Provincial Control of Student Relationships

Author:Omar Ha-Redeye
Date:December 01, 2019

Post-secondary education is about more than just obtaining a degree.

The critical thinking skills, and insights into new areas, comes about not only through the formal coursework that students enroll, but in the activities that occur on campus. In fact, those students who exclusively focus on their coursework, to the exclusion of other experiences, rarely develop many of the skill sets and perspectives that are necessary for their careers and the rest of their lives.

However, post-secondary education is also expensive, and the provincial government in Ontario introduced a number of reforms to try to make it more affordable. One of these was the Student Choice Initiative, which allowed ever student to choose which student fees they want to pay.

Merrilee Fullerton, who was Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities at the time, said,

Student fees in Ontario can range as high as $2000 per year and, too often, force students to pay for services they do not use and organizations they do not support. We will ensure students have transparency and freedom of choice regarding the campus services and organizations which get access to their money.

By making postsecondary education more affordable through historic reforms, refocussing supports to the families who need it most, and empowering students to choose how their fees are spent, we are restoring accountability, affordability and access to postsecondary education while giving more of our students opportunities to find a job and build a career right here in Ontario.

As many student groups pointed out at the time, universal student fees (or “ancillary fees”) were necessary for many of the programs at campuses across Ontario, irrespective of whether all students used them. A challenge to the Student Choice Initiative in Canadian Federation of Students v. Ontario before the Divisional Court recently concluded that they were beyond the scope of the Crown’s prerogative power, as they are contrary to the autonomy that universities enjoy through statute.

The province’s main arguments were that these directives are a core policy choice, and therefore not subject to review by the courts. They also argued that the directives are part of the Crown’s exercise of prerogative power over spending. The court rejected both of these arguments,

[5] …Neither argument justifies exempting the impugned directives from judicial review for legality. To hold otherwise would undercut the supremacy of the legislature and open the...

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