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Students, critics, worry Ontario tuition fee cut will come with cuts to grants

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Allison Jones, The Canadian Press


Published Wednesday, January 16, 2019 11:53AM EST


Last Updated Wednesday, January 16, 2019 12:43PM EST

TORONTO — Word that Ontario is set to cut tuition fees by 10 per cent is being greeted warily as critics and those affected worry about the impact to higher education and raise concerns that the announcement will be paired with cuts to student grants.

Documents indicate the Progressive Conservative government will announce a mandated drop in tuition for colleges and universities, but they don’t detail the whole announcement set for Thursday.

“Students should remain cautious of reports of a 10 per cent cut to tuition fees,” the Canadian Federation of Students wrote on Twitter. “Last month, ON Auditor General set the stage for major cuts to OSAP (grants). We are concerned about the intentions of this announcement and whether it will make (post-secondary education) more affordable.”

The previous Liberal government increased the number of grants and made it possible for students with the greatest financial need to attend college or university free of cost.

But the auditor general found last month that costs for that program jumped by 25 per cent and warned it could grow to $2 billion annually by 2020-21.

The Tories are in the midst of trying to trim a deficit they peg at $14.5 billion — though the financial accountability officer says it’s closer to $12 billion.

NDP colleges and universities critic Chris Glover said he is deeply concerned that cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program are coming.

“Ontario’s college and university students know that they are not going to benefit from a Doug Ford government,” he wrote. “Students counting on OSAP to give them a shot at university or college know that OSAP needs to be improved, not hacked apart.”

The NDP also said that the funding shortfalls universities and colleges would face from less tuition revenue would mean cancelled courses, larger class sizes and laid-off faculty.

A 10 per cent tuition cut would take about $360 million away from universities and $80 million from colleges.

Neither colleges nor universities wanted to comment before the full scope of the announcement was known.

The current tuition fee framework, which has capped increases for most programs at three per cent, expires at the end of this academic year, and under a new framework, tuition would decrease by 10 per cent for the 2019-2020 year, then be frozen for the following year.

The government says that means the average university arts and science undergraduate student would save about $660 and the average college student would save $340. International student tuition fees aren’t regulated and are not included in the cut.

Core operating grants from the government to post-secondary institutions are contingent on their compliance with the tuition cut.

Alex Usher, the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, predicted in a blog post Wednesday that this would only be a “first step” for the government, and warned that operating grants will “almost certainly” be cut too.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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