O'Neill questioned by politicians, mocked by students

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A "flash mob" was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students to protest O'Neill's recommendations regarding universities. (Photo Credit: Mick Côté)

Tim O'Neill came face to face with images of himself on Tuesday before being cross-examined by MLAs about his report on the future of universities in Nova Scotia.

About 20 students sported masks of O'Neill's face and publicly denounced the economist's report during the morning rush hour on Barrington Street.

"We're outside Government Place to say we're shut out," said Gabe Hoogers, Nova Scotia's representative for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). "Inside, Tim O'Neill is being interviewed by the labour committee of government. Students aren't involved in any process that has to do with tuition or our universities."

O'Neill released a report in September suggesting that the government consider increasing tuition fees, raising or eliminating the cap on student loans, and merging some of the province's 11 universities.

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O'Neill answers questions from the Standing Committee on Human Resources. (Photo Credit: Mick Côté)

O'Neill was under pressure inside too. Politicians quizzed him about the suggestions his report recommends.

The Liberal MLA for Bedford-Birch Cove, Kelly Regan, expressed her concern about what a tuition increase would mean for the average student in Nova Scotia.

"What we want is to have our students being able to come out and participate in the economy and not spend their whole 20s and early 30s trying to pay back their student loans," said Regan.

Leonard Preyra, New Democrat MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, said the government only has a certain amount of money to spend.

"How do we get the best bang for our buck, especially as it relates to ensuring access to those who need it the most," said Preyra.

When the government releases an official response to the O'Neill report, its first priority will be about access for those who want to attend university, he said.

During the meeting the topic of how universities should be funded was addressed, but there was no mention of how universities should spend that money.

Preyra said that a regular memorandum of understanding -- the document which outlines the agreement between the government and universities -- may be too restricted for the matter.

It remains unclear what action the government will take to address changes within O'Neill's suggested post-secondary education system.

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