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Courts side with student unions on Ford’s fee opt-out plan

The “Student Choice Initiative” would allow students to opt-out of certain fees including student unions dues.

Doug Ford’s proposal to make student fees optional for post-secondary students was rejected by an Ontario court. 

The “Student Choice Initiative” would allow students to opt-out of certain fees including student unions dues.  

Both the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) challenged the provincial government on the policy by claiming that it was politically motivated. 

“Doug Ford’s attempt to wipe out students’ unions under the guise of giving students ‘choice’ has been exposed for what it really was: an attempt to silence his opposition,” said CFS representative, Kayla Weiler. 

According to the Ontario court, the policy overreached the provincial government’s authority and infringed on universities’ right to self-governance.

“Requiring that universities allow students to opt-out of student association fees and other ‘non-essential’ services is inconsistent with the universities’ autonomous governance,” wrote the ruling.

Union and federation fees are often mandatory costs attached to tuition dues. While every student is required to pay the costs, student union elections are plagued with extremely low voter turnout. In 2019, the YFS election had a turnout of only 5% of the university’s population, while the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) had a turnout of only 7.3%

According to financial records, a bulk of the YFS’ annual revenue was acquired from membership fees. In 2018, the union collected over $2 million in student levied membership fees, while this year it collected $1.8 million. 

Numerous student unions throughout Ontario have been accused of financial mismanagement and there have even been cases of financial fraud on the part of union executives. 

Earlier this year, an RSU executive was accused of using student funds for personal expenses to the tune of over $700,000. Among the expenses were thousands of dollars spent on Toronto nightclubs, cineplex recreation rooms, Airbnb and liquor purchases. 

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