Battle over student fees ends as Ford government gives up

Nov 9, 2021 | Campus News, Et Cetera, Headlines, News

The Student Choice Initiative is finally dead in the water.

The provincial government doesn’t intend on appealing the Ontario Court of Appeal’s upholding of a lower court’s ruling that the initiative was unlawful.

The SCI allowed post-secondary students to opt out of paying ancillary fees not considered essential, but could include specific student union activities, campus newspapers and advocacy groups — longstanding institutions that would suffer a major blow through the policy.

A spokesperson for the minister of colleges and universities told the Canadian Press the province will not appeal the August ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, meaning the initiative has no chance to be reinstated in its current form.

“We’re really relieved,” Kayla Weiler, a national executive for one of the student advocacy organizations that sued the Ontario government, told Humber Et Cetera.

“It’s really great to hear that the government’s finally listened to us and has agreed or decided to stop taking students to court,” said Weiler, the Ontario representative of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Premier Doug Ford introduced the SCI in January 2019 to start his first full year in office to nationwide backlash from student leaders and student publications.

Many campus organizations were forced to cut staff, services and events when the SCI came into play for the fall 2019 semester.

However, the Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario division and the York Federation of Students filed a lawsuit against the government claiming the SCI was “unlawful.”

The CFS suit was successful and the SCI was first thrown out by the Ontario Divisional Court in November 2019.

The Progressive Conservative government was quick to respond in an appeal the following month.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed the challenge in August, stating the government would have to modify the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act in order to carry out the policy.

The Ford government’s track record with student leaders and advocacy groups has been largely negative since it came to power in June 2018.

Along with cuts to colleges and universities across the province, Ontario has slashed grants for the Ontario Student Assistance Program since the PCs formed the government.

“The past four years with the current government has been really hurtful to students and harmful,” Weiler said, pointing to the Ford government’s widespread cuts to the Ontario loans and grants program and to post-secondary institutions across the province.

“Pretty much everyone in the post-secondary sector has been hurt by the government.”

Weiler said she looks forward to voting for candidates that support students and continuing to lobby on their behalf regardless of who is in power.

Ford and the PCs will face voters in an election next June.