Ontario’s throne speech silent on post-secondary education

Oct 15, 2021 | News

For post-secondary campuses around Ontario, the recent throne speech by the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford to open the new legislature session offered sounds of silence.

Austin Hurley, a Brock University student and member of the board for the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said the alliance was “disappointed that there was no targeted mention of the post-secondary sector in the throne speech, particularly when it comes to supporting affordability and access to education.”

The Oct. 4 speech read Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell focused on the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, health and long-term care, and emerging from the crisis of the last 18 months to rebuild the Ontario economy.

“Ontario cannot go backward,” the speech said. “After 18 months of fighting this pandemic, we owe our businesses stability and certainty.”

But there was no mention of education and only passing reference to post-secondary education. Issues of concern to students, such as financial support, accessibility, childcare and mental health services, also received short shrift.

Jason Baryluk, interim general manager and director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance, said that “in order to just get by, we’ve seen a massive intake of students who are using food banks on campus,and off it.

“That is unacceptable,” Baryluk said.

Rising housing prices, along with spiking tuition and living costs, forced some students to choose between furthering their education or going straight into whatever entry-level position they can find in the workforce.

“We’re discouraged that Ontario has clawed back their provincial contribution to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) by $400 million,” Hurley said.

“The throne speech made no mention of any intention of ending the clawback or providing additional supports for students,” he said.

Jason Baryluk interim of general manager and the director of advocacy for College Student Alliance (CSA) said that is unacceptable for students to use food banks on and off campus to get by. PHOTO CREDIT/COURTESY OF JASON BARYLUK

York University graduate Shevaughn James believes education is essential. However, he also believes it has never been a priority for the Ontario government and the throne speech made that obvious.

“There is actually a lack of focus on education from all forms of government,” said James. “Education is a staple of any kind of social structure.”

“Education should be a focus,” he said. “Not an afterthought.”

With many classes switched to online learning due to the pandemic, mental health has been a struggle for students. A survey conducted by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations in June found 70 per cent of students reported feeling stressed, isolated or anxious.

“You may hear from politicians like, ‘Well, that’s a lot to kind of fix,'” Baryluk said. “It’s not. We’ve seen over the course of the pandemic, that they are able to do these things if they want as a matter of political will.”