With the next HSR bus pass referendum expected in 2023, McMaster students have mixed feelings about the current contract

All full-time McMaster University students have access to an unlimited Hamilton Street Railway bus pass included in their yearly tuition. The HSR bus pass was implemented and maintained through a contract between McMaster University and the HSR.  

The HSR contract is renegotiated and renewed every three years through a referendum, in which students vote on whether to continue to pay the mandatory HSR tuition fees. The next referendum is expected to occur in 2023. Current HSR bus pass costs are $232.94 for undergraduate students and $294.15 for graduate students.  

The results of the graduate student 2017 HSR referendum were posted by the Graduate Students Association. 36.6 per cent of eligible voters voted in the referendum and 81.7 per cent of voters opted to renew the HSR bus pass contract.  

The next referendum occurred in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to online schooling and postponed campus residence, the HSR bus pass deal was temporarily suspended. As remote schooling continued into the Fall 2020 semester, the bus pass fees for that term were reduced 75 per cent from the normal cost. Additionally, there was a temporary implementation of opt-in/opt-out options for the remainder of the term.  

The bus pass fully resumed operations in the 2021 winter semester and has remained active since. 

The HSR contract has been sustained throughout several referendums, reflecting how the majority of students continue to find the HSR contract beneficial. 

Third year undergraduate student Kieran D’Sena spoke about his own frequent use of the bus pass and its importance to students who don’t live in the immediate vicinity of the McMaster campus. 

“I frequently talk to [students] who live downtown and they rely on the bus to get to class. Having [the bus pass] included in the tuition makes the process so much simpler,” said D’Sena.  

“I frequently talk to [students] who live downtown and they rely on the bus to get to class. Having [the bus pass] included in the tuition makes the process so much simpler.”

Kieran D'Sena, Third year undergraduate student

Third year undergraduate student Luca Scanga explained that although he does not require the HSR to get to campus, his bus pass is still an integral part of his routine and develop a greater relationship with Hamilton.  

“Even though I live very close to campus, I need the HSR for grocery shopping, getting around to other people's houses in Westdale and Ainsley Wood, and getting downtown. If you don't have a car, which most students don't, it's great for getting around the city," said Scanga.  

“Even though I live very close to campus, I need the HSR for grocery shopping, getting around to other people's houses in Westdale and Ainsley Wood, and getting downtown. If you don't have a car, which most students don't, it's great for getting around the city."

Luca Scanga, Third year undergraduate student

Other discussions brew among McMaster students, shedding light on alternative perspectives regarding the HSR bus pass. The r/McMaster subreddit hosts conversations from students expressing frustration with the mandatory bus pass tuition fees. Students do not currently have the option to selectively remove HSR fees from their tuition.  

Regular adult HSR bus fare is $3.25. A student who requires the HSR to get on to campus may use their bus pass approximately 130 times during the fall and winter semesters, excluding holidays. With adult prices a student would be paying $409.50 in bus fares a year, which exceeds current HSR tuition fees.  

This is an ongoing story. 

Inability to opt-out of certain fees spark student discussions and dissatisfaction

Following an unprecedented summer for many, students at McMaster University continue their studies via online learning and face adjustments made both within their classrooms as well as the university as a whole. The transition to online learning has resulted in several changes to supplementary fees students are required to pay.

One of the biggest changes students face this year includes the Hamilton Street Railway bus pass. In June 2020, McMaster Student Union President Giancarlo Da-Ré wrote to the HSR asking for amendments to the student bus fee.

In July, Hamilton councillors voted to temporarily suspend the transit agreements with McMaster University, as well as Mohawk College and Redeemer University.

As a result, the 2020-2021 undergraduate student bus pass has been suspended for the period of September through December 2020. Rather than the original fee of $223.92, undergraduate students will pay $120.98 in January 2021 for use of the bus pass in the winter term through to Aug. 31, 2020.

Graduate students’ bus passes are still available and are valid from Aug. 22, 2020 until Aug. 21, 2021.

In a video shared by the MSU, Jess Anderson, Vice-President (Finance), said that aside from the temporary termination of bus passes, the MSU is also advocating for a discounted monthly transit rate for students; however, there have been no further updates for a discounted rate. 

All undergraduate students are now required to pay adult fare when boarding the HSR.

It is not yet clear as to how the MSU will handle HSR bus passes for the winter semester now that the school has announced classes will continue to be online.

In addition to the undergraduate bus pass, the Athletics and Recreation fee has been a major concern within students’ supplementary fees for the 2020-2021 year. Although McMaster Athletics and Recreation have announced that facilities will be closed until at least Dec. 31, 2020, students are still required to pay an Athletics and Recreation fee with a reduction of 25 per cent.

Although McMaster Athletics and Recreation have announced that facilities will be closed until at least December 31, 2020, students are still required to pay an Athletics and Recreation fee with a reduction of 25 per cent.

Students are encouraged to participate in a variety of virtual fitness classes offered by the Pulse Fitness Centre.

The decision to keep a fee for Athletics and Recreation has sparked multiple student discussions on social media, most of which consist of dissatisfaction from students about having to pay a fee at all.

https://www.facebook.com/spottedat.mac/posts/2032560686879925

[/media-credit] Spotted at Mac conversations around supplementary fees.

Speaking to the Silhouette regarding what the remaining 75 per cent of Athletics and Recreation fee will cover, Director of Athletics and Recreation Shawn Burt said that fees not only go to supporting facilities in a typical school year but also go to support the infrastructure and staffing of the department. As well, fees support the department’s ability to deliver programming, whether it be virtually or in-person.

As for why students cannot opt-out of the fee, even if they choose to not participate in the virtual programs, Burt said, “I certainly understand that not everyone uses the Pulse or will use our online programming, but we do have to make an investment into staffing and infrastructure to ensure that we are able to deliver these things, even if not everyone can use them. It’s really not a usage-based fee, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to do it that way simply because accommodating 30,000 students into a fitness space logistically is difficult even at the best of times.”

Following the school’s announcement that the winter semester will also be online, Burt expressed that it is not yet clear as to whether Athletics and Recreation will remain closed as well. However, Burt said that adjustments to fees would certainly be looked at.

“Not unlike the fall, our expectation is that fees will be impacted as a result of [the school’s] announcement, so whatever needs to be done from our perspective to accommodate students and student-athletes, those steps will be taken at the direction that we receive for sure,” Burt said.

Students are also required to pay the non-MSU and non-McMaster fees, colloquially known as the Bylaw 5 fees. These include the fees for OPIRG, McMaster Solar Car Project, Engineers without Borders, McMaster Marching Band and Incite Publication. Other fee changes include the MSU organization fee which includes the operation of student services, club structures, governance apparatus and MSU advocacy work. Originally $133.26 for the fall of 2019, the fee has been reduced by 10 per cent, resulting in a fee of $122.45.

A breakdown of all supplementary fees for undergraduate and graduate students can be found on the Registrar’s Office Supplementary Fees page.

Full-time undergraduate students have the option to opt-out of the MSU Health and Dental plan. However, the opt-out option is only available for those with extended external coverage. Both plans together come to a total of $232. Students have until Sept. 30, 2020 to opt-out of both plans and be reimbursed the fees.

When reached for an interview about the MSU’s involvement with the changes to student fees, VP (Finance) Jess Anderson declined a phone interview.

Correction: 

Because of an error while collecting information, a previous version of this article misstated some of the fee changes for this year. The numbers have been updated accordingly throughout the article and the graphic.

Photo by Kyle West

On March 29, the Ontario government unveiled guidelines for universities to follow in order to comply with the “Student Choice Initiative” policy, which allows students to opt out of paying ancillary fees.

According to the document, students will be allowed to opt out of fees that are allocated towards clubs, student organizations and programs that do not fall into the government’s criteria for essential fees.

Services considered “essential” in the guidelines include “athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, student achievement and records, financial aid offices, and campus safety programs.”

As such, much remains unclear about what the student opt-out fee mandate means for the funding of MSU clubs and services next year.

Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster associate vice-president (Students and Learning) and dean of students, confirmed that the opting out process will occur online through the Mosaic system and be part of the regular tuition payment process in September.

McMaster Students Union vice president (Finance) Scott Robinson is working on a final memo to submit to the university student fees committee, outlining exactly what services the MSU wants to deem “essential.”

The government has given each institution the autonomy to determine what falls under the “essential” categories, but there will be penalties if universities are deemed non-compliant with the SCI come this upcoming fall.

“We've been working closely with the university to determine as many of our fees as possible as essential fees,” Robinson said. “The priority for me again has been that students voted at large that we should have a mandatory MSU fee.”

Complicating the budget submission is the fact that the union will not know how much they will receive in student fees until September.

Robinson is basing the official operating budget on the estimate that 35 per cent of students will opt out of non-essential student fees.

At this point, the framework is such that students will be able to choose which “non-essential” individual MSU services to opt out of, but club funding will fall under one fee item.

A source of funding that will help mitigate the loss of student fees is a ‘significant’ MSU reserve fund, which Robinson said has enough to keep the MSU running for two and a half years.  

“Things like funding decreases and scale-backs are being planned right now for the budget, but it isn’t like we’re in total doomsday,” Robinson said. “How much money goes towards things will shift, but the MSU is still in a financially safe place to operate.”

The reserve fund will be used primarily to help fund services and clubs.

Robinson says there will not be ‘significant cuts’ planned for student-run services such as the Pride Community Centre and the Food Collective Centre.  

The MSU executive board continues to advocate against the SCI.

MSU vice president (Education) Stephanie Bertolo said she and the board have met with nine Conservative and New Democratic Party MPPs so far.

“We don’t want the Student Choice initiative to go forward. That’s our ideal scenario,” Bertolo said. “We’ve asked if they do move forward with the Student Choice Initiative, to delay it a year, because it’s such a crunched timeline.”

Robinson will be submitting the 2019-2020 operating budget to the Student Representative Assembly for approval at the SRA meeting on April 14.

 

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Graphics by Sukaina Imam

Hamilton city council recently declared a climate emergency and pledged to substantially reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the declaration carries symbolic weight, the ambitious emission reduction targets can only be met if city council commits significant resources towards climate change measures. Climate activists and city councilors weigh in on what this will mean for the city.

On March 27, Hamilton city council finalized the decision to declare a climate emergency in the city of Hamilton.

The decision comes as a result of a report from the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change released in October 2018. The report found that, unless humanity limits global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be a risk of long lasting and irreversible changes that will result in major loss of life.

The report found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would mean reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” stated the report.

Hamilton city council has joined a number other Canadian cities, including Kingston, Vancouver and Halifax, who have pledged to reduce emissions to meet these targets.

The declaration instructs the city manager to put together a multi departmental task force and present an emission reduction plan within 120 days.

 

A climate emergency

According to the 2018 vital signs report released by the Hamilton community foundation, Hamilton has double the per capita GHG emissions compared to other greater Toronto and Hamilton area cities.

The 2015 community action plan set the goals of reducing GHG emissions by 20 per cent of 2006 levels by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. The new goals, however, are more ambitious.

By declaring a climate emergency, the city aims to communicate the degree of risk to the public and demonstrate that the city is taking the issues seriously. During the board of health meeting, environment Hamilton climate campaign coordinator Ian Borsuk noted that it is important to show the public that the city understands the severity of the issue.

Additionally, a major goal of the declaration is to coordinate municipal action to develop a centralized strategy for dealing with climate change. This will take the form of a multi departmental task force across city departments.

“This isn’t something that can be left as a side project, this isn’t something that can be left as another file, this is something that needs to be part of what the city does every single day,” stated Borsuk during the presentation.

 

Charting a Course

At the March 18 board of health meeting, presenters from environment Hamilton made suggestions to the city about ways to reduce emission levels by the target dates, noting that the city has already taken significant measures to reduce GHG emissions, but can do more.

One suggestion was to expand and improve public transit. Currently, Hamilton street rail ridership falls short of projections by about 10 per cent. The city is currently working towards a 10 year plan to improve HSR service, which includes improving service and adding capacity.

After industry, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in Hamilton. According to Hamilton 350 coordinator Don McLean, transportation is one of the areas that the city can make the biggest difference. By extending bus service and making transit more affordable, McLean sees potential for large increases in ridership.

McLean also notes that Hamilton charges some of the lowest parking fees in Canada. The city owns some parking facilities, and has the ability to tax parking lots separately in order to drive pricing. In order to incentivize people to take public transit, McLean says, the parking rate has to be considerably higher than bus fare.

“Why switch to a bus if I can park downtown all day for $4?" he asked.

Another suggestion that environment Hamilton made to the board of health was to develop a “green standard” for new public and private buildings. By mandating energy use limits, the city can make a substantial difference in emissions.

Environment Hamilton executive director Lynda Lukasik also noted during the presentation that enhancing green infrastructure would help the city meet its emission targets. This includes measures such as bio soils, better managed storm water, and planting an urban forest.

Urban canopy currently sits at about 18 per cent, which is 12 per cent below the official target. Expanding the urban forest would help draw down emissions, reduce stormwater flows, and mediate heat effects.

In order to meet these goals, multiple environmental organizations across Hamilton have suggested that the city commits to applying a climate lens to all of its decisions. Similarly to the equity, diversity and inclusion lens equity, diversity and inclusion lens announced in March, the climate lens would evaluate all city actions in terms of their climate impact.

 

Unprecedented Changes

One of the main challenges for meeting the emission reduction targets is resource availability. During the board of health meeting, ward 3 councilor Nrinder Nann pointed out that achieving the commitments would likely involve retrofitting almost every building across Hamilton and switching to electric or hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Implementing these measures would require substantial investments of time and money.

Currently, the community climate change action plan receives provincial funding from the proceeds of the cap and trade program. However, the province scrapped the cap and trade program in October 2018 and has pulled funding from other environmental initiatives. Therefore funding for the emissions reduction plan would likely have to come from other sources.

Ward 4 councilor Sam Merulla noted that the challenge will become clear once staff reports the budget to city council within 120 days. If people hear that their taxes will increase, they may be resistant to implementing the plan.

However, Nann pointed out that even though dealing with climate change requires immediate spending, it will generate revenue in the long term. Additionally, inaction will incur high remedial costs.

Another challenge for meeting the emission reduction targets is industry. Industry accounts for 83 per cent of Hamilton's emissions, a large percentage of which comes from steel mills. However, steel mills are under provincial and federal jurisdiction, meaning that the city does not have direct control over their emissions.

Despite this, notes McLean, the city can work towards offsetting emissions through agricultural practices and reforestation.

 

Is it enough?

Even if the city manages to reach the emission reduction targets in time, McLean worries that it will be too little, too late.

Climate change is a cumulative problem, meaning that all GHGs currently in the atmosphere will continue to contribute to warming, even if emissions stop.

“The kinds of things that are being talked about now are the kinds of things that should have been very actively implemented 30 years ago,” he stated. “ If you've got a cumulative problem then setting any date in the future as to when we should stop is too late.”

In order to make the climate change emergency more than a symbolic gesture, the city will have to dedicate significant resources and implement regular checkpoints to reduce emissions. The true weight of this declaration will become clear once the task force presents the emission reduction plan to city council. To achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the city has to implement unprecedented changes across all aspects of decision-making.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Eden Wondmeneh

Faculty representatives and Maroons can shape incoming students’ initial impression of the McMaster University community. They guide us through Welcome Week and are meant to play the role of mentor and role model.

A few days into Welcome Week, new students grow accustomed to the vibrant suits and are well-aware of the colour distinctions of each faculty. Suddenly the suit, which at first glance may appear as a horrendous fashion statement, is at the top of many first-year students’ wish lists.

For some students who hope to mentor and inspire incoming students, becoming a faculty representative during Welcome Week is not feasible.

Even if they do make it through the competitive application process, they are unable to participate due to representative fees that candidates are not made aware of at any point during the application process.

On Jan. 22, a call was released on the DeGroote Commerce Society Facebook page for 2019 business faculty representatives. Applications were due by Feb. 1, with prospective green suits contacted for interviews.

The role requires faculty representatives to attend two training sessions prior to summer break and another session the week prior to Welcome Week. Green suits are also highly encouraged to participate in May at Mac and Shine-o-rama, both orientation events running during the summer break.

Despite the large time commitment and the cost of the $60 green suit itself, students who made it through the application process and ultimately became a green suit, were immensely excited about the experience to come.

This excitement, however, was soured with the introduction of a representative fee of over a hundred dollars that was not advertised at any point during the application process.

The representative fee is a confusing, hidden fee that prospective and new faculty representatives are appalled by. The fee is estimated to be around $120.00, but with the McMaster Students Union funding cuts, new representatives expect this to be a low-ball estimate and have yet to be informed of the final cost.

This cost is said to cover training, food and participation in Welcome Week. This contribution to Welcome Week especially annoys students who never signed up to subsidize part of Welcome Week that as first-year students we already paid a mandatory $120.98 First-Year Orientation levy for.

For business students fees to join clubs specific to their faculty  is not uncommon. Most clubs require students to pay a small fee for registration.

However, in the case of the representative fee that impacts all faculty reps, the fee is substantial, and no one made them aware of the fee prior to joining. With a lack of discussion of financial support, some students  are genuinely happy they didn’t make the cut.

It is simply unfair for students who underwent the incredibly extensive process to become a faculty representative to be cut from the position because of an inability to pay for the high fees.  

The faculty representative fee ensures that those who are willing and chosen to volunteer their time to enrich and support incoming students secure their spot by coughing up money.

If this is the inequitable model the green suits and other faculty society representatives decide to rely on, then they should at least be transparent to their applicants.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

With tuition and living costs on the rise, obtaining a post-secondary education can be extremely costly. One of the higher costs of education are textbook fees; a first year life sciences student can expect to pay $825.15 in new textbooks.

To reduce the overall cost and increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, open educational resources were created.

OERs are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. They can be freely used, shared or adapted by anyone.

There are many benefits of open education. For students, the use of OERs can alleviate the stresses associated with exorbitant textbook costs.

In addition to cost-saving benefits, there are correlations between the use of OERs and higher grades, and the use of OERS and lower course withdrawal rates. Even more, accessible OERs can remove barriers for students with print disabilities.

The use of OERs also avoids the problems characteristic of traditional textbooks. Problems such as bundled content, use of access codes that control and limit access to material and the assignment of “updated” textbook editions made for the sole purpose of profit generation are resolved by the use of OERs.

With all the benefits, it begs the question why hasn’t McMaster University done more to push for OERs?

Recently, McMaster professor Catherine Anderson created the first open-access linguistics textbook with support from the university and a $15,000 grant from eCampusOntario’s open textbook initiative. While this is a great accomplishment, Anderson’s textbook is not enough to create open education on campus.

The McMaster Students Union has advocated for OERs in the past. Last year, they ran the #TextbookBroke campaign with the support of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. This campaign aimed to encourage instructors to adopt OERs in efforts to address textbook affordability.

The 2018 McMaster University budget submission form also recommends that the university invest $50,000 to support professors in adopting or creating OERs that are specific to McMaster courses.

The document contains many suggestions for the university, moved forward by the MSU. However, in light of the recent changes to post-secondary education funding made by the Ford government, it is unclear if any of the MSU’s recommendations, let alone a $50,000 fund for OERs, will materialize.

But beyond advocacy efforts by the MSU, the university has yet to provide legitimate support for open education. According to Olga Perkovic, co-chair of the McMaster OER committee, the committee’s workings are not supported financially or with policy.

This is in contrast with Queen’s University, who are at the forefront of open education in Ontario. The OER committee at Queen’s is a top-down movement, that is, their provost specifically made open education a priority, which involved providing financial and infrastructural support.

According to the MSU budget submission, other Canadian universities including the University of Alberta, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary have thousands of dollars in funding allocated for OERs.  

McMaster ought to follow suit and prioritize open education for its students. To do so would mean to commit dedicated funds alongside time and efforts to ensure faculty members have the capacity to implement OERs in the classroom.

In the meantime, instructors can help support the open movement by using open materials in their courses whenever it is possible. There are many available collections of OERs for instructors to use. For example, the non-profit organization eCampusOntario hosts a provincially-funded open textbook library that carries hundreds of textbooks and other educational resources from a variety of disciplines.

Students can also support the open movement through discussing implementation of OERs with their instructors, uploading and encouraging their peers to upload their research onto McMaster’s institutional repository MacSphere and contacting the committee to recommend a president to ensure open education is a priority of the incoming president.

To stay up to date on the happenings of McMaster’s OER committee, the group’s meeting minutes are publicly available through McMaster LibGuides.   

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Rida Pasha

McMaster Hospitality Services offers meal express plans for purchase to all students, staff and faculty. Users can swipe their McMaster University ID card to easily access the range of food choices on-campus, as well as at participating restaurants off-campus.

While this may be a convenient solution for those that want to purchase food on-campus, it can pose a problem for many students living in residence.

Each student living on-campus is required to purchase a mandatory meal plan ranging from $2,975 to $4,735. For many students who are unable or don’t prefer to cook or store food, this meal plan can be a relief.

Meal plan options range from minimum, light, regular and varsity, each increasing in price, allowing students to choose the option that best suits their needs. Each plan is suggested based on how often the student is on campus, how much they regularly eat and how much they can afford.

Since the meal plan is paid in advance, many students and parents feel a sense of security knowing that they food is always available throughout the entire academic year.

With tuition and residence fees on the rise, forcing the purchase of a meal plan places an unnecessary financial strain on students. This can create a boundary against students being able to live on-campus.

Additionally, mandatory meal plans limit students’ options to eat as the plan restricts students’ to eating on-campus with only a few participating off-campus restaurants.

While McMaster does try to offer a variety of food options, eating at the same places daily can be tiring for many students, especially for those that are on campus during weekends and only go home during long breaks.

The meal plan becomes an unnecessary hassle for those that seek to try out new restaurants, prefer to eat off-campus or even just wish to eat out less.

Looking more deeply into the structure of meal plans, the money within the paid meal plans are divided into two categories: basic and freedom.

The basic account is nonrefundable and is used for most on-campus locations. The freedom account is fully refundable and is used for specific off-campus restaurants, confectionary, personal grooming items and convenience products.

There is more money allocated to the basic account than the freedom account since students are likely to be on-campus more.

However, when the freedom account money runs out, students can’t transfer money from the basic to the freedom account in order to take full advantage of their meal plan.

This means that when the freedom account is depleted, students either have to add additional money into that account or can no longer use their meal plan at participating off-campus restaurants.

Students are then left with only on-campus food options, limiting the variety of food available using their already-expensive meal plan.

At the very least, students living in Bates and Mary Keyes residences should be able to make the decision to opt-out of mandatory meal plans, since they have apartment and suite-style rooms equipped with kitchens.

Each kitchen includes a fridge, stove, an oven in Bates, a microwave in Mary Keyes and cupboard space to store food, as well as a full-sized fridge shared amongst the roommates.

Although Hospitality Services offers a reduced meal plan for students living in these residences, the amenities provided make it reasonable for students to live on-campus without requiring a meal plan. Reduced meal plan are still, at a minimum, an added $2,975 cost.

Unlike McMaster, the University of Waterloo allows students with a personal kitchen in their residence to choose whether they would like to purchase a meal plan or not.

Following suit, McMaster University needs to consider the circumstances and preference of students by making all meal plans optional.

 

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Photo by Catherine Goce

By: Alex Bryant

Many students at McMaster University are furious over the recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program. Our student unions, which are some of the best tools we have to collectively resist changes like these, are also under attack.

The Ontario government will soon deem some ancillary fees “unnecessary.” Given the extreme cost of education at Ontario colleges and universities, students are likely to feel strong-armed into opting out of these fees.

While student-run groups and services funded through direct ancillary fees play an important role in students’ lives, we should expect the government to use this framework to attack student unions by making union dues optional.

Doing so poses an existential threat to the McMaster Students Union, the Graduate Students Association and, by extension, campus groups and services under their umbrella.

Legislation in Quebec and British Columbia protects some student unions from attacks of this kind, but no such legislation exists in Ontario. Students must collectively resist this attack on student unions but also recognize that defending the existence of these organizations does not require defending the actions of current or past student leaders.

This government has its sights set on student unions because our organizations have for decades played a key role in fights for change at the governmental, institutional and community level. This is not because our unions are over-run with political reactionaries, but because the work of student unions naturally cultivates political community between students of differing backgrounds.

When we join union-based clubs or benefit from related services, we also have the opportunity to critically engage with our peers over shared struggles and recognize our ability to overcome these struggles together. When we allocate union resources to student-led projects, we choose to build a community where everyone can have enough food to eat, openly love who they want to love, safely walk alone at night and relax by having a great party.

This critical recognition of our shared experience is also the basis of student unions’ advocacy for students’ diverse interests, and as central locations for organized opposition to the origins of our shared struggles — tuition fees, for example — alongside others outside of our campus community.

Unfortunately, conservative politicians tend to defend the grounds for the struggles we face by protecting the interests of those who benefit most from the status quo. Hence why conservative politicians and campus conservatives have long attacked student unions and related groups.

Long after students choose to found their unions, the processes of direct democracy of the general assemblies and referenda used to set union due rates, and members’ participation in the allocation of this funding through votes on budgets and representative bodies, reflect that student unions are fundamentally for students and our interests.

We may wish voter turnout were required to be higher, disagree with some of the campaigns and policies adopted by the organizations our union funds, or something similar. We should hold fast to these legitimate criticisms, engage with our peers about them and demand change where those leading our unions have genuinely failed us.

If our demands are ignored, we may rightfully escalate our actions until they are implemented just as we will do with the provincial government. However, criticizing the work of our unions and related organizations is importantly different from attempting to eliminate these organizations, which is what the provincial government seeks.

Hoping finally to accomplish their thinly-veiled goal of destroying student organizing, the provincial government has even abused our critical examination of our peers’ work in order to support an existential threat to our unions.

I've heard from so many students who are tired of paying excessive fees, only to see them wasted and abused.

That's why we're giving students the power to choose to pay for the campus services they actually use.https://t.co/XYC8G4jaZ0

— Doug Ford (@fordnation) January 26, 2019

We must forcefully resist this rhetoric and this attack. We must protect our student organizations as a whole by keeping in the foreground their foundational importance to our ability to organize, and by doubling-down on our commitment to support the collection of union dues.

Especially under the current government, students across Ontario must work together to become educated about the struggles facing our peers, build skills, organize, resist and stand in solidarity with others doing the same — student unions continue to be one of our best tools for doing so.

 

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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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Photos C/O Abi Sudharshan

By: Abi Sudharshan

On Feb 3 at 5 p.m, the McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly convened for the second time since the Ontario government announced major changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and tuition framework.

In the first portion of the meeting, MSU president Ikram Farah took to the floor to address the issue. According to Farah, by the end of this week, the MSU and university administration expect to see the release of an exact breakdown of affected ancillary fees.

Farah says this expected announcement will guide the MSU’s response moving forward.

During the delegation, Farah highlighted the MSU’s current campaign to mobilize students through promoting an understanding of the effects that these changes will have on McMaster students.

Ikram encouraged the assembly disseminate information regarding the impact and importance of MSU-funded services.

Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education) noted a modest victory thus far: initially removed, transit passes have been re-included in the list of mandatory fees under the Ontario government’s student choice initiative.  

The SRA meeting also focused heavily on updates on the construction of the Student Activity Building, a four-story building that is projected to feature a grocery store, study spaces, a multi-faith prayer space and a nap room.

According to MSU vice president (Finance) Scott Robinson, the SAB has experienced a minor setback.   

Quotes by companies regarding materials and services for the SAB came back much higher than the original 2016-17 projections.

The past four months have been spent negotiating to bring the project back within the parameters of the viable budget.

Initially, construction for the SAB was slated to begin in October.

Robinson reported that these decisions are to be solidified shortly and that the construction of this student space will begin construction in March 2019.

This will likely mean that the SAB is not in full operation by the fall of 2020 as promised.

Apart from these two primary items, much of the meeting was allotted to the opening and closing of seats on the MSU services, university affairs and elections committees.

Another message stressed the meeting was the importance of ensuring that the SRA maintains a respectful environment and allows all voices to flourish.

The next SRA meeting will held at 5 p.m. on Feb 24 in Room 111 of Gilmour Hall.

 

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