Ontario election budget for students

Today the McGuinty Liberal government in Ontario will be releasing what should be their last budget before going to the polls this October.  They may do a mini-budget in the late summer or right after Labour Day but there is a decent chance this will be their election budget.

It should be interesting to see what the McGuinty Government offers to post-secondary students.  I am not expecting much considering that last year’s budget did give quite a bit to the PSE sector.  I also lowered my expectations after the disappointment I felt in the federal budget from Canada’s "New Government" (I do not know if something is new after a year).

The Conservative Budget was clearly designed to appeal to the voters they think they can capture: Ontarians living in the 905-belt. The suburbs surrounding Toronto and are fairly affluent and that is why the Conservatives put $600 million into RESP tax breaks instead of putting the money directly into the system. This will do nothing to assist lower and lower-middle class students. You have to have the money to save in order to get any tax break.  Where I grew up people just make it by and they do not have the money to save for PSE.  They barely, if at all, have the money to afford items that have become educational necessities such as a lower-end computer.  Never mind affording monthly internet access and maintenance.

Here is what I want to see in the Ontario budget:

An increase in OSAP assistance: the government was right when they increased the maximum amount of provincial financial assistance available each year. The nice thing was that they kept everything above $7000 as grant money. The maximum loan repayable for 8-months of study remained the same. However, the maximum is still not enough. At McMaster, it does not cover the cost of tuition and residence for eight months. There are still the costs of textbooks, supplies, and other expenses. The reality is that each year, I have more expenses but I get no more funding from the government. With inflation, it becomes harder and harder to make ends meet. The government must move quickly and increase the OSAP maximum. I could even live with an inflationary increase of the $7000 cap.

An allocation to GO Transit to keep fares steady for students: Many students rely on GO Transit to commute to school. With the increasing numbers of students, transit is needed to keep universities from paving more green space for parking. Also, the 407 express is often overcrowded for McMaster and York students.

Better tuition regulation: The government is right to say that tuition should increase much like the cost of bread but the current increases are above inflation. The government should step forward to ensure that tuition only increases by inflation. They should put forth the funds to fill the gap between inflation and the current increase. Of course, they did make a lot of investments last year so I do not expect this to occur this year. If they promise it for next year, I am going to dismiss the promise. They can say whatever they want about the 2008/2009 budget, but there is no guarantee they will be in government, so it is meaningless.

In the run up to the budget, student lobby associations have been busy sending out news releases.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance was first on March 19th with Federal budget raises Ontario students’ expectations for McGuinty’s pre-election offering on Thursday.  The Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario released a pre-budget poll showing opposition to tuition fee increases on March 20th. The poll is available on the CFS website here.  They have nice slides showing the outcome of the poll here.  I called them and they sent me a copy of the questions asked and the breakdown of answers.  I have uploaded this here. Yesterday, the CFS sent this release: Student budget watch – Student representatives available for comment on 2007 Ontario Budget. The College Student Alliance wired this College Students Expecting More from McGuinty on Thursday.  So far nothing from the Council of Ontario Universities, which is the lobbying organization representing the administrations of Ontario universities.

The budget is available on the Government of Ontario Budget Site at 4pm EDT today.

I look forward to hearing the Council of Ontario Universities talk about universities having budget deficits, how this budget will not be enough to help them, how they are going to have to make cut-backs, and basically how the sky is falling for them.

Next Saturday we will see just how poor universities really are.  March 31st is "Salary Disclosure Day" in Ontario.  We will find out exactly how much university presidents and senior administrators are paid.  By looking at the salary of my university president at McMaster, Peter George, over the past couple of years, it seems that the university is doing alright.