OPSEU/SEFPO Submission on Bill 166: Strengthening Accountability and Student Supports Act, 2024

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OPSEU/SEFPO includes a diverse workforce upwards of 45,000 professionals in postsecondary education, spanning all 24 public colleges and 16 public universities and postsecondary institutions in Ontario. These individuals encompass a wide range of roles, including food service workers, professors, counsellors, caretakers, nurses, academic support specialists, instructors, information technologists, lab technologists, international student advisors, food service workers, accessibility advisors, employment consultants, admissions and enrollment officers, financial aid officers, special constables and security personnel, academic librarians, and more. The College Employer Council disclosed in 2022 enrollment in the 2021-2022 academic year in 21 public colleges totaled over 557,966 students, comprising 329,714 domestic students and 228,252 international students. It is noteworthy that this figure excludes three of the 24 public colleges since data for only one semester was provided, thereby not reflecting the entire academic year.

The Strengthening Accountability and Student Supports Act, 2024, seems to introduce amendments to enhance accountability and support for students in colleges and universities in Ontario. However, Bill 166 has many issues including government overreach, superficiality, redundancy, potential threats to free speech, and a failure to prioritize pressing student issues. We fully support student mental health, anti-racism efforts, and transparency, but we raise several concerns regarding Bill 166, which we maintain fails to provide a substantial, meaningful solution to any pressing problem facing either Ontario’s public colleges or universities, or the students in those institutions. With this in mind, we advocate for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to supporting students and addressing their needs.

Government Overreach

Bill 166 represents government overreach into the affairs of public colleges and universities. By mandating specific policies and rules, the government is infringing upon the autonomy of academic institutions. This overreach stifles innovation and flexibility in addressing the diverse needs of students. Colleges and universities need to have the autonomy to develop and implement policies that best suit the needs of our students without undue interference from the government. Collegial governance, especially in the context of institutional restructuring, would be one productive way for the Ministry to ensure that issues at Ontario’s public colleges and universities can be addressed in a way that preserves democratic decision-making processes and faculty academic freedom.

Redundancy of Proposed Provisions

Many of the provisions outlined in Bill 166 are redundant, as existing regulations within colleges and universities already address similar issues. Ontario’s public colleges and universities have established policies and procedures regarding student mental health and addressing racism and hate on campus, making additional legislative mandates unnecessary. The government already possesses sufficient powers to address the issues covered in Bill 166. The question naturally arises: why the need for additional measures?


We advocate for transparency and complete disclosure regarding student fees. It is important to note that many institutions already have policies in effect to address this matter, once again highlighting the redundancy of Bill 166.  While the proposed disclosure of fees is beneficial to students, it fails to address the much greater need for a substantial reduction in tuition. We question if the proposed disclosure of fees is an attempt to circumvent and stifle the voice of existing structures like the CFS (Canadian Federation of Students).  The CFS recognizes that over the course of several decades, there has been a noticeable decrease in the proportion of public funding allocated to public education.  The Fight the Fees campaign is a CFS cross-province initiative urging both federal and provincial governments to develop strategies and funding models aimed at prioritizing investments in public education.

Potential Threat to Free Speech

Implementing anti-racism and anti-hate policies in colleges and universities often involves defining and prohibiting certain types of speech or conduct that are deemed racist or hateful. While the intention behind such policies is usually to create a safer and more inclusive environment for all students, there are concerns about how these policies might infringe upon free speech rights.

Subjectivity in Definitions: Defining what constitutes racism or hate speech can be subjective and open to interpretation. Different individuals and groups may have varying perspectives on what constitutes racism or hate, leading to potential censorship of speech that some might argue is merely controversial or offensive, but not necessarily hateful or racist. This subjectivity can lead to a chilling effect on discourse, where individuals self-censor to avoid potential repercussions.

Restrictions on Debates and Discussions: Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where ideas are freely exchanged and debated. However, strict anti-racism and anti-hate policies might inhibit open discussions on sensitive topics such as race, ethnicity, religion, and identity. Students, staff, and faculty may fear expressing opinions that challenge prevailing narratives or engaging in debates that involve contentious issues, for fear of being accused of racism or hate speech.

Overreach: Anti-racism and anti-hate policies may lead to overreach by administrators or enforcement bodies. There is a risk that these policies could be used to suppress dissenting viewpoints or target individuals or groups who espouse unpopular opinions. This could stifle academic freedom and intellectual diversity on college and university campuses, which are essential for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

Impact on Minority Voices: Paradoxically, strict enforcement of anti-racism and anti-hate policies could have a disproportionate impact on minority voices. Policies may be used to silence marginalized groups or individuals within those groups who express dissenting views. This could undermine the ability of minority students, staff, and faculty to speak out against injustices they perceive within academic institutions.

Failure to Address Root Causes: While anti-racism and anti-hate policies aim to combat discrimination and prejudice, they may not necessarily address the underlying societal factors that give rise to racism and hate speech. Merely prohibiting certain forms of expression without addressing systemic issues such as unequal treatment and discrimination may be ineffective in fostering genuine understanding and respect among members of the college/university community.

Bill 166 impedes legitimate free speech on college/university campuses. Numerous laws, regulations and policies already exist regulating speech in the public sphere and protecting individuals from harmful speech.  By prescribing how institutions must address and combat racism and hate, Bill 166 will lead to censorship and the suppression of viewpoints that must be protected under principles of academic freedom, but which may be deemed controversial. Mandating specific approaches to addressing racism and hate risks suppressing open dialogue and debate on important societal issues, hindering the free exchange of ideas that is fundamental to academic environments.

Prioritization of Student Issues

Rather than focusing on enacting new legislation, the government should prioritize addressing pressing student issues such as food and housing insecurity. Food and housing insecurity are significant barriers to student success and well-being. Allocating resources towards addressing these fundamental challenges would have a more meaningful and immediate impact on students’ well-being and academic success.

Consultation and Collaboration

Instead of enacting new legislation, efforts should be directed towards supporting students in overcoming fundamental challenges that impact their ability to thrive academically and personally. To be clear, both student mental health and combating racism are significant issues that must be addressed, including through policy. However, the unilateral implementation of important policies by the government raises significant concerns about implementation, transparency, and funding. Bill 166 has far-reaching impacts on students, union members, and the workplace, making it imperative to involve frontline workers in the decision-making process.

It is the position of OPSEU/SEFPO that the lack of prior consultation in policy development and implementation is a missed opportunity for collaboration that perpetuates the marginalization of College and University staff and faculty.  These frontline workers deliver the education and support that our students require, and this on-the-ground experience is invaluable in developing comprehensive and inclusive policies.  Our members offer expertise in several areas including mental health support services, diversity training, and creating inclusive campus environments. By working together, we can develop policies that are more likely to be successful and sustainable in the long term. Effective consultation and collaboration are essential for developing policies and best practices that are equitable, effective, and widely supported.

Input from our members is essential for crafting effective and equitable policies. By not consulting with us, the government fails to include the perspectives and insights of the professionals who are directly involved in implementing and supporting these policies. This compromises not only the overall effectiveness of the policies but more importantly, the safety and well-being of all those affected.

The failure to include us in creating policies for postsecondary institutions once again raises concerns about transparency and accountability in the process. We question the legitimacy of policies that are developed without adequate consultation and input from those directly affected by them, which ultimately erodes trust in the government’s decision-making processes. Given the government’s track record of broken trust with Ontarians, it is difficult not to suspect a hidden agenda.

Funding Concerns

Colleges and universities already grapple with chronic underfunding. Bill 166 serves as a distraction from the real issues of underfunding in postsecondary education. We need to keep the bigger picture in mind amidst political manoeuvers.

Ontario’s colleges and universities have a well-documented counsellor staffing crisis, resulting in inadequate access to mental health support services for students. The total number of full-time counsellors employed in the colleges in 2021-2022 was 231, distributed among 22 colleges, as Northern College and Collège La Cité reported zero counsellors. However, it is essential to highlight that Collège La Cité outsourced its entire counselling department to a private entity. This figure represents a 5% reduction from the total number of full-time counsellors reported in the 2018-2019 academic year, which stood at 244. Insufficient counselling resources increase the risk of untreated mental health conditions among students. When students do not have access to timely intervention and support, conditions may go unrecognized and untreated, leading to long-term consequences for their health and academic success. Without the necessary support systems in place, students facing mental health challenges may struggle to stay engaged in their studies, meet academic requirements, or persist through difficult times. The government should be focused on increasing funding for counsellors and expanding the full-time complement of counselling faculty, rather than creating new and redundant policies.

In the realm of student support services, a pronounced deficit in funding and staffing has precipitated severe adverse ramifications for students. The systemwide average of students accessing counselling or accessibility services during the 2021-22 academic year was recorded at 14.44%, while the systemwide average of students receiving accommodations was 10.39%. These statistics underscore the erosion of support services within the college system, necessitating continued attention and assessment of student needs with appropriate institution response and government funding. Students who require additional supports for academic success encounter extensive waiting periods at the onset of the semester to secure necessary accommodations. The delay in meeting with an assistive technologist can extend up to six weeks, depriving students of essential access to course materials during a substantial portion of the semester.  Such deficiencies in support infrastructure inevitably undermine students’ prospects for academic success.

The scarcity of funding inhibits the recruitment of an adequate number of student success specialists. These are pivotal employees who attempt to proactively engage with students experiencing academic challenges or absenteeism. The lack of funding and staffing leads to an inability to intervene effectively and facilitate necessary connections with vital support services, once again emphasizing the egregious lack of funding that results in a marked disservice to students.

Colleges and universities grapple with staffing shortages in critical operational domains due to an inability to offer competitive compensation packages. Consequently, essential infrastructure maintenance and functions across various departments, including the registrar’s office, course scheduling, network maintenance, and technological support, suffer from inadequate staffing levels. This systemic insufficiency exacerbates the strain on resources essential for comprehensive student support, impeding the institution’s capacity to meet the diverse needs of its student body effectively.

A lack of resources to address the student-to-support staff and student-to-faculty ratio contributes to a negative campus culture and climate. Students may perceive the institution as uncaring or indifferent to their well-being, leading to feelings of alienation and disconnection. This erodes trust and cohesion within the campus community and undermines efforts to foster a supportive and inclusive environment.

The seeming impulsiveness of Bill 166 leads to arbitrary decisions about resource allocation. Without sufficient consideration of long-term sustainability or strategic priorities, inefficiencies, missed opportunities, and wasted resources will happen. When forced to scrounge for funds, it is impossible for these policies to achieve the intended outcome.  The haphazard implementation and inadequate funding set up Bill 166 to fail and have far reaching consequences for all involved.

Policy Focus and Development

We understand that we are stronger when we work together. With this in mind, we offer our suggestions for creating comprehensive, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive policies.

Mental health issues affect academic success, personal well-being, and campus culture. A holistic approach should encompass a range of programs, services, and supports aimed at promoting mental well-being, preventing mental illness, and providing timely and accessible treatment and support for those in need. This may include:

  • counselling services
  • peer support programs
  • awareness campaigns
  • mental health education initiatives
  • reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness
  • encourage help-seeking behaviour.
  • ensure that mental health services are accessible and inclusive

Racism and hate crimes pose significant challenges to the safety, inclusion, well-being, and academic success of students from marginalized and minority communities. Anti-racism policies are essential for creating an environment that is welcoming, respectful, and supportive of diversity. To combat racism and hate, a range of measures aimed at prevention, education, and response should be considered. This may include:

  • anti-discrimination training
  • cultural competency programs
  • reporting mechanisms for hate incidents
  • disciplinary measures for offenders
  • recognition of the intersectionality of identities and experiences
  • measures to address the unique forms of discrimination faced by different groups
  • prioritization of the voices and leadership of marginalized communities


While we agree that it is imperative to support mental health, anti-racism/anti-hate speech, and transparency, we would like to work with the government and students to engage in transparent and candid dialogue regarding the genuine and immediate requirements to achieve the objectives that Bill 166 purports – namely, adequate funding and a full-time complement of academic and support staff, including counsellors. We aim for a sincere partnership between the provincial government, workers, and students. Our vision encompasses quality public postsecondary education that is sustainably funded and rooted in a culture of collaboration, trust, and mutual respect.