Toronto Star

As province makes cuts, free tuition program at risk

- KRISTIN RUSHOWY With files from Rob Ferguson

Ontario’s post-secondary minister has left the door open to making cuts to the province’s free tuition program, a day after the surprise cancellati­on of three major university-college expansions.

Merrilee Fullerton told reporters the government cancelled new campus plans in Milton, Markham and Brampton because the province was left in “dire straits” by the previous Liberal government.

“We’ve had to make tough decisions,” she said.

When asked twice about free tuition, the minister of training, colleges and universiti­es reiterated the government’s concerns about the province’s finances, adding “we need to get Ontario back on track.”

The financial aid system — introduced by the Liberals last year to help lower-income fam- ilies afford post-secondary fees, provided nonrepayab­le grants to more than 210,000 students last year, roughly one-third of all of those studying full-time.

Opposition critics pounced on the PC government on Wednesday for its decision to pull the plug on $307 million for post-secondary campus expansions: Ryerson University/ Sheridan College in Brampton, a Milton site for Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College and a York University/Seneca College project that has been in the works for four years.

At Queen’s Park, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the campus announceme­nt — which came late Monday — a “bombshell” for the communitie­s that had been planning for years.

Fullerton said the PC government was elected to “restore accountabi­lity and trust in Ontario’s finances” and inherited a $15-billion deficit.

“Our government is being forced to clean up the irresponsi­ble and reckless financial decisions of the previous Liberal government.”

The cancellati­ons put local PC MPPs in the awkward position of having to defend cuts to the very campus projects they once promised — including Billy Pang (Markham-Unionville) and Parm Gill (Milton).

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