I’m concerned about the news from Ontario’s colleges.
Our colleges play a critical role in improving access to education. They provide opportunity for students in rural and smaller communities, new immigrants, and people looking for work in Ontario’s booming trades sector, or in one of the many sectors that rely on graduates of their practical and applied arts programs.
This has been their role since they were created 50 years ago. At that time, Ontario Minister of Education (and future Premier) Bill Davis stated that colleges would “provide through education and training, not only an equality of opportunity to all sectors of our population, but the fullest possible development of each individual to the limit of his ability.”
As Premier Davis knew, our colleges are important – not just for the hundreds of thousands of students enrolled in them, but for the economic and social success of the province as a whole.
But it looks like the Liberals have forgotten that.
Today, Ontario has the dubious distinction of providing colleges with the least per-student funding of any province. This is a real problem. It’s threatening colleges’ ability to do their jobs, and it’s making post-secondary education harder to access.
On top of that, the people running our colleges seem to have mixed up their priorities.
Instead of making sure the limited funds they have are going to the front lines, administrators are proposing massive pay raises for top executives. Meanwhile, they’re spending millions on lawyers to fight attempts by contract workers – some of the lowest-paid workers on campus – to unionize and fight for fair treatment.
I wish I could say the college system was the only place this was happening. Sadly, government underfunding and executive greed seem to be the new reality. Public sector workers are doing the best they can with what they have, but with all the Liberal cuts, there just aren’t enough resources to meet Ontarians’ needs.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Colleges need steady, predictable funding with yearly increases that recognize the growing number of students. They also need a commitment from administrators to put funds on the front lines where they belong, rather than wasting them on pay hikes for executives and high-priced lawyers to fight their own workers.
And then we need that same solution across the public sector. With proper funding, we can give frontline workers the raises they deserve and strengthen our public services. And by using public dollars to improve services, rather than hike pay for bosses, we can meet Ontarians’ needs.
Public services can be the great equalizer – they can lift up those at the bottom, and make sure everyone has what they need. But only if they’re funded fairly. The Liberals need to deliver the resources public sector workers need so we can deliver the services Ontarians count on.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union