Ford’s OSAP cuts and tax breaks hurt working class students

Op-eds Opinions

Ford’s claim to represent the working class isn’t supported by the facts

Graphic by Cam Welch, Design Director

Ontario Premier Doug Ford campaigned with the slogan “Ford: for the people.” After slashing the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) by $670 million and implementing tax breaks that disproportionately benefit Ontario’s elite, Ford’s slogan should’ve read “Ford: for the people (making over $100 000 a year.)”

I am one of the thousands of Ontario students who woke up shocked in early June.

I rolled over in bed and read an email from OSAP stating my financial aid had been cut by $9 000. 

The aid that I will receive this year will not cover the cost of tuition, nor will it contribute to my living expenses. Initially frustrated about the cut, and doubtful about attending UVic this year, I wanted to explain how the cut impacted me. 

I wrote about my family, and how my mom’s unionized teaching job kept us afloat year after year while my father shifted awkwardly between minimum wage jobs and claimed employment insurance. By explaining that I didn’t want to end up like him, without a degree and financial stability, I thought that I was writing from a perspective that hadn’t been expressed.

But as I researched, I found plenty of stories of Ontario students who are now struggling to afford their education. Many of these students also grew up in the working class, and their stories have already detailed the reality of studying as a resident of Ford’s Ontario.

Instead of writing about myself, I turned my attention to Ford. I wanted to see if his claim to be “for the people” was true.

The truth is, Ford stopped providing free tuition for students with a household income less than $50 000 per year at the same time that he cancelled a tax on Ontarians making over $130 000 per year. That tax would have generated $275 million in tax revenue. Wealthy Ontarians benefitted while the province lost money to put towards its $11.7 billion dollar deficit, and low-income students lost their free tuition.

Ford canceled the six month interest-free grace period for student loans and stopped a minimum wage increase, while simultaneously introducing a tax cut that stripped Ontario of another $444 million in tax revenue. 

As I mentioned in a previous article for the Martlet, charging interest on student loans ensures that low income students pay more for tuition than their wealthier peers. If you or your family can pay tuition up front, you just pay the cost of tuition; however, if you need to borrow money, you pay tuition plus approximately 5 per cent interest. Working class students are effectively penalized for not coming from a high-income household.

Instead of raising the minimum wage from $14 to $15 per hour, Ford cut taxes. He labeled it as a victory for the working class, stating that the cut “put money back into the taxpayers’ pocket.” However, the facts show that a worker making under $40 000 saw almost no benefit.

Furthermore, minimum wage workers would have benefited more from a minimum wage increase than a tax reduction. Two thirds of those making under $30 000 a year saw no benefit, as they paid no income tax the previous year anyway. The third that did pay income tax only saved $485 with Ford’s cut. 

Compare this to raising the minimum wage. If Ford had increased the minimum wage, a full-time minimum wage worker would’ve earned $2 000 more before tax. 

It’s worth mentioning that the last available Statistics Canada data shows that a majority of minimum wage workers are students.

Who did benefit from this tax cut? Not shockingly, the majority of the benefits went to Ontarians making over $100 000 per year. 

Ford’s supporters insist Ontario cannot continue the overspending of the previous Liberal government, citing the province’s large deficit. However, Ford’s policies seem to pass the burden of the deficit onto the working class. 

If the people of Ontario need to address this deficit, then that includes the top income earners who right now hold over $700 million of tax revenue in their accounts while social services continue to be cut.

So while it sucks to not receive enough money to cover my school expenses, I am infinitely more concerned that Ford has sold himself as a man “for the people,” despite implementing policies that benefit the elite.