Ontario spring economic statement contains vital investments in health care and marginal increase in postsecondary education funding but continues to fail province’s workers

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TORONTO, March 26, 2020 – OCUFA is pleased to see that the Ford government’s spring economic statement includes much needed investment in the province’s health care system and OSAP loan interest relief for students, but is disappointed there are only marginal increases to postsecondary education funding. Faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals represented by OCUFA are concerned that this government’s efforts continue to fall short, as it fails to address the realities faced by many suffering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including contract faculty and other precariously-employed workers and students.

While faculty are reassured to see that postsecondary education funding has not been cut, the Ford government’s reckless new “performance” based funding framework still threatens the stability of the province’s universities and colleges as well as the quality of education they provide. What Ontarians need now is stability and predictability at Ontario’s universities – it is not the time for policy experiments that have failed elsewhere. Faculty are also pleased that the government has listened to postsecondary students and provided them with six months of OSAP loan and interest accrual relief.

However, the Ford government continues to fail the thousands of Ontarians in precarious and low-wage jobs, including contract faculty. Yesterday’s announcement, while a historic and much needed public investment, skewed heavily towards supporting businesses without addressing the realities of those in precarious work. Public health and education should not be compromised for private profit. The introduction of unpaid emergency leave for workers and a small one-time payment for families with children does not address the serious economic and health-related struggles that Ontario’s most vulnerable workers are currently facing.

For the majority of precarious workers in Ontario – many of whom live paycheque to paycheque – unpaid leave, even when their job is protected, will still cause deep financial distress. And for many of the province’s contract faculty, a lack of job security and benefits means they find themselves facing increased economic and health instability during this pandemic.

To protect Ontarians unable to work due to illness or who need to support ailing loved ones, the province should immediately introduce legislation to protect all workers with 7 paid sick days each year, and an additional 14 paid sick days during public health crises such as this one. The government should also immediately provide $573 a week for workers who need to self isolate or are mandated out of work by the recent closure of all non-essential services in the province.

The federal government has stated that, “No Canadian should have to choose between protecting their health, putting food on the table, paying for their medication or caring for a family member.” Yet, that is exactly the choice many Ontarians will be forced to make without adequate paid sick days, job security, income support, and housing security for those with rents and mortgages.

As an increasing number of Ontarians find themselves and their families impacted by the spread of COVID-19, the importance of public services – including health care, pharmacare, child care, public transit, and education – has never been more evident. In this crisis, it has become clear that funding for these services is far too low, and the fees to access some of these supports are too high.

This pandemic has been challenging for all Ontarians, but particularly the most vulnerable in our province. Faculty are pleased with yesterday’s announcement of new investments in public health and research, but that can only be a first step in coping with this crisis and helping Ontarians recover when the pandemic abates.

In the coming months, it is critical that the government increase investments in public services that are vital to the health and well-being of Ontarians. This should be funded through a more sustainable and responsible tax base made possible by eliminating many of the wasteful and regressive tax credits that cost the province more than $44 billion a year and by rebalancing the province’s progressive income tax system to ensure that the rich and corporations pay their fair share.

These are difficult times for Ontario, but OCUFA looks forward to a renewed dialogue with the provincial government about the value of public services and the important role universities play fostering the physical, mental, and economic wellbeing of all Ontarians.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals in 30 faculty associations across Ontario.

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Ben Lewis, OCUFA Communications Lead
416-306-6033 | communications@ocufa.on.ca