THE BLOG

Stop Throwing Tantrums Over Tuitions

01/31/2012 12:32 EST | Updated 04/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Premier Dalton McGuinty was elected on a platform to reduce full-time undergraduate tuition fees by 30 per cent. His government has now done that for over 310,000 students. Each university student eligible for OSAP will receive $800 off their tuition this year and other students are eligible to apply if they meet certain criteria. Next year, undergraduates will be eligible for $1600 in savings. Eligible college students will receive comparable savings.

This investment in education is cause for celebration.

Rather than celebrating the largest reduction in tuition in a generation, the Canadian Federation of Students is preparing to protest. The CFS annual "Drop Fees Day of Action" plans to tear into Premier McGuinty because his tuition reduction excludes graduate and international students -- cohorts he never pledged to support with this investment during the election. The parameters also have some exclusions for students whose parents' combined income is over $160,000 annually and for older students or those considered financially independent of their parents.

The goal of the tuition cut is to reach the average low- or middle-income student, which it does.

Admittedly, the government is putting in place more strictures than anyone would consider ideal. But the McGuinty government has to negotiate the challenging demands of a fragile economy, limited revenues and a Conservative opposition that thinks any investment is suspect.

(And that's a crucial point the CFS conveniently choses to ignore: the Conservatives have declared themselves against the tuition cut, with MPP Todd Smith calling it "a luxury spend on behalf of the premier." Would they rather a Conservative government -- a very real possibility considering the polls --that views investments in education as "a luxury"?)

The CFS counterproposal argues that rather than 310,000 students getting 30 per cent off, all students should get 13 per cent off their tuition. This proposal is almost laughable. What does the CFS gain by arguing that the wealthiest students deserve tuition breaks equal to the poorest students? It's just bad policy.

The CFS is always demanding more, more, more, and never pausing to say, "thank you."

I'm reminded of a comment a federal cabinet minister made to me a few years ago: "Of course we don't take the CFS seriously -- they don't take themselves seriously with their ludicrous demands and dogmatic protests!"

Unlike the CFS, I'm not one of those partisans who insists his Party is always right, facts be damned. I'd rather have fewer strictures but I recognise the exasperating factors of a weak economy and a budget deficit.

Yet, ultimately, I'd rather have a CFS respected as a fair-minded partner in discussions. There is room for reasonable, level-headed debate.

But with the CFS and its camps affiliates tarnished by their rigid, blind adherence to dogma and their scope limited by their entangled connexions to the NDP, they aren't representing students. Their limited efficacy is already established, even before damning news reports of rigged elections and exorbitant salary increases come out against the University of Toronto Students' Union, for example.

There is a role for the CFS to play in influencing government policy. They just aren't doing it well. And students are the victims.