The streets of downtown Halifax were full of red and black placards Wednesday as hundreds marched to Province House.
Students, parents, MLAs and…puppets?
“Stephen McNeil and his cash cow” towered above the plodding crowd. While they may have roused smiles, they served as an emblem of the anger many expressed towards the provincial government.
“Today students are making clear to the Liberal government that something needs to change because while in opposition, they made commitments to saying that they would see post-secondary education as different, and yet we aren’t seeing any investments in our youth, and our students,” said KSU president Michaela Sam.
Along with her position at King’s, Sam sits as the Nova Scotia chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. The federation organized Wednesday’s event, where almost 1,000 students came out from universities across the city. Similar marches were held across the country.
Sam said they calling for reduced tuition fees, an increase in university funding and demanding the student loan program in the province switch to a grant system.
Newfoundland and Labrador will be starting the swap from loans to grants in August. Emma Graveson, a King’s student, is encouraged to see change in another Atlantic province. Still, she thinks similar change in Nova Scotia is far off.
“I honestly don’t think this one protest will do anything after the Dal Divest protest since they didn’t change anything after and that was disappointing,” Graveson said. “But it’s nice to see so many students coming together and that this is an important enough issue that we will continue to lobby.”
John Hutton is a fifth-year Dalhousie student. He also sits as a student representative on the the school’s Board of Governors. He said Truro MLA Lenore Zann’s appearance and support at the protest was a “great victory.” Zann took to the legislature steps and gave a supportive speech about free tuition.
“I expect this (protest) to go on the media. I expect to start a conversation across the province. I expect the government to notice that students are not idle and that students want to see change, and that means prioritizing education,” said Hutton.
The average student debt in Nova Scotia hit $30,200 in 2010. With climbing tuition fees, money was on the minds of many protestors.
“I think it’s ridiculous that you have to choose between either paying to go to school, or paying to live on your own and support yourself without having to ask the government for the thousands and thousands of dollars,” says Kaitlynn Pecknold, a Saint Mary’s University student.
Many students who attended the protest including Hutton, Sam and Pecknold will be graduating with debt. Some anticipated as much as $60,000. Hutton said he’ll graduate in May with about $10,000 in debt. And he’s not about to give up the fight.
“Today is not the end, we want 365 days of action to keep up the pressure and finally win.”
Check out the Watch’s social media coverage of the day here.