News / Ottawa

Ottawa students say strike may be over, but damage remains

Students hit by longest running college strike go back to class.

Lee Willis, a practical nursing student in his final year at Algonquin College, isn't sure whether or not he will be able to afford his mortgage payments, as many questions about the semester remain unanswered.

Dave Chan / For Metro

Lee Willis, a practical nursing student in his final year at Algonquin College, isn't sure whether or not he will be able to afford his mortgage payments, as many questions about the semester remain unanswered.

“All this strike has done is hurt me,” said Lee Willis, a practical nursing student at Algonquin College, a couple of hours before premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the government would legislate college faculty back to work. 

At that point most of the anger, in conversation and online, had become nondescript—neither teachers, nor the administration, were guiltless; everyone was to blame for a strike that had left Willis feeling, in his words, “hopeless.”

His education, he said was “being squandered at [that] point.” 

By Monday, Willis and the rest of the 500,000 college students in Ontario had learned that classes would resume Tuesday.

Students say they don’t know what is going to happen next. 

“If I have to go back in September, that’s a whole year of my life I have to shift back again,” said Mitch Stewart, another practical nursing student. “I’m 27. I’m ready to start my career. Like, I feel for those who, maybe this is their last semester, and maybe they have a job lined up. That career they had lined up needs to be put on hold.” 

Algonquin College has devised a plan to make up for the lost five weeks that will see students in class until December 22, returning on January 2 and losing their February reading week.

Willis had nothing nice to say about that plan, and said that “it really feels like [the colleges are] trying to wash their hands of this.” 

On Monday, the province announced students affected by the strike would be eligible for up to $500 in reimbursement for any costs incurred during the strike.

Willis simply doesn’t know how to make the math work. He doesn’t know if he will have to take more time away from the workforce to continue school, and if he does, how he will make that work.

“If I can get five hundred bucks from the college, that’s great. But it’s still not going to cover a mortgage payment,” he said. 

Willis simply doesn’t know how to make the math work. He doesn’t know if he will have to take more time away from the workforce to continue school, and if he does, how he will make that work. “If I can get five hundred bucks from the college, that’s great. But it’s still not going to cover a mortgage payment,” he said.

Before the back-to-work legislation was announced, he said he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to continue his education without selling his house. He was struggling with his mental health too, because without school resources, he couldn’t afford to see a therapist.

He barely puts any hope in that offer, either. “By the time and money does get to you, if they don’t ‘run out of money’”—he clarifies, over the phone, that he is putting that in quotations—”it’s going to be pennies.”

Stewart said he is trying not to dwell on the specifics, put his head down and get back to work. "We'll figure it out," he said. Practical nursing students have something of a hard deadline, with their registration exams taking place in August every year. "I don't want to go back in September. If we did restart the semester and go back in January, it would still probably be too tight."

He did have lingering questions about what the strike would mean for his clinical and class hours—answers he won't get until Tuesday, when he shows up to his placement.

"It's going to be an abolute nightmare in terms of logistics," he said.

While he’s ultimately happy to be going back, Willis seemed to have lost complete faith in the process. 

“I’m going back to class, but I have no love for the colleges or the teachers. [...] The whole way that this has been handled, in my opinion, so far, has been a total debacle,” he said. “It’s been poorly handled on both sides. It looks like two children fighting over a toy.” 

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