THE minister in charge of post-secondary education is defending Bill 33, saying it will not give the province the power to override student dues democratically decided upon in campus referendums.
Wayne Ewasko, minister of advanced education, skills and immigration, told the Free Press there has been "misinformation" circulating about the purpose of the legislation, which would grant the province oversight in setting tuition and student fees.
"We are going to consider amendments to further clarify the distinction between the fees set by governing boards and those set by student unions," Ewasko said during a phone call Wednesday.
Manitoba universities and college boards currently set their respective institution’s tuition and fees, including lab and parking dues.
Schools also collect fees on behalf of student unions and associations, which fund everything from student advocacy campaigns to campus food banks.
Bill 33, which was introduced as Bill 41 last spring, seeks to amend the Advanced Education Administration Act so the province can issue guidelines related to fees and prohibit compulsory dues.
If passed, the province would be able to penalize schools that charge fees that exceed guidelines by reducing operating funding.
Student unions and faculty organizations have raised concerns the legislation could be interpreted in a way that allows the province to interfere in student union programs — which is what the Ontario government attempted to do in 2019. (Ontario is appealing a court decision that struck down the Student Choice Initiative.)
The Canadian Federation of Students has launched a campaign that claims Bill 33 could threaten student health and dental programs, transit passes and other programming, which students pay for as the result of student union referendum results.
Brenden Gali, chairman of CFS Manitoba, wants the promise that student union dues are exempt, in writing, as well as confirmation about what fees are actually at stake.
"I still don’t have a clear understanding of how this bill will create a better, higher quality education for students," Gali added.
Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, echoed those sentiments Wednesday.
Forbes took issue with the legislation allowing the province to set different classes of tuition fees, calling it "an incredible intrusion" into university governance.
Forbes added: "The intention is to discourage people from going into programs the government doesn’t like and to encourage people to go into programs the government does like... That should be a decision left to students."
When reached Wednesday, Jamie Moses, NDP critic on the post-secondary education file, urged the minister to follow through and change the language in Bill 33 to ensure vital student services on campus are protected.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.