Ford Government Won’t Challenge Ontario Court of Appeal Decision on Student Choice Initiative, UWSA Breathes “Sigh of Relief”
The Ford government has announced that it would not challenge the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision on its controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
The SCI, introduced in 2019, allowed students to opt out of paying certain ancillary fees, notably those that funded various campus organizations. The decrease in funding that resulted from the opt-out forced organizations like student unions and radio stations to lay off staff and scale down services.
After a successful court challenge initiated by the Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students in Spring 2019, the Ontario Divisional Court struck down the SCI in December 2019, as reported by Shanifa Nasser for the CBC. The Ontario government appealed the ruling, but the province’s Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in August 2021, upholding the Divisional Court’s decision.
On November 9, a spokesperson for the minister of colleges and universities said that the provincial government would not be challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision through the Supreme Court, as reported in an article by The Canadian Press for the CBC.
The UWSA team was relieved to hear about the more-or-less definitive suspension of the SCI. “The recent news surrounding the Student Choice Initiative has given us at the UWSA a sigh of relief,” said UWSA President Jasleen Dayal, “as we reflect on the years of advocacy and efforts put in by student unions across Ontario to keep student-led programming safe.”
The UWSA President reflected on the joint efforts of student unions in challenging the SCI with admiration and optimism. “It’s astounding to have witnessed so many student unions come together to protect fundamental initiatives that uplift our students in so many ways, and it shows how powerful we the students can be when we work together,” elaborated Dayal.
Nevertheless, she’s still worried about the future of campus organizations. “It’s reassuring to know that the campus programming that our students here at UWindsor have worked endlessly to implement are now safe,” she said, “but the question still lingers: for how long?”
“There needs to be some level of concrete legislation that safeguards student unions and campus programming across Ontario from the threats of another SCI in the future.”
Carley Schweitzer, Station Manager at UWindsor’s campus-based radio station CJAM, said the SCI’s demise was “a huge relief for all on-campus organizations funded by student levy.”
When the SCI was first announced in 2019, CJAM, like other campus organizations, had to lay off staff. “In anticipation of the Student Choice Initiative in 2019, CJAM FM made the difficult decision to cut our Music Director position,” Schweitzer told me. “This part-time staff member is responsible for all incoming music at CJAM, and the burden was put onto the Station Manager and some of our very dedicated volunteers.”
Schweitzer revealed that CJAM FM lost approximately $18,000 of funding for one semester as a result of the SCI—”a huge blow” to the organization. “We were put under major stress, as we had no idea how much money we would actually be losing [at the time],” she explained, “and we put on an emergency fundraiser—something we’ve not had to do before. We also put on several fundraising concerts, in partnership with The Green Bean Café, Dominion House, and Phog Lounge, with support from local musicians.”
“We were lucky to partner with MPP Lisa Gretzky to assist with pushing the petition we created,” she added. “Having community partners was essential to our success.”
Now that the SCI is gone for good, things seem to be looking up for CJAM. “We were able to rehire our Music Director,” said Schweitzer, “and now we’re able to focus on other campus and community outreach projects, rather than struggling to stay afloat.”
“Having the Student Choice Initiative struck down was essential to student life on campus. Without student activities, clubs, and media, the University environment becomes a lifeless husk.”