March 20, 2019
Re: Student Union Protection Legislation in Nova Scotia
Dear Premier Stephen McNeil and Minister Kousoulis,
We are writing today on behalf of the 26,000 post-secondary students across Nova Scotia who have been watching the recent changes to Ontario’s post-secondary system closely and with concern.
As student leaders, we work tirelessly to support the students we represent. Our organisations give voice to students, support them in their studies, run essential services and create community on campus. The ability of democratic student organisations to exist is critical to the functioning of campuses across our country. This is why we are calling on the government of Nova Scotia to introduce legislation to protect student unions, and the amazing work that they do.
The announcements in Ontario represent a threat to accessible education in Canada. The government of Ontario’s recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are alarming, to say the least. The Ontario government’s objective was trumpeted as “providing financial assistance to those who need it most,” which is why we were shocked when the policy reflected the exact opposite. Students who receive student assistance from the Ontario government will receive a direct reduction in grant-based funding at every income level. Students universally feel that this decision is a firm step backward. We are hearing every day from students in Nova Scotia who are having their opportunity to access education impacted by these changes. In 2017-2018, over 6000 students from Ontario came to study in our province, who may very well lose their ability to contribute to our campus communities and obtain a great education here due to these changes in OSAP and the high tuition fees students pay in Nova Scotia.
Beyond our collective concerns about changes to student assistance in Ontario, we want to express our opposition to the precedent the government of Ontario is setting surrounding student union fees, dubbed the “Student Choice Initiative”. Student governments are the democratic voice of students. Each year, thousands of students are elected across Canada on promises to ensure the health and safety of our students, keep our institutions accountable, improve campus life, and fill crucial gaps that our institutions do not provide — such as transit passes, health and dental plans, peer-to-peer support, on-campus press, student-run businesses, support services like food banks and more. The Student Choice Initiative puts all of this at risk.
First, it assumes that students don’t already have the choice in how their student fees are spent. Student unions hold regular referendums related to student fees. Adding an “opt-out” option, then, would be the same as allowing voters to opt-out of paying their taxes to police services or libraries. Elections, referendums, and annual general meetings allow students to guide their fees, bringing accountability and stability to student union budgeting. Without stable, predictable funding, student unions will be forced to end a wide variety of programs and services — everything from mental health to sexual assault supports, and laying off thousands of students that work at on-campus businesses, undermining the protection and creation of jobs on campus. The success of these programs is predicated on the fact that they serve and are created by students – and can not be assumed or replicated by institutions themselves.
Students in Nova Scotia know that undermining student unions is not just a provincial concern. The changes proposed in Ontario could set a national precedent that has a measurable impact on the student experience and campus culture across the country.
Students will be less safe, more vulnerable to failure and less able to gain the skills and work-related experience they’ll need to find jobs after graduation.
Our ask is simple: we require legislation in Nova Scotia which protects the rights of student unions at universities and colleges to do their critical work. This government has the opportunity to show leadership, and protect the students in this province, and maintain the reputation of Nova Scotia as a province with high-quality post-secondary education.
Anything less than legislated protections for all student unions leaves the door open for damaging anti-student legislation like the “Student Choice Initiative”. We must allow student unions to focus on their primary goal of serving students, instead of worrying that a change in government policy might jeopardize their existence. Provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia already recognized the need to legislate protections for student unions, and have done so accordingly. We call on the government of Nova Scotia to join these provinces in ensuring the incredible work of student unions continues for decades to come.
This legislation represents an opportunity for students and government to work together to build a legacy of respect in Nova Scotia for student organizations and continue the traditions in this province of an engaged, active student body.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia
The Dalhousie Student Union