Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed hope for an upcoming vote among college faculty that could end their nearly-month-long strike next week.
"There has been a call for a vote. We need to let that process unfold. We really need to let that happen," Wynne said Wednesday. "Our commitment is that we want those young people back in their classes as soon as possible."
The premier avoided choosing sides, but her remarks on the direct vote, which an employer can trigger once during a strike according to provincial legislation, butted up against the union's.
"It is nothing short of outrageous that the colleges have refused to continue bargaining and have instead called for a vote on their final offer, which contains serious concessions," said J.P. Hornick, who heads the faculty bargaining team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
"This is just a big power play by [the College Employer Council]," added OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas Tuesday.
Wynne described the end of the short-lived negotiations — they resumed last Thursday after more than three weeks of picket lines and before a sharp shut-down in talks this week — as a "breakdown in the relationship."
An online vote from the 12,000 striking faculty is set for Nov. 14-16.
Applications for Ontario's main student aid program shot up 20 per cent in 2017-18, according to the province. The deluge follows changes unveiled in 2016 to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) that allowed 210,000 full-time university and college students to enjoy free tuition in this school year as well as more flexible repayment parameters, the advanced education ministry said.
A young person from a family earning $180,000 a year or more is twice as likely to attend post-secondary institutions than one from a family earning between $30,000 and $40,000, according to Statistics Canada figures from 2013.
"That's just not okay," Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said, speaking to students alongside the premier at Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga. "We're wasting a lot of brain power by not making sure everybody has the education that they're capable of having."
Matthews and Wynne were on hand to announce that students can now start applying for OSAP, four months earlier than usual.
Undergraduate tuition fees in Ontario are the highest in the country, averaging more than $7,800 a year for full-time students in 2016-17, according to StatCan. Matthews said extra provincial funding helps balance that out, and highlighted caps on tuition increases at three per cent per year, imposed in 2016 and set to expire in 2019.