Tuition fight beating a dead horse

Students in Ottawa have been parading the streets by parliament hill for years in the “Drop Fees” rallies, but to date, little has been done except  looting the pockets of student governments in failed attempts at change though campaigns and rallies.

In 2009, Carleton University spent $50,000 on the Drop Fees campaign held annually on November 5th – but Ontario universities still has the second highest university fees among Canadian universities.

Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) Vice President of Student Issues, Nick Bergamini, says this is because of ineffective lobbying on the part of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

This is in part due to the lack of attendance at these events. This year, Carleton had only 250 students rally to drop fees, roughly a cost of $250 per student, and the mix of students is an odd combination.


“Two different types of people attend these rallies, the hardcore people care about the cause, who are often paid by CUSA,” says Bergamini. “And the second are first year students who are just excited to protest and don’t really care about the message.”

After all the money spent, piles of t-shirts and buttons remain unused due to lack of attendance, and will be thrown out in favour of new materials the next year.

Emily MacDougall, a first year Carleton student who attended the November 2009 rally, says she attended mostly because of the raucous atmosphere.

“It was a bunch of students getting together for a cause, which I really liked, and the whole idea of a pep rally before was really fun,” says MacDougall. “I liked how I got to paint my face and scream and chant. It was nice to get together for a good cause.”

MacDougall admits that before attending the rally, she had no idea that Ontario had higher than average fees. By attending the rally she thinks that it helped raise awareness.

Other students feel that fees are fair in Ontario and are disappointed in the amount of money student federations spend on the campaigns.

“Fees in Canada and Ontario are fair. These fees absolutely do not limit anyone from post secondary education as long as OSAP exists,” says fourth year University of Ottawa student Allan Gordon, who works with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). “This is not to mention the multitude of scholarships that are available throughout the university, the province, and across Canada.

Bergamini agrees that the expenditures on these rallies are too high, and has heard the same from many Carleton students, especially considering the lack of results  produced after years of lobbying.

“Many people are indifferent to the cause, that it is a waste of money, and many people think it is really ineffective advocacy,” adds Bergamini. “If people really did care about it, more people would go.”

Despite protests of cost by some, MacDougall thinks that it is worth it to continue financing the rallies each year.


One reason the rallies might be ineffective in swaying the government is the approach taken by protestors. All attendees receive a shirt that reads “Fuck Tuition Increases” with the image of a middle finger on it. In addition, the rallies are highly disruptive for those in the downtown Ottawa area in the middle of a workday.

“Protesting using profanity is a negative method to achieve the goals, and rather our student federation should be sitting down in meetings and discussing these issues,” says Gordon.

“Disrupting traffic and causing noise is more of a hassle for individuals who cross paths with the Drop Fees rallies, and likely turns more people against the topic of protest, rather than creating a positive atmosphere surrounding the issue.”

Bergamini agrees that the methods need to change.

“When politicians see that, they don’t think voters, they think children. If we act like children, we get treated as such. We need more adult supervision in this lobbying, we should act accordingly and we will see results.”

Even MacDougall’s mother shuddered at the sight of her “drop fees” shirt when she wore it at home over the Christmas break, suggesting it was inappropriate.

Despite the “Drop Fees” rallies lack of success and the questionable methods, students at both schools are likely to see more of the same in year to come, as there is no plan to change the approach to protesting fees in Ontario.