CORNWALL, Ontario – Cathy Varrette is not a post-secondary student, but she and her 4-year-old son stood by a handful of protestors who rallied outside of MPP Jim McDonell’s office on Monday afternoon over OSAP cuts.
“I believe that we need to support those who require more assistance to get educated,” said Varrette. “I think education is the most important thing anybody can do for society. Making it easier for students is the best thing you can do to bring societies out of poverty.”
In the last two weeks, students have rallied across the province against funding cuts proposed by the Ford government. The Tories state that the OSAP program has become unsustainable as they attempt to trim the reported, approximate $14.5 billion provincial deficit.
“We are aligning our repayment terms with that of the federal government,” said a statement from MPP Jim McDonell’s office. “Students will still have a six-month grace period where no payments are required on their student loans. The change to the grace period means that students will accure interest immediately after leaving full-time studies on both the Ontario and Canada portion of student loans. We will maintain the current $25,000 annual income threshold for the Repayment Assistance Plan…”
The threshold to qualify for OSAP funding could be lowered from families earning $175,000 to families earning $140,000. Under the Liberal program, low-income students often qualified for grants large enough to cover the full cost of tuition. With the proposed changes, students will reportedly receive more loans instead of grants.
The Ford government has also announced a tuition cut by 10 per cent, stating the cut will help students who are in the greatest need. Critics estimate this cut would see a loss of approximately $360 million to universities and $80 million to colleges.
“If you make over $140,000 this is a great thing for you. If you make less…you are essentially giving to more that make more than you…that’s why the Ford government is doing this. Their donors are the ones that benefit from this,” said Varrette.
Although Varrette’s son is only in junior kindergarten, she wants him to have access to affordable post-secondary schooling when he grows up. Varrette’s family understands the importance of education from a unique perspective as her son is currently on a waiting list for one-on-one assistance funding.
“He is non-verbal autistic and non-compliant…so, while we are on the waitlist, waiting for funding, we are paying privately for private therapy, which is going to be costing us our house in the next few months. So, the more education (in our province) the better. Getting people into the education system and assisting in educational assistance (programs) should be a necessity for the (benefit of) 40,000 children who are in Ontario waiting for service, waiting for assistance,” said Varrette, referring to the 30,000 plus individuals on the Ontario Autism Program waitlist.
Varrette wasn’t surprised by the small rally turnout as she believes many students opted to protest in Ottawa instead. As well, the students affected may be preoccupied.
“The people who need to be out here protesting are the people in poverty who are actually having to work and they can’t miss work. The people who are in school and can’t miss school because they can’t fail out. In a sense, it’s the people around them who need to be advocating for them,” said Varrette.
Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities has announced a Student Choice Initiative which will reportedly allow students to choose which fees they want to pay and how their payments will be allocated. This option reinforces that health and safety initiatives will remain mandatory while students will have more transparency and freedom of choice in regards to campus services.
“We are making post-secondary education more affordable in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry through these historic reforms, refocusing supports to our students and families who need it most,” said MPP Jim McDonell in a release.