Originally published on January 24, 2019 updated on November 14, 2019

During a press conference on Jan. 17, Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, stood in front of a sign that read “For the Students,” when she made the bombshell announcement that the government would be eliminating the free-tuition program that benefited thousands of post-secondary students across the province.

The Ford government was hoping these changes would go largely unnoticed, as it was hoping the selling point would be the 10 per cent decrease in tuition fees. It appears the hope was that the cancellation of the free tuition program and the cancellation of the repayment grace period afforded to new graduates would be lost under the excitement of the tuition decrease. However, the decrease means nothing if students cannot afford the cost of post-secondary education in the first place.

Additionally, the government has no plan to fund the 10 per cent decrease—which means a significant cut to funding for universities and colleges. This will be felt by students, without a doubt.

What makes these changes even worse is that the elimination of the free tuition program directly targets low-income students. Thousands of students were afforded the opportunity to go to university or college as a result of the changes brought in by the previous government led by Kathleen Wynne. Many students built their lives around this new opportunity. Now, all of that has been put in jeopardy by a government that is clearly out of touch with everyday Ontarians.

“This premier needs to be shown that his decisions have consequences and that he is still and always accountable to the electorate.” – Benjamin Williamson, second-year law

This change will mean that some students will simply not be able to afford to continue their education. What this government seems to have failed to realize is that investing in the education of young people today will be a driving force for the economy tomorrow. As a result, the investments made today will be paid back, as these students will be able to unlock their full potential.

Pulling the rug out from underneath students right in the middle of their studies shows all of us just how heartless this government and Premier really are. It is a testament to his character that he is choosing to attack the less fortunate among us. This is the behaviour of a schoolyard bully, and not the behaviour you would expect from an elected official. Students are not being afforded the respect they deserve, and it is truly disheartening and difficult to watch from the sidelines.

This government has also delivered a kick in the teeth to new graduates who may not find a job right after graduation. Previously, they were afforded a six-month grace period before needing to begin paying back their student loans. Now, that is all gone. This only adds to the anxiety felt by students and will be a significant deterrent to students wanting to pursue post-secondary education. It is too early to tell how many students will not even consider post-secondary education as an option for them as a result of these uncalled-for changes.

Students, now more than ever, need to mobilize and fight back. This premier-turned-dictator has launched his attack simply because he believes students will not fight back and that this will not affect him at the ballot box. We need to show him how wrong he is.

This government has succumbed to public pressure in past. One can only hope that the same will happen this time around.

This is our fight and the threat is real. Every student counts. We cannot let our voices go unheard. This Premier needs to be shown that his decisions have consequences and that he is still and always accountable to the electorate. He may have a majority, but that does not make him the king of Ontario.

Young people are here, young people are listening—and when threatened, we will fight back. We will not stand in silence. We will stand together—one united voice, with one united mission.