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Student action

(February 10, 2000, Gazette)

Snow didn’t deter hundreds of students from turning out for the annual Day of Action.

Photo by Chris Hammond

By Kelley Power

A crowd of about 1,000 students gathered in the courtyard of the University Centre on Feb. 2 for the Canadian Federation of Students’ Canada-wide Day of Action, a protest held as part of the organization’s Access 2000 campaign.

Students from Memorial, Marine Institute, College of the North Atlantic and various high schools in St. John’s turned out to demonstrate against the high cost of attending post-secondary institutions in this province.
They were demanding free tuition and a system of grants instead of student loans, as well as the general improvement of accessibility to post-secondary education. Dissatisfaction with government spending cuts and high debt loads was also expressed.

A major thorn in the side of protestors was a federal government plan to pay up to $100 million to banks as compensation for unpaid student loans.

The students then marched from Memorial to the beat of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, making their way to Confederation Building.
The protest continued there with a series of speeches from supporters of the Day of Action, including Elaine Price, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, and Jack Harris, leader of the provincial NDP.

In his address to the students, Dr. Noel Roy, president of MUNFA, emphasized the importance of a world class education system for the province to achieve a world class economy, and called for increased spending by the government.

Minister of Education Judy Foote spoke on behalf of government. In response to the charge that the provincial government is making post-secondary education a lesser priority, Ms. Foote cited figures of $180 million and $4 million for government spending on post-secondary education and scholarships, respectively.

The students, agitated by Premier Brian Tobin’s failure to appear at the rally (he was attending the premier’s meeting in Quebec), were disinclined to listen as the minister described the high costs associated with free tuition; her voice was drowned out by the chanting of, “Education is a right!” and “Grants not loans!”

The demonstration culminated with a sit-in in the lobby of the Confederation Building, then a short occupation of the hallway outside the offices of the Department of Education.

Allison North, chairperson of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Students, described the turnout as phenomenal.

Impressive too, according to Ms. North, was the wide range of people who participated in and supported the Day of Action. With such a response, she said government cannot help but take notice.

“As long as we deny government the opportunity to drive wedges between us, we have a fighting chance - and that’s exactly what we did, and what we’ll continue to do,” she said.