The Ontario Conservative government’s post-secondary funding announcement is political theatre and nothing more, say representatives of CUPE Ontario university workers. 

”The announced funding is less than what the Conservatives have already cut from university budgets, and will not change Ontario’s last place in per-student funding compared to every other province in Canada,” said David Simao, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) university workers committee. 

On Monday, the Ford Conservatives announced that it was making $1.3 billion over three years available to universities and colleges in the province. By contrast, raising per student funding to the Canadian average just in universities, not the whole postsecondary education sector, would take $2.53 billion in the first year alone. 

“After deepening the funding crisis in post secondary institutions with the cuts the Conservatives have made, they are now trying to look like they are doing something to help.  But this is clearly political theatre.  Not only does this announcement not increase per-student funding, it’s a temporary fund being allocated based on institutions jumping a bunch of hurdles including demonstrating “efficiency” and, not based on any equal or permanent increase to base funding,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. “It won’t anything to address the real problem.” 

In the spending announced, only $903 million over three years is dedicated to financial sustainability, which amounts to an average of $301 million. For context, $300 million is what the Ford government is estimated to be spending to build a single parking garage for the new spa project at Ontario Place. Spread across 48 public universities and colleges (and the province is not excluding for-profit schools as well), it’s a small sum. 

The province also says it will dedicate $167.4 million over three years to capital repairs and equipment. The government’s own panel pegged the sector’s deferred maintenance costs at $6.4 billion. 

On top of that, the government is placing restrictions on the funding, so only schools that follow an undisclosed demand for “efficiencies” will receive funding. 

“University workers are already stretched to the limit. Even the government’s hand-picked panel reported that wage restraint has been more severe in post-secondary education than in other sectors,” said Simao. “Workers have to eat. We have to house our families. We need solutions, not political games.” 

CUPE represents more than 30,000 workers at 17 universities across Ontario, including instructional and research workers, tradespeople, custodians, groundskeepers, foodservice workers, and many others.