The Provincial budget tabled yesterday by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy represents a ‘shocking dereliction of responsibility’ to Ontario’s university sector by the Ford Conservative government, according to David Simao, Chair of the Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) which speaks on behalf of more than 30,000 university workers represented by CUPE across the province.

“Even in a normal year, this budget’s complete disdain and indifference towards post-secondary education would have stood out, but in the midst of a once-in-a-century global pandemic that has exposed so many critical needs in every sector of the economy across Ontario, this is a shocking dereliction of responsibility by the Minister responsible for Universities and the entire Ford Conservative caucus,” said Simao.

The budget tabled yesterday continues the trend of ongoing cuts in real dollars for Ontario’s universities. The base operating grant of $3.6 billion proposed for Ontario’s 21 publicly-funded universities in yesterday’s budget document fails to even keep up with inflation, effectively reducing the amount Ontario spends per student has fallen in every single year of the Ford Conservative government.

Additionally, $700 million in funds announced to expand the province’s ranks of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) to support Ontarians receiving home care or living in Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities is not new money; rather the Ford Conservatives have diverted funds intended for the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) which provides financial support for Ontario students pursuing post-secondary studies.

“Minister Bethlenfalvy’s budget speech yesterday ran for nearly 6,000 words, but two words were conspicuously absent. At no point in the Minister’s speech did he utter the words ‘university’ or ‘universities’,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn.

“It’s as if a vital pillar of any major industrialized nation’s economic and social development doesn’t exist in the eyes of the Ford Conservative government’s most senior officials. Where does the Cabinet think the doctors, nurses, researchers, scientists, public health experts, and countless other disciplines directly tasked with combating pandemics like COVID-19 are taught and trained?” he added.

Since assuming office early in the summer of 2018, the Ford Conservatives have presided over millions of dollars in cuts to the university sector. Last February, Laurentian University in Sudbury was forced to seek protection from its creditors while the Ford Conservatives stood by and did nothing to keep the Northern Ontario institution solvent.

“A government that can’t even say the word ‘university’ in their budget speech has nothing to offer a sector of the economy that ought to be at the forefront of helping Ontario emerge stronger from this pandemic,” said Hahn, who urged “every Ontarian who cares about quality, public post-secondary education to organize and make sure this government understands how you feel.”

Simao echoed Hahn’s sentiment, saying, “This budget does nothing to help Laurentian, nothing to help students, academic workers, or support staff at Ontario’s campuses. It can’t even be bothered to offer empty platitudes, so the hard work of advocating on behalf of universities before this government pushes the sector even further into crisis falls to all of us.”