Monday, August 25, 2008

McGuinty, the CSA AND Maclean’s Miss the Mark on Textbook Grant

The Question That Needs to Be Asked: How Close to the McGuinty Government is Too Close for the College Student Alliance?

Maclean’s' education blog usually reserves its barbs for students’ unions, those fighting tuition fee increases, and other progressive student issues like public transit.

However, in a recent post, we were bemused by Maclean's uncharacteristically stern tone directed at the Ontario government regarding the 2008 Budget promise of a $150 textbook grant available to (only) full-time students this fall.

Maclean’s seems to be finally catching on that this announcement might not have been the best move, let alone adequately followed through on. While union-phobic corporate giant Wal-Mart has been heavily promoting its long line of exploited-worker-produced back-to-school products for nearly a month now, the McGuinty government has released absolutely nothing to inform students how to take advantage of their textbook grant. It’s been five months since the announcement of this new financial aid measure and, with just days before the fall 2008 term begins, students are still left wondering:

Do we need to keep our receipts?

Do purchases of used textbooks qualify for the grant?

Are international or graduate students included?

The list goes on.

To many, a textbook grant seems like a weak and round-about way to address the financial onslaught against post-secondary students. In their media release, the Canadian Federation of Students, was clear that students’ preference is for tuition fee and student debt reductions. “When thousands of Ontario students signed petitions calling for debt relief, a one hundred and fifty dollar text book voucher wasn't what they had in mind,” said a CFS spokesperson.

In direct contrast, the College Student Alliance (CSA), couldn’t squeeze enough complements into its media release titled “McGuinty delivers for students and Ontario”. Written like it came straight from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities media relations department, the CSA offers blind support for many initiatives announced in the Ontario budget, despite the perpetuation of tuition fee increases.

Moreover, there are other factors that raise questions around potential collusion between the CSA and the Ontario government. According to the Canada Newswire (CNW Group) website, the CSA’s release was actually distributed before the government’s own, leaving us to wonder how much prior knowledge the CSA had about the budget.

Take these examples:

Exhibit A:
Time of March 25 media releases about the 2008 Ontario budget distributed over the Canada Newswire (CNW Group)
College Student Alliance: 4:44 pm
Ontario Government: 4:49 pm
Canadian Federation of Students: 5:20 pm

In other words, while it took the Canadian Federation 36 minutes to get their release out over the wire after the government announcement was made public, miraculously, the CSA managed to put their release out 5 minutes BEFORE the government’s announcement went public.

Exhibit B:
Later the same month, an opposition MPP was pushing John Milloy, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, for an explanation about why he hasn’t been doing his job when it comes to enforcing the province’s prohibition of tuition-related ancillary fees at colleges. Milloy stood up in the legislature and quoted directly from the CSA’s praise-laden press release about the 2008 budget.

While the students who the CSA purport to represent may be asking if their money is being used to prop up the government, it’s just another day of navel gazing at Maclean’s.

As if none of this ever happened, Maclean’s allows for “student politician” perspectives on the government’s cone of silence around the textbook grant. The CSA offered up vague hopes that information about the textbook grant will be forthcoming, but are not questioned on their previous cheerleading for the initiative.

In their post, Maclean’s seems to indicate that the government’s frustrating textbook grant will backfire now that it’s been blogged about. Quite the opposite. One blog post by a magazine that prefers headlines with shock-value over reputable journalism will hardly translate into bad press for the government. In fact, the status quo will never be challenged while the Maclean’s post-secondary pundits are treating organizations like the College Student Alliance as anything more than cheerleaders for the government of the day.

2 comments:

Jim said...

If that textbook grant was offered in New Brunswick, it would get most students only one or two textbooks with skyrocketing textbook rates surpassing the ever increasing tuition fee hikes across most of the country! It's shameful.

Carson said...

A couple points.

1) I'm not sure what you mean by "uncharacteristically stern tone directed at the Ontario government." Joey frequently criticizes provincial governments, as well as the federal government, as do others on the site.

2) What do you mean by collusion? If you mean that the government discussed the policy with the CSA beforehand, or the CSA lobbied for it, then is that not what advocacy groups do?

Could not the CFS's praising the federal government for scrapping the Millenium Fund be evidence of collusion with Stephen Harper? Wouldn't this conclusion be bolstered by the fact that the CFS was silent on the Federal government's failure to attach strings to a new transfer to the provinces, ostensibly for education, despite the fact that the CFS had lobbied heavily for such conditions?

I'm not saying this is a natural conclusion, but it is one that would follow given your analysis of the CSA.

3) When you are referring to "reputable journalism," have you taken heed of the fact that your post reads as if it was written by a CFS staffer?

4) And you linked to two of my posts. Thanks for the traffic!