The Student Choice Initiative was never about affordability…
On Thursday morning, the Fulcrum reported that the appeal dates for the Ford government’s challenge of the Division Court’s decision to strike down the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) have been set for March 23 and 24.
The looming court decision will decide the fate of students and all employees of “optional” post-secondary services. The cuts to these services in the fall of 2019 — the lone semester that the SCI was in effect — negatively impacted the abilities of these services to operate to their fullest extent.
Due to the looming SCI in 2019, the Fulcrum was one of the many affected services who had to make cuts. The end of print editions and the reduction of the editorial board from 13 to seven were necessary cuts for financial viability. This was done due to the uncertainty of the opt-in the Fulcrum would receive from University of Ottawa students.
Luckily, thanks to you students, the Fulcrum received over 75 per cent of its levy.
In November of 2019, the SCI was struck down by three Divisional Court of Ontario judges who deemed the policy unlawful, saying the SCI is “inconsistent” with the autonomous governance of universities.
This meant we and other impacted organizations received our full levy for the winter 2020 semester.
“Our government will continue to promote affordability and transparency for Ontario students and their families and is appealing the court decision from November, 2019,” wrote a spokesperson for the Ministry of Universities and Colleges in an email to the Fulcrum this week.
At the U of O, the fees affected by the SCI totaled an average of about $50 a semester and included funding for clubs, legal and financial aid, campus media, and the Office of the Ombudsperson. This equivalates to less than one per cent of students’ overall tuition cost.
The irony is that the Ford government is spending taxpayers’ money to appeal a ruling that has minimal impact on students’ wallets.
It does, however, have a substantial impact on the organizations and students that it targets — many of which are invaluable to the university experience.
The SCI renders optional the fees paid by students to LGBTQ2+, womxn and international student centres. These services are essential for supporting diverse student bodies.
Notice a trend? These are not traditionally conservative centres.
Furthermore, another target of the SCI is campus media.
The Fulcrum and other student-run outlets all around the province are pipelines for the media industry.
Members of the press are the ones holding the Ford government accountable — and a popular conservative talking point when negative news coverage arises is accusing the press of being left-leaning.
This is a vendetta against organizations that the conservative government perceives as left-leaning and anti-conservative — this is the government’s version of ‘cancel culture.’
Doug Ford, ever so clever, in his choice of words, even said so himself. In an early 2019 fundraising email, he bragged that the SCI saved students from paying for “crazy Marxist nonsense [that] student unions get up to.”
Notice that one of the biggest ancillary fees that students are charged was not part of the SCI?
At the moment, full-time students are charged $59.70 per semester for sports services. Sports Services is not an essential student service — if anything, they are less essential than any service found on the list of services affected by the SCI. Varsity athletics play no role in student democracy, in helping marginalized students or holding those in power accountable.
Why do sports get a hall pass when it comes to the SCI? If the provincial government is promoting “affordability and transparency for Ontario students and their families” shouldn’t they render one of the most expensive ancillary fees optional?
The SCI is an oppressive policy from a government that wants to silence its critics and those in positions to hold it accountable.
This was never expressed better than by Kayla Weiler, the Ontario representative of the Canadian Federation of Students when the SCI was struck down in Nov. 2019
“Doug Ford’s attempt to wipe out students’ unions under the guise of giving students ‘choice’ has been exposed for what it really was: an attempt to silence his opposition.”
Appealing the SCI is a step backward and yet again jeopardizes important services for students, such as specialized centres and legal aid in the name of “affordability” which will only hurt students.
Taking the time, and the money, to see that the SCI is reinstated across Ontario for a second time is appalling — and yet another demonstration of the government’s attempt to disregard those who try to make their community better.
This policy is something that does not benefit students, as we saw in 2019. It leaves student services across campus anxious and creates more uncertainty leading up to the fall 2021 semester after the hell that was the 2020-21 academic year.
Editorials are written by the Fulcrum’s 14-person editorial board and express the shared views and opinions of the Fulcrum’s editorial staff. To share your own views, email firstname.lastname@example.org.