Despite working part/full-time since I was 15 throughout all of my time as a student, and living as frugally as possible, the meagre stipend provided to me as a grad student has ensured that I live (and will continue to live) in poverty. I have experienced homelessness multiple times in the past and fear that with sky-rocketing costs of living - I will once again be forced to choose between paying rent and feeding myself. Recently, out of curiosity, I calculated how much we would be making per hour (I work 55-60 hours/week) based on our monthly stipend - this works out to about $5/hour. Let that sink in. We are skilled researchers, teachers, mentors, thinkers, writers, and labourers. In other countries (e.g., England) grad students are paid a living wage, don't pay tuition, and have 'normal' (reasonable) working hours. - i.e., they have the same rights that most other employees in Canada have. Wouldn't it be nice if student researchers were valued enough to have those rights here, too?
If graduate school funding was $35,000 Canadian per year for all students, how would that change your life? This would definitely be an improvement - but I'd be worried that by the time this change is made (which could be some time), it may be too late for many struggling students. Advocating for free tuition (starting asap) could be a great short-term solution while we wait for the elite to decide whether or not we deserve to be paid above the poverty-line.
I see no reason why grad students need to pay tuition at all - especially during semesters where no courses are being taken. Removing this ridiculous financial strain could allow for some vital wiggle-room in our budgets, as after tuition is paid, stipends are insufficient for even essential costs and emergencies. The idea that we shell out 1/3 of our income back to the institutions that profit off of our hard work is completely absurd. The top university administrators make 20 times what we do. We are the backbone of research - providing extensive labour and creativity that are ubiquitously exploited by the institutions we work for.
Additional comments: Although some great grad student unions exist - they are primarily for supporting our work as RAs, TAs, and instructors. We need support as students and as researchers as well!