Premier Ford says he only wants ‘Ontario students’ at medical schools

Click to play video: 'Internal government fight over tuition increase'
Internal government fight over tuition increase
RELATED: Confidential government documents, obtained by Global News, revealed Ontario Premier Doug Ford shut down internal recommendations to raise tuition rates for college and university students. Colin D'Mello has the story. – Feb 27, 2024

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he doesn’t want to see international students the taking places of local applicants at Ontario medical schools, claiming he wants to put local applicants first.

At an event on Wednesday, where the premier re-announced plans for a medical school in the Greater Toronto Area, Ford was asked about struggles retaining medical graduates in the province.

“That is my number one pet peeve,” Ford replied, suggesting many Ontario students are also struggling to find domestic places and heading off to the Caribbean, Ireland and Australia to study.

Ford said he had been told that roughly 18 per cent of students at Ontario colleges and universities are international students.

“Get rid of the 18 per cent,” Ford said. “I’m not being mean, but I’m taking care of our students, our kids first.”

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After the story was published, Ford’s office clarified the premier was only talking about medical schools and not colleges and universities in general.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles criticized Ford for his comments.

“The Premier’s comments were wildly disrespectful to the thousands of students and internationally trained physicians with experience from across the world stuck waiting for a residency spot so they can finally practice in our province,” she wrote in a statement.

“He is telling skilled physicians from around the world looking to build a life in Ontario that they’re simply not welcome here.”

Colleges and universities have increasingly relied on international students since the Ford government cut tuition fees by 10 per cent and then froze them at that rate in 2019. Leaders in the post-secondary sector have said international students — whose fees are uncapped — are being tapped to fill funding shortfalls.

The latest provincial budget showed colleges were expected to lose around $3 billion over the next two years, largely as a result of a decrease in the number of international students allowed under new federal rules.

An independent panel convened by the province recommended a tuition fee increase in Ontario and $2.5 billion in relief funding for colleges and universities. Instead, the government announced $1.3 billion for the sector and maintained the tuition fee freeze.

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“I want to support Ontario students and God bless everyone else coming to our country,” Ford said Wednesday.

“Someone from ABC country comes and pays a little more and I understand some of that money pays for the local students. Right now, I ask the minister — and I’ve been on this for a while — what is percentage? And it’s 18 per cent.”

Documents previously obtained by Global News also show the government has long been aware of an overreliance on international students by colleges and universities.

Most recently, in response to a strict federal cap on international students that cut Ontario’s allocation by roughly 50 per cent, the Ford government has throttled the number of out-of-country students allowed to attend public colleges.

Every university in the province was allowed to keep its allocation of international students at 2023 rates, apart from Algoma.

“I want 100 per cent Ontario students (to be) going to these universities,” Ford said.

“These kids — and I talk to a lot of the parents — they have to go to Ireland or they go to the Caribbean or they go to Australia or they go down to the United States. And guess what happens? They meet someone and they don’t come back home.”

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Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said an expansion of the number of primary care jobs in the province was part of her strategy to retain Ontario-trained doctors by increasing the number of places they can work.

“It means that wherever a new graduate wants to practise in the province of Ontario, there will be opportunities,” she said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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