Students Strike in National 'Day of Action'

Students all across Canada gathered in protest rallies and a symbolic 1-day strike on 2 February. The "Day of Action" protested the decreases in federal transfer payments to the provinces, which have boosted tuition by 126% and have more than tripled the average Canadian student's debt to C$28,000 in 1998.

Participants in the Day of Action--organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national organization representing over 60 colleges and universities and 400,000 students--asked the federal government to boost aid to students already overburdened by debts. "The federal government has cut C$7 billion in education since 1994. Their reasons were that their deficit was too large. Now, they've got a C$12 billion surplus. All we're asking is that they return some of that to postsecondary education," explains Morgan Stewart, chairperson of the University of Victoria Students' Society.

They also protested the government's recent decision to allow banks to administer their student loan programs. Banks now manage the majority of these loans, and the federal government pays the interest until the student graduates and begins paying off the loan. "We don't think the [federal government] should be subsidizing interest rates. It would be a better investment, investing directly into students," explains Stewart. The government counters that they are simply transferring the administration of the loans to banks, who administer loans "for a living" and are therefore better at it and can do it more cheaply than the government can.

Activities included rallies in front of government buildings, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Provincial Confederation Building in St. John's, and Victoria Park in Halifax. Some of the more active members of the CFS in Victoria brandished a giant pig, a symbol of the big banks they claim are siphoning education funding away from students. Other events included a candlelight vigil in Thunder Bay (candles representing students who cannot afford to pursue higher education), a pancake breakfast in Brandon, Manitoba, and a big party at the Phoenix in Toronto.

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