Students from across Manitoba gathered at the Manitoba legislative building for the National Day of Action on Feb. 1 to demand an affordable, accessible and high quality post-secondary education from the provincial government.
The protest at the University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus started with the speeches from politicians, local activists and campus leaders, including Niki Ashton, NDP MP Churchill and candidate for leader of the federal NDP, Paul Hesse from the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, and Cam Morrill, president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association.
Ashton told university students and staff present that the Day of Action was “not just about tuition fees” or issues surrounding post secondary education.
“More importantly, it’s about the way our generation is being treated by our government at the federal level,” she said, pointing to increasing student debt in Canada and the difficulties many students face in finding meaningful employment after graduation.
“We see our generation being held back from making the kinds of investments, whether its in terms of a car, or maybe a home when we’re done school, or being able to find a job that we want rather than just a job that we need right now,” Ashton said.
She also raised concerns with proposed changes to the Canada Pension Plan.
“We won’t have the same pensions that our parents have, if we even have a pension at all,” she argued.
Brian Latour, vice-president of CUPE 3909, which represents teachers’ assistants, instructors, and graders on campus, spoke about issues surrounding privatization on university campuses.
Latour argued that privatization is a problem on university campuses, as he feels corporations are generally most interested in how to make a profit.
Talking about the National Day of Action, he said that it is great students are “finding ways to try to make their voices heard by politicians.
“The Day of Action is not just a matter of one day; students have to keep momentum building,” he added.
Camilla Tapp, president of UMSU, said that she thought events held at the U of M during the National Day of Action were a huge success.
“Not only did UMSU have a large number of students participate in University Centre on the Fort Garry campus, we also had a number of students take the bus down to the legislature to join in the march with other locals,” said Tapp.
She said that it is hard to get a definite number of participants, but she estimated that 50 to 60 people from the U of M joined UMSU at the legislature. UMSU gave out 900 hot dogs in University Centre as part of the event.
“Additionally, UMSU had a great turn out of student senators at the afternoon Senate meeting,” she said.
Students then went to the legislative building to join students from other universities to protest.
Marakary Bayo, Manitoba chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, commented that it is always hard to organize the Day of Action during winter months, “but the turnout is great.” Bayo claimed that several hundred students showed up to protest.
Tyler Blashko, vice-president (advocate) of University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), noted that all the student associations were gathered to ensure the government recognize what student priorities are.
“Hopefully the conversations will continue in a positive direction,” he said.
Several faculty members came out to show their support, including Peter Ives, an instructor at the University of Winnipeg, who was representing the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA) at the National Day of Action.
Ives said that UWFA was there to encourage more government funding for education.
“It is very important that we let the government know that universities are underfunded,” he said.
He said that it is a crucial time in our economy and “we need more funding for our education.”
On the same day, U of M law students gathered to protest Bill C-10, the conservative government’s omnibus crime bill.
Rana Bokhari, president of the Manitoba Law Students’ Association (MLSA) explained that her council has passed a resolution to oppose Bill C-10, in solidarity with organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association and the Elizabeth Fry Society, who have actively been opposing the bill.
She explained that law students are in a very unique position, saying the bill will have “a lot of effect on our future and clients.
“MLSA is definitely not saying that the entire bill needs to be ignored, it is just saying that there are parts of the bill that are not based on social science, criminology and legal research,” Bokhari said.