By Tyson Lautenschlager and Zachary McGregor
Hundreds of college and university students across Toronto marched towards Queen’s Park on Wednesday with one thing in mind – getting the Ontario government to eliminate tuition fees.
The Canadian Federation of Students’ National Day of Action included more than 35 events across the country.
Gayle McFadden, a representative with the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, was happy with the turnout at Queen’s Park.
“It’s been especially exciting to see folks from outside Toronto coming here to join our voices together at Queen’s Park, and literally bring free education to their doorstep,” said McFadden
McFadden says the organization has three main demands. They want the government to progressively reduce and eliminate tuition fees, convert student loans into non-repayable grants and eliminate interest from existing student loans.
“Ultimately, we’re fighting for free and accessible education for all,” said McFadden. “We believe that education is a right, and it’s a public good,” she said.
McFadden says Ontario’s high tuition fees are indebting an entire generation of students and robbing many of a post-secondary education.
Although the protest had a robust turnout, Humber’s student government is not a member of the CFS and did not participate.
In the past IGNITE has said protests such as this have no relevance to the issues Humber and University of Guelph-Humber students face.
“We are a very diverse community and the issues we face are much different than those of other college,” said Ammar Abdul-Raheem, IGNITE vice president of Student Life. Organizations such as the CFS seem to have difficulty advocating for Humber as a result of its diversity and uniqueness as an institution.
Ammar has also stated the costs associated with being a member of organizations like the CFS outweigh the benefits.
Despite IGNITE’s refusal to participate in the protest, students across the province continue to struggle paying for their education.
One George Brown College student knows she is already in a hole even before completing her schooling.
“I’m in OSAP debt already,” said Carla Rudberg. “Even before I’ve finished my education, I know I’m going to be stuck paying for this the rest of my life.”
While many college and university students felt the need to protest, they weren’t the only ones at Queen’s Park demanding free education.
“This is important because this is going to be my reality next year,” said high school student Michelle Hopkins. “When I’m choosing universities, I have to think about which ones I can afford when I should be thinking about which ones are going to make me the most beneficial person in society.”
While Premier Kathleen Wynne wasn’t present at the protest, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath was in attendance to talk with students and union leaders
“We’re the only party that’s been in this legislature holding the Liberals’ feet to the fire around the rising cost of tuition in this province,” said Horwath.
Ontario has the highest tuition fees in Canada and students are carrying the highest debt loads because of it she said.
“I can tell you I don’t think Patrick Brown and the Conservatives are the answer either. They’ve never asked a question that I can recall about rising tuition fees and the impact it’s having on students,” said Horwath.
Students are often forced to take two or more part-time jobs while still balancing their school work on top of that.
“My education should not cost the same as a down payment on a house,” said Paula Clark, Concurrent Education student at Lakehead University.
But this is often the reality for students paying both their tuition fees and other expenses like rent, food and textbooks.
“Ontario no longer has a public post-secondary education system, we have institutions being funded directly by the public through tuition,” Horwath said.
The CFS will continue lobbying both the provincial and federal governments to lower and eventually eliminate tuition fees.
“This is the largest Student Day of Action we’ve seen in a long time,” McFadden said.
She says students are at their breaking point. They are clearly fed up with high tuition fees, unending debt and demand better.