Photos by Kyle West

On Jan. 25, The Silhouette sat down with Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath to discuss the Ford government’s recently announced changes to Ontario’s tuition framework, financial aid system and student fees.

On Jan. 17, the Ford government announced a 10 per cent reduction in the up front cost of tuition in Ontario. This came alongside a plan to tighten the eligibility requirements for the Ontario student assistance program, reduce grant money offered by OSAP and eliminate the six month grace period before loans must be paid back.

Additionally, the ministry announced that post secondary institutions will be required to allow students to opt out of paying non-tuition fees deemed “non-essential.”

According to Horwath, the 10 per cent tuition cost reduction will end up harming students.

“This decision that the government's made is deceitful first and foremost because the 10 per cent sticker price announcement really means nothing for affordability for students,” she stated.

Horwath said the proposed changes would cause students to graduate with more debt and pay higher interest fees.

The McMaster Students Union has expressed similar concerns.

“Grants are a far more effective form of student financial aid than loans. Rolling back OSAP eligibility and increasing the loan threshold will increase the debt load on many students,” said Ikram Farah, MSU president.

According to Horwath, the requirement of an opt-out for non-essential student union fees is a strategy to silence the voices of students.

I think a lot of what the government is trying to do is weaken the student movement to silence the voices of young people,” she said.

The MSU released a statement saying that this provision might impact the advocacy abilities of student unions and provision of services and supports.

“The potential of optional fee structures for services could severely undermine the ability of students to organize and maintain robust student-oriented provisions, along with their representation to all levels of government,” stated the release.

According to Horwath, the proposed changes to tuition, fees and OSAP will impact more than just students because all Ontarians benefit from well-functioning post secondary institutions.

“It is going to affect everyone,” she stated. “It is going to affect families. It is going to affect the economy. It is going to affect the educators.”

She explained that weakening the student experience on campus, lowering the quality of education and burdening students with more financial distress mean that young people will not get the education that they need in order to participate in the workforce.

The Progressive Conservative party holds a 60 per cent majority, meaning that they have enough seats to pass legislation without the assent of other parties.

Despite this, Horwath believes it is still possible to advocate for change.

She noted that as a result of public outcry, the Ford government recently backtracked on a proposal open up the Greenbelt to developers.

According to Horwath, this demonstrates that broad resistance from Ontarians is key.

I think this is a glimmer of hope to say that notwithstanding that it is a majority government, if you have a broad enough resistance and if you push hard enough […] then you have an opportunity to engage.”

 

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Flint is one of Hamilton’s sister cities. It is located in the state of Michigan, and it has a population of 102,434. It would take roughly four hours to fly there, and like Hamilton, it was built upon a prominent trade industry (in our case, steel; in theirs, lumber). We don’t typically have much to do with Flint, and most of the time the idea of a “sister city” seems like something arbitrarily assigned across the globe.

Our status as sister cities was made official by Sister Cities International, and we have been linked to them — along with our other sister city, Fukuyama, Japan — for close to 60 years.

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We aren’t very close, geographically or socially, but we hold a connection with them that is beyond our local bounds. For those who do not know, the citizens of Flint are currently the victims of a water crisis. Their only sources of water have been contaminated due to old and poorly maintained piping infrastructure made of lead, and their water is currently considered poisonous. They need $55 million dollars to fix the existing damage, and their citizens, including children, the elderly and animals, are falling ill at a rapid pace.

We know that they need help, and we know that we’re intrinsically on their side, but why aren’t we, as a community, doing anything?

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Hamilton’s Mayor Eisenberg has reached out to the mayor of Flint, offering to provide necessary aid, but aside from one dedicated citizen donating a few thousand water bottles to the city, we don’t have much else to show for ourselves in terms of providing tangible help in any form. And when I refer to “us” or “our,” I don’t necessarily just mean the city as a whole, but the separate McMaster community as well.

It’s an age-old fact that McMaster students have found it difficult to assimilate into the city and become members of the community. But so long as we are living, working, or being educated here, we are part of the “City of Hamilton.” And with that being said, we are more connected to our brothers and sisters in Flint than any other university community.

Our lack of initiative related to helping Flint speaks to the rough connection we have as a university to our city and municipal responsibilities.

Flint has multiple colleges and universities within its borders. Students and faculty are people who are being affected by this lead poisoning, and if we were in their place, the support of our sister university could mean a lot and make a difference.

The University and its hospital are two of the largest businesses in the city. Even if the city may not necessarily be able to provide some form of financial support to the citizens of Flint, it could be possible that the lucrative business of our institution could be able to provide help in some way, shape or form.

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Our lack of initiative related to helping Flint speaks to the rough connection we have as a university to our city and municipal responsibilities, a shortcoming that we have been trying to mend. Many people have no idea that Flint is Hamilton’s sister city, let alone that Hamilton has sister cities. While most students can get away with going a full undergrad not getting to know their city, when something like this comes up, as members of this community, we should be proactive (as we are with many other initiatives on campus) in doing something to help or raise awareness for this cause. As a campus, the biggest thing we have going for us, outside of our finances, are our numbers. We have bodies, and lots of them, who can stand up and make a difference for a municipality that doesn’t have a lot of support from elsewhere, and one that is an innate part of our own city culture.

Not too far from us, and not too long ago, the town of Walkerton, Ontario was in a somewhat similar situation with an E. coli problem. The town benefited from the help of its neighbours, and Flint is now in an even worse situation that needs dire help. We may not always identify with this city we live in, but when Hamilton and its related communities needs us, we need to be there to help facilitate action and effort.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Cook/ Reuters

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