The NDP make St. Paddy's even better
Fast forward in time to Mar. 17, St. Patrick's Day, 2007. Much like this past St. Patrick's Day, there is a beautiful scene on the patio of The Spoke, as bright sunshine lifts the spirits of students and $1 beers flow liberally from the bar taps. The patio has been expanded by this time to allow more students to enjoy the weather and the fine service, but there is another, much larger reason that students are particularly boisterous this afternoon. This, after all, is the first year that post-secondary education in Ontario is fully funded.
The reasons behind this utopian afternoon can be traced back to the events that unfolded in the Ontario provincial election of 2003. As the three primary parties vied for control of the province, issues of health, education and hydro pre-occupied voters. Since none of the parties could provide short-term relief for health care after the province had locked itself into a new funding arrangement with Ottawa, and since voters had made it clear that they would not tolerate the short-term price hikes that come with privatization of hydro or any other provincial controlled service, much of the campaign centered around education. Each party provided comprehensive policy proposals concerning how they would improve the accessibility and quality of Ontario's education services at all levels.
The New Democratic Party platform called for an immediate roll back of tuition by 10 per cent, continuing until university is fully funded (read free). They also proposed a state-sponsored day-care system, as well as the re-regulation of professional programs. Liberal candidates campaigned on an increase of post-secondary capacity by 10 per cent, re-regulation of professional programs, a 50 per cent tuition waiver for low-income students and another 50 per cent increase in graduate scholarships. The Progressive Conservatives were hard-pressed to deny that undergraduate tuition had risen 45 per cent since their election in 1995/1996. They continued to tout the merits of their Super Build project and quality management of education, but it was a hard sell.
When election day arrived, many predicted a Liberal minority government, with the PC party holding onto many of its traditional ridings and the NDP picking up a handsome total of seats, but only enough to give them third-party status. When the votes were counted, displeasure with eight years of Tory cuts weighed especially strong on the voters' minds, as did an inability to pin down exactly what it was that they liked about Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty. Combined with a strong campaign by Howard Hampton and a silencing of the party's far left wing views, the NDP was able to win a two-seat majority government, with the other two parties essentially splitting the remaining seats.
And so it was that Mar. 17, 2007 was such a fine day at The Spoke. School had become free thanks to the accelerated implementation of the NDP's promises and $1 beers had bucked the trend of inflation and remained the same price. For St. Patrick's Day 2007, think about dropping by The Spoke. It's going to be a fine place to be.