The Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario won a significant victory by losing in the Superior Court of Ontario today.
The CFS-O had backed a $200-million class action lawsuit against Ontario colleges for charging ancillary fees in violation of provincial government guidelines. The courts dismissed the suit today stating that guidelines did not carry the force of law necessary for the courts to act.
RELATED CONTENT Class action lawsuit dismissed
You are probably asking “how can this defeat in the courts be called a victory?”
Simple, the real battlefield here is the court of public opinion not a court of law.
The CFS-O has scored a major public relations victory by using this lawsuit to draw public (and media) attention to the issue of ancillary fees.
The government has been questioned about its decision to turn a blind-eye while Ontario’s colleges and universities nickel-and-dime students by charging ancillary fees in violation of provincial rules.
The government has been more than happy to brag about its “regulation tuition framework” and its protection of students from “unfair tuition increases.” Meanwhile, they were allowing ancillary fees to increase without control.
Whenever the government is asked why it is not acting on ancillary fees, they state that “the matter is before the courts” and they cannot discuss the matter.
Today’s ruling removes that justification for not acting. The government can no longer hide. It must act.
The Ontario government will face questions from the opposition next week in the provincial legislature. I expect one of the questions will be: “Why are you allowing Ontario colleges to raise tuition fees through the back door and breach your own Ministry’s guidelines.”
If you do not believe in déjà vu, it exists. A younger Dalton McGuinty asked this question about universities in 1993 when he was sitting on the other side of the house in opposition.
McGuinty said he would be different, I wonder if his government will avoid answering the question much like previous governments?
It is not only the opposition that the government will face questions from. They will face questions from the media. We love nothing much than a story with an element of hypocrisy. Why were ancillary fees a form of “back-door tuition” when the Premier was in opposition, but they don’t seem to be now?
The CFS has taken control of the agenda by launching this suit. This alone makes it a success.
While I am sure the CFS-O would have preferred to get a court order to stop the fees; this is not a bad decision for them. A court case could have easily taken years. Even then, there was no guarantee the courts would rule in their favour. If the courts ruled against them in the case class action, all would have been lost.
Today’s ruling did not make any judgement if the fees were proper or not under current government guidelines. It ruled those guidelines do not have the force of law necessary for the courts to act.
This still leaves the government looking at its own internal documents stating these fees are in violation of government directives.
The ball is in the government’s court. The real question I want answer is if Premier Dalton McGuinty today still believe in the fairness that the Dalton McGuinty of 1993 was fighting for?