Hannah Derue: My postcard to IGNITE

Hannah Derue | Opinion

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual, including The Avro Post. Our Opinion Policy.

In the final hours of a tumultuous provincial election in Ontario, like many Ontarians, I sat lurched over in my chair, horrified by the results that started pouring in on the news.

My mind started reeling through past headlines of the Mike Harris style cuts that came from our province’s last Conservative government.

I knew then to expect broad strokes of legislative change that would cut corners and so-called “red tape” for businesses and top earners, leaving our province’s most vulnerable members of society in the dust.

It came as no surprise to me that students were one of the first demographics to be put on the legislature’s chopping block, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. There are many potential reasons for why the PC government decided to impose the Student Choice Initiative but for now that is only speculative.

Here’s my take: Students are loud, they are (mainly) left, and they didn’t vote for Ford.

Now it’s on the students and their governing student unions and representatives to decide what actions can and will be taken from here.

What does it mean?

The so-called Student Choice Initiative will make it optional to pay the “ancillary fees” students have come to expect on their semesterly tuition and fee charges. These ancillary fees go towards Humber and Guelph-Humber’s menstrual kit initiatives, events like “Real Talks”, and the countless thousands of dollars that are poured into the marketing, promotions, and staffing required to maintain the IGNITE brand.

There are certainly concerns about whether services like the sleep lounge, bursaries and grants, and other programming will continue in the face of these new changes.

Undoubtedly, these initiatives are important to the student experience and enrich campus life for many students. For better or worse, the Ford government has put that decision in the hands of students.

When student unions run effectively, they provide a platform for students to speak out about the student experience, what it means to be a student, and speak openly about social and political issues.

They provide resources and supports for students in need that the college or university would not traditionally provide. What determines whether IGNITE sinks or swims is if they do what they are elected to do — To speak for students’ best interests.

What this means for Guelph-Humber

When IGNITE received news about the Student Choice Initiative from the provincial government, they took swift action to make postcards in support of what the student union provides. Make no mistake, this is an effort to ensure that the student union exists into the coming years.

IGNITE part time staff manned booths and handed out popcorn to students who agreed to write on provided postcards that they supported IGNITE and agreed to have their note sent to Queen’s Park.

When the government threatened to remove student union supports on campus, IGNITE responded with postcards in support of maintaining IGNITE’s campus presence. In doing this, they neglected to do their fundamental job — To advocate for the students they represent.

I personally messaged the VP of Guelph-Humber, Maheen Nazim, who declined my offer to organize a rally on campus in rejection of the Student Choice Initiative and the PC reforms to OSAP.

I was advised by Nazim to join the CFS if I wanted to stand up for students impacted by OSAP changes. I was told that IGNITE would be using its resources to promote its continued presence on campus and to encourage students not to “opt-out” via the postcard campaign.

As a result of these events, I’ve concluded that IGNITE isn’t working for the students, they are working for a brand.

What now?

If students want to see the situation at Guelph-Humber improve, they’re going to need to get active. They will need to write to student leaders and tell them that when they speak on behalf of students, they have a responsibility to do more than defend their paychecks.

It is evident that students who want to defend themselves from Ford’s cuts are going to have to look past IGNITE and to the legislature directly. They will need to pen letters to MPPs, organize walkouts and sit ins.

Students must actively resist PC actions against OSAP supports for low income students and against policy reforms like the elimination of the six month grace period, which effectively attacks graduates just as they’re looking to enter the workforce.

Ask your candidates in the IGNITE election what they will do to protect the students, rather than what they will do to protect IGNITE.

The bottom line: If IGNITE doesn’t represent the student populations’ interests adequately on the provincial stage, their jobs will be the first on the chopping block. No postcards or popcorn handouts will defend them from that.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual, including The Avro Post. Our Opinion Policy.

Image of Hannah Derue supplied. Derue is a campus activist about to graduate from the psychology program at the University of Guelph-Humber. She ran for Senate in 2018 and the New Democratic Party’s women’s representative in Guelph.

Disclosure: Hannah Derue is the partner of Eli Ridder, Acting Editor-in-Chief of The Avro Post. Her opinion does not represent that of Ridder’s, The Avro Post or the staff of The Avro Post. Her piece was posted as all reasonable submissions are posted along the guidelines outlined here.

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