The Canadian Federation of Students’ 2021 Year In Review
The Canadian Federation of Students’ 2021 Year In Review

2021 has been quite the year for students.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, students across the country carry on in their work to push students’ issues to the forefront and demand a better future for students—one that calls for education for all.

We know when we stand together we have a strong history of holding governments and university administrators accountable for making our campuses accessible, affordable, and safer places to pursue higher education.

In 2021, we, the students, proved to the government that there is strength in numbers. We steadfastly demonstrated that we will not back down and will always demand a better post-secondary education—not only for us but also for all future generations of learners.

That being said, we are still in the throes of navigating a pandemic. The pandemic has exposed many of the pre-existing gaps within the post-secondary landscape and has even exacerbated challenges for so many. Students quickly learned how to adapt to online learning, hybrid classes, and some of us even returned to in-person schooling.

As we reach the end of 2021, we took some time to look back at the year we’ve had and reflect on the challenges we’ve overcome, and the ways we’ve been able to hold space and build community. From winning provincial legal battles to enlisting the help of reigning Canada’s Drag Race champion, Priyanka, to help us get out the vote—this year has seen it all.

While we look forward to continuing to fight for free and accessible education in 2022 and beyond, join us in celebrating both the small and large victories and take a walk down memory lane with us:

Overturning the Student Choice Initiative (SCI)

Following the announcement of detrimental changes to post-secondary education from the Ontario Government in January 2019—with impacts ranging from increased student debt, more loans, fewer grants, and a massive reduction in student-focused advocacy and services on campus—the Federation initiated a legal challenge alongside member local 68, the York Federation of Students (YFS), on the basis that the government lacked the authority to implement such a policy and acted with an improper purpose. On November 21, 2019, the Ontario Divisional Court released their unanimous decision deeming the Student Choice Initiative unlawful.

The Government of Ontario then filed an appeal to the decision of the Ontario Divisional Court on December 6, 2019, to overturn the Student Choice Initiative ruling. The appeal was then reviewed and the court has decided to proceed with the appeal hearing.

In March of 2021, the Federation and YFS once again fought against this divisive policy at Ontario’s Court of Appeal, represented by the progressive Goldblatt Partners firm. Later in August of 2021, the court released the decision that the Government of Ontario’s SCI framework conflicts with the legislation governing Ontario’s colleges and universities and cannot be imposed upon them by the exercise of authority. The decision of the divisional court remains that SCI is unlawful.

This fight by the Federation and YFS to ensure that progressive student issues remain at the forefront of government and public awareness is upheld has resulted in an enormous win for all member locals, students’ unions and their members across the province of Ontario.

Racialized and Indigenous Students’ Experience (RISE) Summit

We know that post-secondary institutions were not built with racialized students in mind.

The RISE summit was built out of the necessity for Indigenous and racialized students from all across the country to form communities, and hold space to learn from and with one another.

This year’s RISE summit featured six sessions and a range of nuanced discussions. From helping BIPOC students learn how to get involved in the student movement and wider progressive movements, to a roundtable discussion hosted by the RISE committee about on-the-ground experiences of racialized students on campuses.

Sessions also included a focus on abolition and how community can imagine a more just society for all of us. We also heard from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis voices that engaged participants in a discussion about how climate movements must always center Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing.

The month-long summit ended with sessions around community building and even an art workshop, which served to remind participants that self-care, community, and art creation are all integral in keeping the momentum and movement going.

Tabling of the Canada Post-Secondary Education Act Pledge

In June 2021, National Treasurer Marie Dolcetti-Koros and national staff attended a meeting with the Education For All coalition to provide comments to the office of Member of Parliament, Heather McPherson regarding the recently tabled private members bill proposing a Canada Post-Secondary Education Act.

The proposal borrows from policy recommendations put forward by the Canadian Federation of Students and Education for All Coalition, which calls for the introduction of a federal Post-Secondary Education Act, which will be modelled on the Canada Health Act, and ensures that provinces and territories are in compliance with following core principles:

  1. Universality: Society expects a full range of options for post-secondary learning, none of which should be deemed more important or deserving of funding than any other.
  2. Accessibility: All components of the post-secondary education system must be available to learners without the up-front cost.
  3. Comprehensiveness: The post-secondary education system must be properly funded to ensure it has the necessary resources to offer high-quality learning in all geographic regions of society and accountable wage floors and ceilings for all campus workers.
  4. Public Administration: to receive renewal funding, post-secondary institutions must be operated by a public authority on a not-for-profit, democratic basis.
  5. Freedom of Expression: all post-secondary learners, researchers and campus workers are entitled to their freedom of expression, subject to reasonable limits established by human rights codes and statutes.
Skills for Gen-V: The first-ever National Skills Symposium

Ahead of the federal election, the Federation engaged students in its first-ever National Skills Symposium, Skills for Gen-V, all throughout the month of September. Recognizing a gap in digital campaigning and organizing capacity, the Federation listened to feedback from members and ensured that their wishes were reflected in the Skills programming.

The event brought together activists, organizers, and campaigners from various institutions to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to mobilize both on and off-campus.

Spanning over a week, workshops revolved around pandemic organizing tactics, accessibility, and how to build community both on and offline. Workshop facilitators included community organizers, thought leaders, and even featured progressive journalist, and former CFS-Ontario chairperson, Nora Loreto.

Following a request from members for media relations support, the series of workshops successfully guided participants through crucial questions and considerations for navigating the Canadian media landscape.

Lobby Week 2021

The Federation held our annual lobby week at Parliament Hill from February 15-19, 2021, with three preparatory delegate training sessions in the weeks leading up to Lobby Week to ensure delegates received adequate and thorough training. Delegates from across the country lobbied Members on 5 recommendations:

1)    Following through on commitments to students and grads

  • Move to immediately invest in emergency measures and utilize the remainder of the more than $9 billion committed to post-secondary students

2)    Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on current and future students

  • Commit to and execute within a timely manner, studies that will highlight the short-and projected long-term intersectional impacts of COVID-19

3)    Innovating post-secondary education through a student-centered approach

  • Commit to developing a costed framework that ensures both the immediate and long-term universal funding of post-secondary education

4)   Developing a national vision for Canada’s post-secondary education system

  • Move to strike a post-secondary education committee that is made of elected officials, the provinces, and nonpartisan experts that will develop a shared vision for a renewed post-secondary education system

5)   Relieving the burden of student debt

  • Move to immediately extend the loan freeze moratorium as an emergency measure on student loan repayment until December 2021

Generation Vote

In 2021, Canadians across the country followed along as the federal election was held on September 20, 2021, following a 36 day campaign period—the minimum campaign length permitted.

Even with the short writ period, the Federation was able to hold several voter engagement events and initiatives through its Generation Vote (Gen-V) campaign. Resources to mobilize and aid provincial offices and student organizers were disseminated, along with educational tools on platform analysis.

Furthermore, earlier in the year, the Federation met with Democracy Exchange, and drafted a letter to Elections Canada regarding on-campus polling, to address the concerns about voting accessibility and increase voter turnout and engagement.