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Tailor: Regressive Ideas and the ‘Canadian Federation of Students’ That Holds Them

February 1, 2012

You have likely seen all the posters gracing the hallways of your university, if your student union is affiliated with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), for the past few months. The “National Day of Action” is today, and it will be a great, feel good moment fighting the good fight at Queen’s Park, forwarding the tuition revolution, and establishing solidarity with our fellow students from across the GTA. It’s an undertaking taken once a year; a ritualistic tradition with investments into it unmeasured, and a return on it nearly non-existent, for demands mediocre through all the wrong avenues towards change.

The flavour of the year is the Ontario Liberal Party’s campaign promise. Apparently, instead of dedicating $430 million towards students who need it the most, those from low to middle income families in the form of a $1600 grant adjusted yearly for tuition increases, the CFS is arguing for a 13% across the board tuition cut. Such a proposition is not only ill-designed on part of the CFS, but it is regressive as it disproportionately benefits those more well off.

Look at the students here in question who are benefiting from this grant. They have been out of high school for less than 4 years; their parents make less than $160k a year; are full time students; and they’re in an undergraduate program. To put this into perspective, these are students that don’t have time to work, in an environment where youth unemployment is approximately 15%, who have parents that generally speaking can’t afford to pay for post-secondary education out of their own pockets. To take away this $1600 grant and instead give everyone an across the board 13% cut in tuition is tantamount to getting rid of the progressive taxation system and replacing it with a “flat tax” as trumpeted by the GOP south of the border.

Assuming the average tuition fee is a well-rounded $6000 this year which isn’t all that off the mark, then 13% of it would amount to $780. The $1600 saved by these low and middle students would make a greater impact in their daily lives, than would $780. To top it off, entire low and middle income families would thus have $1600 extra to allocate towards sustenance goods, transportation, and books. That’s a fairly hefty subsidy to deny to families in greater financial need, in a quest to save everyone including those who can already afford it, around $780. The latter sounds like you are fighting for fairness, when all you would be doing is taking the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and just letting it grow.

The CFS’s regressive stances don’t end there, either. One poster coloured with a shade of green on the walls of York argues that the Government of Ontario has cut approximately $112 million in scholarships and grants, amongst them being the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship, the Textbook and Technology Grant, and the Ontario Trust for Student Support. Asides from the fact that the government actually increased funding by a difference of approximately $317 million while reallocating that $112 million, what these grants and scholarships actually do, and their eligibility requirements, have not even been mentioned.

First of all, the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship is exclusive only to graduating high school students of the highest academic standing in all of Ontario. A study in the USA shows a positive correlation (R­2=0.95, for all the stats nerds) between the wealth of a family and a student’s test marks in school, which has also been reflected in Canada according to a StatsCan study. Basically, what this means is that the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship more likely than not gets appropriated to high school graduates from privileged households. Secondly, the Textbook and Technology Grant is but a measly $150 a year, and students get more money from their HST/GST cheques. Alas, the Ontario Trust for Student Support was a program where the Government of Ontario would match a post-secondary institution’s fundraising, which would go towards students in deep financial need; something which the $1600 dollar grant would do a better job at, while reaching far more people in need of such financial support. Essentially, there is no point in keeping these regressive programs above worth at around $112 million when that money can be better used as part of the more progressive grant which the CFS will be protesting today.

These are just a few of the many aspects by which the CFS is coming short. They need something better to demand from the government, and arguably it should be so that there are more specific needs-based grants for the students they claim are excluded by this program, such as a grant for part time students, a grant for mature students, and a comparable grant for those who have been out of high school for more than 4 years but are doing their undergrad.

Ultimately, let’s not trumpet regressive policies, ideas, and what-ifs, under a misguided effort to keep things “fair”.

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