 2000’s.

Melanson explained to BASICS that “the Federation believes that the best access to education comes from free education and at all times that should always be our goal. At the same time, we recognize that… in Ontario we have the highest tuition fees in the country so it puts us in a good negotiating position with the government…to call for return to the tuition levels of the 2005 freeze and then begin incremental reductions. The Drop Fees campaign has been designed to encapsulate what our end goal is as well as what we are working for in the immediate future”.

According to Melanson, after the Day of Action CFS representatives will be devoting their energy towards lobbying days with government representatives throughout the month of December in the hopes that the 2010 provincial budget will show new investment in post-secondary education.

Given the unsurprising non-responsiveness of the provincial government to lobbying in Ontario since the tuition freeze was lifted in 2005, it is difficult to have faith that these meetings will result in very much in terms of concrete gains for working people. But it’s clear that tactics focused on reforming the system will not be abandoned by elected student union and CFS representatives anytime soon.

This being the case, it is up to other students to do our own political work alongside these lobbying-based efforts.

No government, regardless of who is office, is truly going to have the interests of working people at heart. Lobbying cannot be our only or even primary way forward.
Coming together in anti-poverty coalitions to support a Day of Action is definitely positive and constructive.

We must also continue to organize ourselves separately, create collectively-directed revolutionary political education programs, and develop other student-based mass organizations with different organizing strategies to help protect our education and our livelihoods.




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