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by Archives October 7, 2008

Last week Canada’s largest student lobby group issued a report card, ostensibly rating the major political parties’ platforms on the issues surrounding university education.
While the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) should be actively working to get issues that affect students on the table in the lead up to the federal election, this report, despite its attempts to appear neutral, is heavily biased and chock full of misinformation.
The report card slams the Liberals on tuition fees. While the Liberals did cut federal transfers for post-secondary education, indirectly leading to tuition hikes; it also criticizes the “lack of a national Post Secondary Act.” According to the federation, “students are calling for a national piece of binding legislation that would hold provincial governments to uphold certain principles in return for more money from the federal government.”
Students are calling for this? We’re forced to ask who these students are; there have been no calls that The Concordian has ever heard for such an act on our campuses, nor have we ever heard of the “need” for such an act – not until reading this report card, at least.
It seems to us the only “students” calling for this are CFS executives, who are not students but, rather, full-time employees of the lobby group. According to CFS this act would be “similar to what already exists for health care.” However the Canada Health Act, which requires the provinces to maintain certain standards in the delivery of health care in exchange for federal transfer payments, is not “binding.” Instead, it is voluntary; any province could withdraw from the agreement at any time. In fact such an act could not be binding – Canada’s Constitution gives the provinces responsibility for education.
Were the federal government to introduce binding legislation it would be unconstitutional and would thus be struck down by the Supreme Court. It could also increase tensions between Ottawa and Quebec and create the risk that our province would not participate in a system that has such blatant disregard for provinces’ rights and our nation’s constitution. In the end, universities would be forced to make massive cuts or increase tuition dramatically.
As well, Ontario and Alberta both have annual fees charged to residents for health coverage. What would stop the province from introducing fees like this under a national tuition system?
In the unlikely case that the provinces did agree, and such an act was actually passed, does the CFS really believe Stephen Harper would require provinces to lower tuition? Do they really believe the Liberals – the party of Paul Martin, the party who cut education funding throughout the 90s – would require provinces to lower tuition? The most likely outcome of this unlikely scenario is that it would largely standardize tuition fees across the country. While doubtful, it’s possible that students in high tuition provinces, like Nova Scotia, might see a small drop. But it seems most likely that it would mean an increase for students here in Quebec.
The only reason that students in Quebec and Newfoundland pay lower tuition than students in the rest of the country is because of our provincial governments. There is no reason to believe that any possible federal government would make it a priority.
Strangely, the report card slams only the Liberals on this issue. It doesn’t point the finger at any other party, despite the fact that none of them have discussed any intention of creating this kind of law.
It does criticize Harper for the “bad habit of using provincial jurisdiction as an excuse not to tackle tuition fees head on.” But the Constitution is not an “excuse.” This begs the question: What other parts of the Constitution does the CFS consider “bad habits?” By encouraging the federal government to disregard the constitution when it suits their interest, the CFS is calling for our government to head down the slippery slope to dictatorship.
Another shortfall in the CFS’s report card is that it fails to include the Bloc Québécois, the party that holds the majority of seats in Canada’s second most populous province. However, they do include the Green Party, whose only member in Parliament, a man who never participated in any debates as a green, joined after being kicked out of the Liberal Party in response to corruption allegations. For the Ontario-centric CFS to not include the former official opposition is an insult to Quebecers and exposes an ignorance of anything that happens outside Ontario. This bias is inexcusable, especially in an era of minority governments when parliamentary actions often require the support of Canada’s third largest party.
All Concordia students are de facto members of the CFS through the Concordia Student Union. Is this really the message we students want an organization that represents us to be sending? It is the job of student lobby groups to push for student issues at election time. But by promoting these ridiculous ideas, the CFS gives the public an impression that students have no understanding of our system and makes it easier for politicians to ignore us.

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