Ford's cynical politics and higher education | Graham Cox

The announcement on post-secondary education by the Ford government was a showcase of the new cynical politics of the right-wing. It was painful to watch. The minister, looking as excited as a drowned cat, delivered an announcement of massive and destructive change to higher education in this province using an ugly caricature of Orwellian language.

Page content

Everyone watching heard statements the minister made and knew they were the exact opposite of the government was really announcing:

  • A long introduction about the importance of student financial assistance, criticizing the previous government for failing to support students, while cutting student financial assistance.

  • Long, rambling narrative on the importance of universities and colleges to the province’s people and economy while delivering the first real cut — a cut of least four per cent of funding — to post-secondary institutions in the history of Ontario.

  • Unconvincingly assertive statements about increasing “choice” while actively removing services that students can choose from.

  • Talking about independence of universities while directing exactly how they run, set and charge fees, and limiting options for universities to provide their service to the public and students.

  • Focusing on “fees” reduction when their obvious real goal is to bankrupt independent student unions and closing student spaces on campus which are not paid through university fees at all.

  • Introducing a “student choice initiative” when they are undoing and cancelling true democratic choices already made by students.

  • Standing in front of a sign that screams “FOR THE STUDENTS” in block capital letters while harming students and trying to destroy the only organizations that are truly of and for the students.

We have come to expect this from our new anti-intellectual and self-important conservative government officials. At first it was deer in the headlights astounding to watch, but it has become an old, tired, and annoying narrative tick already. Their cynicism has slipped into the insultingly disingenuous: they know the audience sees through words, but they delivery them anyway — they think so little of the people.

So, what’s the deal?

Premier Ford himself does not understand how universities and colleges work as he has never been to one (except for a brief two month registration at Humber College). And while one can think there is nothing inherently wrong with making the choice not to get a higher education, it probably does disqualify you as an expert on how universities and colleges run and what resources they need.

The minister, having a medical licence, does not have that excuse. But, she also showed no understanding of what a university or college system — never mind a student union — is for or how it works. The minister and her staff could not answer a single question about how they see these cuts affecting students, staff, or the academy as a whole. They did not know what these ancillary “fees” pay for. They did not know how much (or little) student union dues were (about $100). And, they had no idea that much on their list of “essential services” are actually provided by the non-profit student unions they are trying to bankrupt — including health and safety services.

It needs to be pointed out that the Ford government is not really confused or somehow had bad information on the impacts of their new policies. They just never bothered to ask anyone what the effect of their new policy would have. There were no consultations with any representative organization or experts in the higher education community before making these drastic, regressive, and chaos-causing changes.

The only conclusion to this kind of action is that they do not care about the impact of their policies. Which means outcomes are not driving this government’s agenda.

If not outcomes, what is driving their decision-making?

Some might say their only goal is cutting the deficit. But, that cannot be all of it. No one spends all the money and time to get into government just to make numbers smaller, least of all a long-time political animal like Ford.

From watching Ford and his crew of MPPs, one can only surmise that their actions are deeply political; that the Ford government is powered by the need to lash-out at whomever they consider their opponents. And, the announcement on post-secondary education showed that it is clear that among Ford’s opponents are truth, higher education, students, and anything that looks democratic and open.