April 2, 2009
Ontario student leader calls for province-wide mobilizations
April 1-15, 2009
With the current economic down‑turn, province‑wide mobilizations are needed bringing together labour and students in the style of the Ontario Days of Action to demand substantial investments in public services, Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) told People's Voice recently.
Shelley Melanson criticised Ontario's McGuinty Liberal government for doing nothing on their anti‑poverty strategy, a response to widely condemned explosion of precarious work, growing income gaps and food bank usage across Ontario.
"With the economic crisis more and more students are aware of the increasing privatization of institutions," Melanson told PV. "The Educational Policy Institute [a right‑wing US‑based think tank] was talking about a 25% increase in tuition. I think this sent shockwaves through the media and public discussion. It was front‑page of the Toronto Star." Melanson, who participated in numerous radio talk shows in response to the report, said she heard overwhelming support for immediate action on reduced tuition fees.
EPI's report, "On the Brink: How the Recession of 2009 Will Affect Post‑Secondary Education in Canada", was co‑authored by Alex Usher. Back in 1995 (with the facilitation of the federal Liberals), Usher led a right‑wing split from the CFS, arguably to dampen large student mobilizations against drastic federal cut backs to social programmes and downloading.
Melanson addressed revelations that the Conservative Party is training campus activists to manipulate student organizations, as well as the rising attack on freedom of speech on campuses.
"Now, more than ever, students need to come together regardless of your political beliefs, and defend our Charter rights," she said. "I think that the minister of citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, has posed a serious threat to freedom expression and speech on campus. It would appear the Canadian government is not interested in people who disagree with them - for example their treatment of the Canadian Arab Federation, George Galloway, and the attempt to shut down discussion on international conflicts and occupations. "Can the government limit freedom of speech because of positions on war and international policy?"
"This government clearly has an interest in undermining democratic organizational structures that exist on campuses," she said, pointing to a recent leak about the Conservative Party organizing workshops about keeping the CFS off campus, running candidates in student elections, overturning student levies, and setting up front group clubs by students affiliated with the Tories. "These workshops took place with sitting MPs in attendance," Melanson noted.
On leaked tapes, a former student union president at the University of Waterloo describes how he coordinated directly with the local Conservative club to launch an attack on the campus chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. Melanson condemned this anti‑democratic involvement a political party in providing strategy and support for campaigns undermining student's right to organize.
"I'm not necessarily shocked by what is happening. We've seen student codes of conduct - which should be about safety and equity, stopping harassment, safer spaces for women - instead used to stifle dissent," Melanson said. "Take the case of the fourteen students at the University of Toronto, who were engaged in a peaceful demonstration, and faced criminal charges, many of which have now been dropped and the students cleared, and also code of conduct charges. Perhaps [what is new is that] it is more visible, and there is more media attention. I think that institutions are more blatant."
Melanson spoke to People's Voice at the end of a weekend‑long "Student Assembly Against War and Racism." The event, jointly organized by the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Peace Alliance, aimed to provide an opportunity for students and allies to build skills for a sustained anti‑war movement on campuses. "We wanted to provide an opportunity for people with a significant background with activism to come together through skill building workshops with people who are just finding a political outlook."
A major theme of the weekend was military recruitment on campuses, and military spending, both issues the CFS Ontario plans to continue to organize around. The effort will also help build for anti‑NATO demonstrations on April 4. The workshops "showcased in a variety of ways how our government is out of step with the sentiments of everyday Canadians and students" Melanson said.
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