Ontario’s fractured student movement: the wheat from the scabs

30 Jul

The other day I wrote this for the Huffington Post blog I write from time to time: [LINK TO ARTICLE]

I conclude that becoming a candidate for the PQ was probably the best (and most predictable) decision made by Léo Blouin-Bureau, former president of the FECQ.

I’ve watched many people move into politics from the student realm. Zach Churchill out in Nova Scotia is probably my favourite. He was the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (created in 1995 by the Liberal Party) and ended up getting elected as a *wait for it* Liberal. We’ve lost contact but I assume he’s doing well.

While writing the piece, I was thinking a lot of people who use their position for political gain. To explain this properly, it must be said that the student movement in Québec is really, really different than in Ontario. CFS-Ontario is like FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE all combined in one, kind of. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is like that woman from Montreal who was the lone Liberal voice at the start of the strikes most famous for “debating” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on Tout le monde en parle. The College Student Alliance is like…. ….   I don’t know. They just don’t exist here.

All student organizations in Québec grew from students directly. There’s been ebbs and flows. FEUQ and FECQ have leaned toward the PQ for most of the years I was involved. ASSE grew from a rejection to this politic and evolved into the impressive CLASSE. This must be stressed: they grew from within their own members: students. So, no matter what kind of leadership they produce, the tactics they choose and their successes were at least at the hands of autonomous student organizing.

Not the case in Ontario.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is a training ground for eventual Liberal staffers. Just this past year, their Executive Director and Communications guys landed jobs in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (you know, the cerebral cortex of the absolute worst PSE policy Ontario’s had since since they were all private universities). OUSA has been pretty consistent in delivering their cream to the Liberals and pushing the dirty, grey milk into the ether.

The College Student Alliance is the farm team of Colleges Ontario. Their past (or second past?) Director of Advocacy actually works in Communications in the Premier’s office and I’m sure nodded enthusiastically in favour of the ridiculous branding of the 30% off campaign lie.

Both organizations serve the following functions:
Support government policy
Promote government policy to the small network of local representatives
Justify these policies
Lightly criticize when it’s not going to hurt anyone
Advocate for exactly what the government is planning to do.
Claim victory when it comes to pass
Discredit students who disagree with government policy

There’s lots of examples of each of these online, so google away if you’re curious. Or ask me about any of them…I can dedicate a whole post to each one.

Neither of these organizations are autonomous from the masters they serve. An Alumni Council (a good chunk of whom are current Liberal staffers) at OUSA green lights future plans and staff aren’t allowed to stay long enough to have any real influence (2 years is the max someone can serve as Executive Director). As for CSA, I’ve seen the president of Colleges Ontario whisper into the ear of the CSA rep and then him attempt to relay her message. This was in a government consultation. (He didn’t get what she wanted said correct, so she cut him off and explained).

So, when these folks go on to their government positions, I think back to every single time that I witnessed them in government meetings, behind closed doors, sell out their members and my stomach churned.

This brings me back to Blouin-Bureau and my somewhat charitable take on his candidacy. Maybe Ontario has jaded the hell out of me and anything less shitty than we experienced (and experience) doesn’t seem as bad. But really, it isn’t. Even when FECQ’s leadership was ready to accept modest fee hikes, their members rejected them and the strike continued.

Hell, the existence of a no negotiation pact if other groups weren’t around the table is the height of solidarity.

Imagining OUSA or the CSA anywhere near a picket line, without being the folks who try to protect administrators as they cross it, is ludicrous.

This is really important.

These two shell organizations are the key to why Ontario’s student movement is so weak. Administrators know this. The Liberal Party knows this. It’s in their interest to prop them up as high as they can. And unless students at those member schools start demanding to know certain things (like, how the hell can a so-called student organization support tuition fee increases??), students will continue to lose.

Just ask the students’ union at the Thames Campus of St. Clair College. Theirs has been a quiet battleground on which this exact war has been waged…

6 Responses to “Ontario’s fractured student movement: the wheat from the scabs”

  1. Jim Zandig at 3:03 pm #

    PLEASE give us examples. For years OUSA and CSA have pointed at CFS and decried the faults of the union but ignore their own or consider them to small to worry about. It’d be nice for CSA and OUSA’s members to know what they’re supporting and to make a decision on it.

    • Nora Loreto at 4:09 am #

      OK sure. You should take a read of OUSA”s analysis of the Drummond report here; http://www.ousa.ca/2012/02/17/response-to-the-commission-on-the-reform-of-ontarios-public-services-by-sam-andrey-and-sean-madden-february-17-2012/

      It’s important to note that aside from being a show that was meant to justify a variety of cuts, none of what Drummond recommended for the higher education sector would have actually saved money (except for maybe one recommendation…to shift tax credits to need-based grants). Drummond’s recommendations were totally ideologically driven and there was OUSA drumming along what government and the Council of Ontario Universities have been calling for months.

      As I said, this probably warrants its own post, to be more clear, so let me know if you’d prefer that.

  2. Tyson at 3:48 pm #

    My college (Loyalist) does not belong to the CSA but the SA we have seems to subscribe to the exact same ideals.

    I see the CSA, OUSA and small SA’s like mine as barries to mobilizing Ontario students but they will only remain barriers so long as people think working with them is nessecary. At Loyalist I plan to work with the SA as much as possible but my main focus is on mobilizing students at a grassroots level. Flyering, ingaging, debating, and holding events meant to put the student struggle in the spotlight. If I can garner enough student support then I can pressure the SA or if needed create my own student groups, coalitions that could possibly extend to beyond just my college.

    At the student strike camp in Toronto I met some organizers from other colleges in Ontario and besides being nice to know loyalist isnt without friends it was a great oppurtunty to disscuss tactics and strategies.

    Your observation that the students groups in Quebec grew from students is absolutely correct. Quebec has a long history within the student movement. This is exactly what Ontario needs to build. It wont work overnight but if we build on Quebec’s examples, learn from thier mistakes, and adapt to our unique situation here in Ontario I am confident that sooner rather than later we can create our own student movement, led by our own progressive student groups, whether it will be the CFS or something new, it only matters that we build it from the ground up, directly through the students. This is the only way to circumvent the regressive forces such as the Liberal party and the CSA and OUSA.

    • Nora Loreto at 12:08 am #

      I’m glad you shared that. We need to figure out a way to get students at colleges to get more politically active and sometimes that will mean working with the students’ union and some times it’ll mean working around them. Either way, there’s a lot of work to be done.


  1. Why an Ontario Student Strike Won’t Happen – Part 1 | StudentUnion.ca -

    […] and long-time student activist Nora Loreto might have you believe. In a blog post entitled Ontario’s fractured student movement: the wheat from the scabs, she argues that some student organizations in Ontario such as the Ontario Undergraduate Student […]

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