The joys of intramurals

With summer fading away, exercise plans and the urge to stay in shape is likely to fade with it. Intramurals can help to fill that ‘fitness’ space on your schedule, but there’s much more to be had from competing than simply getting exercise.

University of Toronto’s Intramural Sports Program organizes over 700 regular-season games and over 100 playoff games annually. It has more than 10,000 participants and is associated with 26 different colleges or faculties at U of T, from the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses to St. George campus colleges and professional faculties such as Pharmacy, Dentistry, Medicine, and Law.

The Intramural Program offers a variety of sports for students to participate in, with six co-ed leagues, nine men’s leagues, and eight women’s leagues. The program also includes nine tournaments for sports such as broomball, European handball and squash. There are also two summer leagues and Tri-Campus leagues, where the three U of T campuses compete against each other in a variety of sports.

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The program has a long and rich history with leagues having begun as early as the 1890s. A number of prestigious trophies — some over 100-years-old — are contested within the program each year.

The Mulock Cup is one of many such trophies steeped in history. Awarded to the championship-winning men’s rugby team, the trophy is the oldest in Canada to be competed for without interruption. It was donated to the University by the Athletic Directorate in honour of Sir William Mulock, the Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1894.

“To be honest, I never knew the Mulock Cup has the history it’s got,” admitted Kenny Wong, the third-year captain of the St. Michael’s College rugby team. “Looking back on it, it’s a lot of history, a lot of tradition, and certainly something a lot of the colleges take a lot of pride in.”
University students have been competing against each other in numerous other sports for decades, and many of the participants are proud to be involved in intramurals and to continue the tradition of representing their college or faculty in friendly athletic competition.

“I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing program,” said Taryn Grieder, a PhD student in medical science, who has been involved in seven different intramural leagues throughout her 12 years as a student. “I’m honoured to be captain of a variety of SGS teams and relish the leadership role … Sometimes I think that intramural sports is my part-time job since I play so many!”

At a school with such a large and diverse student body intramurals provide an opportunity for students to build friendships outside of the classroom. “[Intramurals] have definitely allowed me to get to know people who I probably wouldn’t hang out with otherwise,” said Wong. “Graduate students, alumni, younger guys … it’s a great place to meet people outside of your normal social circle.”

The Intramural Program appeals to students who live on campus as well as those who commute. “The schedule is not bad, especially for rugby … It’s easy to drive down [for games],” said Kavinda Senanayake, a fourth-year commuter student in his second year as a part of the SMC rugby team. “It’s a chance to meet new people. It’s something different. I never used to play rugby.”

The program also helps students who feel that their program of study limits their opportunities to meet new people. One such case is Tina Sing, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry. “Graduate school, it’s a little bit unique,” she said. “I’m in my lab all the time; I don’t really have classes so it’s a good way to meet people outside of your faculty.”

The staff of the Intramural program at U of T are always looking for input from students. Assistant Manager of the Intramural Program, Mohsin Bukhari, invites students to “come to our office [at the Varsity Pavilion Centre] and bring … your ideas.”

“[Intramurals are] free, which I think is really cool and that’s not always the case at other universities,” noted Sing. “It provides [students] with an opportunity to go outside, be active, and meet other students which I think is really important while you’re in university.
“I think it’s good to sign up for things like intramurals, get some exercise, and meet a bunch of people you probably wouldn’t interact with otherwise.”.

The Intramural Sports Program at U of T has something for everyone. For over 100 years, it has enriched the experiences of thousands of students and it continues to grow every year.
“I don’t think I could love the Intramural Program at U of T any more. We are very fortunate as students to be able to partake in it, as some schools don’t have such an awesome variety of activities,” said Grieder. “I’ve met some of my best friends and also developed stronger friendships with people from my lab through intramurals.”

For more information on the different U of T intramural leagues and their history, as well as photos, scores, and schedules, visit

How intramurals work…

Involvement in intramurals at U of T is based on your college or faculty. To get involved with a team, get in touch with the intramural representative for your college or faculty, who will then put you in touch with the captain of the team in question.
For some sports, leagues have up to three divisions: Division I, Division II, and Open Division. The Open Division is open for entrants to form a team of their own and sign up; generally this division only exists in sports with larger leagues.
Depending on the number of teams, leagues have one or more game per team per week with regular-season games determining who advances to the playoffs. The playoffs are single-elimination tournaments.

The brain rules with an iron fist

The brain is an intricate piece of machinery with billions of neurons that constantly interpret abstract information from the external world. In a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the UK and Switzerland have linked self-control to the interaction between two neuronal networks in the prefrontal cortex. The researchers identified behavioural responses to specific social situations by disrupting the brain using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and then using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for mapping correlations between neural networks involved in decision-making and punishment. Independent of each other, the brain imaging and brain stimulation methods are not able to determine causal mechanisms between the prefrontal brain regions. The current study fuses these methodologies to harness their synergy. Paired with fMRI, rTMS not only locates behavioural effects from the disruption of parts of the brain but also finds causal mechanisms in that task-related activity of the disrupted region. The experiment involved disrupting regions associated with complex planning, emotions, and reasoning using rTMS and then having study participants play an ultimatum game. The game is essentially a bargaining problem in which players are given an amount of money to distribute with other players. The proposer offers to split the total with the responder who can then accept or reject this offer. If accepted, the players both receive the bargained amount, and if rejected, neither receives anything. Proposing unbalanced offers is seen as a norm violation in Western culture and was referred to as the baseline for fairness norms. The game was used to test the participants’ ability to reject normally unfair offers under altered circumstances. When players were disrupted on the right side of their head, they were able to judge whether a deal was unfair but were more likely to accept the offer anyway. Compared to the control group the participants seemed unable to resist self-gratification even while they knew it to be anti-social or deviant behaviour. It may be the case that cortical areas that render us unable to feel negative emotions towards what we consider unfair makes us much more likely to accept self-gratification. This would signify that the development and association of these emotions with social interaction is a vital part in delaying self-gratification and allowing cooperation with others.

Self-control is an essential virtue for a society that needs its citizens to be capable of delaying self-gratification in favour of social norms. In philosophy, psychology, and bargaining theory, self-control is necessary for the formation of agreements because agreements involve someone invoking a temporary loss in exchange for future benefit. Society is built upon these types of repeated interactions: the exchange of our resources to coordinate better outcomes. Civilization, to this end, depends on the delay of self-gratification.

But it is not enough for a better outcome to exist to make it real. Rules maintain these interactions, and the formation of rules must be related to some cortical processes. Drawing on neurobiology, the researchers in this study have not only searched for neural networks expected to be involved in allowing delay of self-gratification but also the rudiminentary cognition involved in the formation of social coordination.

The study faces some limitations by relying on the ultimatum game model since it is a specific type of social interaction with strict assumptions that may not be realistic. Even if we accept the model, inferring preferences from observable behaviour can be problematic — our choices may not necessarily reflect our desires.

Hopefully, these researchers’ findings may be used to explain the implications of brain damage for social deviance and to illustrate the therapeutic use of non-invasive rTMS in the treatment of the persistent antisocial and aggressive behaviours found in some types of psychiatric cases.

The 100 series: Meet Jeffrey Kopstein

Dr. Jeffrey Kopstein, one of the professors behind POL101, feels like he’s on display when he lectures in Convocation Hall.

“It’s kind of like being in a Roman colosseum, but good thing students are better behaved than the audience in ancient Rome!” jokes Kopstein, as he sits cross-legged in his office at the Centre for Jewish Studies in Sidney Smith Hall.

The course is attended by around 1200 students every lecture and although it is about political science, the class’s topic of conversation sometimes drifts elesewhere.

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“One time, somebody brought a puppy to class. Of course, I wanted my students to like me and the last thing I wanted was to be portrayed as was a puppy hater. I tried to let it go but the puppy was being pretty uncooperative. In the end, I had to tell the student to give it to someone outside the lecture,” he says.

Bizarre scenarios like these aside, Kopstein says that teaching in front of a large audience is a stimulating experience. To keep such a large group interested, he uses humour in an effort to get the students to see him in a friendlier and less intimidating way.

“The big secret that students don’t necessarily know is that professors learn more from their colleagues and their students than their students learn from them.”

U of T, he explains, has professors that are at the cutting edge of new ideas within their fields. In his department, he is lucky to have fantastic colleagues that can help. Students also help by simply being in lecture and reacting to the material.

After covering a point in a certain way, for example, Kopstein can tell from the students’ facial expressions what works and what doesn’t. If the way he has taught something is not suitable, he modifies his teaching method for next class.

The new course, which was only created last year, has been taught by Kopstein since its beginnings. “I get to help shape the way so many first-year students get to think about politics. What I teach them will stick with them for the rest of their careers, maybe even the rest of their lives,” he says.

He emphasizes that the University of Toronto is filled with very intelligent students that may have read the material beforehand. His job is to try to unsettle their opinions and allow them to read the works of great scholars with an open mind.

Not only does he enjoy teaching students, he enjoys meeting them as well. Kopstein is happy to chat anywhere, whether grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon or meeting a student on a trip to Romania.

“To get through these big lectures, it’s really important to make that effort to get to know your professor. I love meeting my students and I wish they came to my office hours more,” he remarks.

Kopstein also tries to get students in his big classes to ask questions. In his lectures, he dedicates 45 minutes to lecturing and 15 minutes to asking questions. In such a large group, the old cliché of other people having the same question is, statistically speaking, almost certain.
Kopstein says that he understands how it is to be a freshman and recommends students ask questions to help clarify lecture material and build public speaking skills.

“I went to Berkeley at the University of California, and I was a first-year student once too,” he recalled. “It took me a while to overcome my intimidation, but after I did, it really helped. First year students need to keep in mind that our job, as professors, is to be less intimidating and more open.”

Kopstein is also Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies. In his role, he focuses on questions about ethnic violence, and specifically on the politics behind the Holocaust. He bases most of his published research on this topic and draws conclusions from his work to present in his lectures. He emphasizes that the only way to prevent political upheaval is to understand it from a scholarly point of view.

“This course is like a buffet. Students are able to come up and try different types of foods and see which ones they like enough to go back for seconds.”

The wealthy voter subsidy

Stephen Harper’s Progressive Conservative government is set to scrap the per-vote subsidy. The subsidy, instituted by the Chrétien Liberals as a concomitant to their proscription on corporate and union donations to political parties, allocates federal parties about $2 per year for every vote they won in the last election.

The subsidy, according to Harper, is responsible for the frequent elections with which he has been plagued. The other political parties, it seems, remain viable on the strength of their popular support “whether they raise any money or not.” “The war chests are always full for another campaign,” Harper opines. “You lose one [election]; [and]immediately in come the [per-vote subsidy] cheques and you are ready for another one, even if you didn’t raise a dime.” Whats more, the subsidy is manifestly unjust, he assures us, because: “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to support political parties that they don’t support” through public funding.

What Harper shrewdly forgets to mention amid such righteous pronouncements, is the other type of public subsidy which political parties receive — a subsidy which overwhelmingly benefits the Conservative Party — and which he does not plan on eliminating. When a private citizen makes a donation to a Canadian political party, he or she receives a tax credit refunding up to 75 per cent of his or her donation, $650 is returned on the max donation of $1275. That means that when a conservative voter donates, say, $400 to Harper’s party, the PC gets the full $400 but the donor only pays $100 — the other $300 is paid for by the general tax pool. Unlike the per-vote subsidy, which awards money in proportion to popular support, this subsidy awards public money based upon how wealthy, and hence how capable of donating, each parties’ supporters are.

If Harper really believed that “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to support political parties that they don’t support” then he would eliminate the tax refund (which forces taxpayers of all political affiliations to subsidize individual donations) and leave the per-vote subsidy, which provides $2 for every voter who shows support for a given party by voting for it. Such a move is inconceivable, however, as the Conservatives, having the wealthiest constituents, receive far more private donations (and thus get more ‘support from tax-payers who don’t support it’) than the Liberals and NDP combined.

By eliminating the per-vote subsidy Harper is not acting on any principle; he is strategically removing a specific type of public funding (one which benefits all parties equally and democratically) while leaving in place another type of public funding (one which privileges parties with wealthy supporters — his most of all.)

As the PC’s fundraising website proudly states, “The Conservative Party of Canada is a Registered Political Party and your contribution in any one year may entitle you to generous political tax credits on your next tax return.” For the wealthy, this is true. They can give up to $1275 to the Conservative Party (which provides them, and the corporations they manage, lucrative tax-cuts) while actually paying only $625 the rest being publicly subsidized. The refund, however, does not come until next year’s tax-return, so it is basically unavailable to the majority of Canadian workers who live pay-cheque to pay-cheque, although their tax-dollars still subsidize the political donations of the wealthy.

Eliminating the per-vote subsidy will not strengthen Canadian democracy but will make the support of wealthy individuals even more important than it already is and devalue the political power of the poor even further. The result is not hard to predict. Policy will be catered to the wealthy, with little regard for the poor — that means corporate tax-cuts paid for by service cuts.

A better way to reform Canada’s party-finance system would be to eliminate the tax-refund that forces the general public to pay more than 50 per cent of any donation made by a given individual — or, better yet, eliminate private donations altogether — and increase the per-vote subsidy to make up the difference. This would make the ability of political parties to campaign effectively commensurate with their numerical support, not the wealth of their constituents.

U of T raises awareness for mental health

Inspired by a national public education campaign, Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) at U of T took place October 2–9.

Originally begun to raise awareness around mental illness, its prevalence on campus, and the stigma around mental health, the program has achieved such great success that the university has declared October Mental Illness Awareness Month (MIAM) on campus.

“For several years now, we have broadened that focus to include an emphasis on the importance of positive mental health, and to expand our programming beyond the first week to the full month of October,” said Judy Vorderbrugge, Community Health Coordinator at U of T’s health promotion programs.

“According to a 2009 survey, 36 per cent of U of T students report that stress negatively impacts their academic performance, 25 per cent say that anxiety has had the same impact, and 15 per cent say that depression has negatively impacted their academics,” Vorderbrugge said.

While members of certain ethnicities and genders are not specifically prone to this illness, common stressors have been identified in the student population.

Psychology professor Dax Urbszat noted that “there are common stressors that many students will experience to some degree, such as new autonomy and independence,” which greatly affect academic performance. According to Urbszat students tend to demonstrate these difficulties through missed tests, self-handicapping (providing an excuse for failure) and procrastination.

However, Urbszat said that speaking about one’s mental health can be the first step towards recovery.

“Talking about it needs to be something that is okay. We must strip away this idea of stigma,” said Urbszat. “To overcome stigmatization is first to educate people so that they can understand. Second is for people who suffer from mental illness to overcome their fear of sharing this information.”

MIAW and MIAM are the catalysts for this dialogue at U of T.

“Events like these are really about trying to start the conversation and to get people talking about the issues. I think that this event did that in the short term, [now] the challenge is to find a way to sustain the conversation,” Vorderbrugge said.

Many students agree that the conversation surrounding this issue is important.
Recent graduate Asante Haughton, who experienced depression during his early adult years, said that confiding in a close friend or family member and trying to seek professional help is the best way to address mental illness.

“The sooner people get treated during their earlier experience the better chance they have to be depression free for the rest of their life,”said Karen Liberman, former Executive Director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

“People who have depression in their adulthood are more likely to suffer economically and are less likely to be able to stay at work productively over periods of time,” she added.
U of T provides on-campus services to help students treat these illness.

“There are services on campus such as Accessibility Services and Counselling and Psychological Services that can help,” said Erin H., a psychology major and student now in recovery from an illness.

Point/counterpoint: Liberal coalition

The Liberals should form a coaliton with the PCs
David Woolley

Bear with me, because what you are about to hear may sound like one of the most blasphemous and inconceivable ideas that will ever enter your mind, an event that, were it to happen, may lead to the end of the world as we know it — human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! Since our recent election resulted in a minority government, I propose that the Liberals, in an effort to get legislation passed smoothly and efficiently, form a coalition with the Progressive Conservatives.

Hold on! Before you tear up the paper, hear me out: this is an idea that could be ideal for both parties.

We are in a strange world politically not only in Canada, but around the world. In Britain, the Liberal Democrats are the junior partners in coalition with the Conservative Party, and in Ottawa, a leaderless NDP sits as one of the largest opposition parties in Canadian history. The global economy is struggling its way out of a massive global downturn and all jurisdictions are being called upon to implement austerity measures. These bizarre circumstances may make it the right time to try something revolutionary — but utterly sensible.

To begin with, for a man who claimed to be a real change from the status quo, Tim Hudak ran on a platform that was surprisingly similar to McGuinty’s. On the big issues — job creation, healthcare and education — Hudak’s positions were, for the most part, indistinguishable from the premier’s. Add to that the penchant for parties, once in power, to drift towards the centre and you are left with the realization that a Hudak government would not have been radically different from the McGuinty one it might have replaced. Partisan attacks have been so visceral and personal because on policy there is little difference to demonstrate.

Politically, it will be very hard for McGuinty to maintain an air of legitimacy as a Premier for all Ontarians when his party holds virtually no seats from rural ridings. Hudak’s PCs on the other hand are almost exclusively rural in their representation. If legitimacy in governing is to be desired — as one would imagine it would be — then this divide must be bridged.

Secondly, a coalition puts both leaders in a very comfortable position. McGuinty silences his greatest opposition by bringing them into the fold, leaving only 17 NDP MPs to be Official Opposition to a 90 seat—strong Liberal—PC government. This means that on the major issues, McGuinty will face no gridlock to getting his measures passed. However, this will not, necessarily, be a bad thing for Hudak. Four years from now, come election time, he can claim that any winning policy succeeded because it a) was either a PC proposal or b) was subject to PC reforms which made it successful.

Yet at the same time, Hudak can claim that any particularly unpopular or unsuccessful project was a bill pushed through the coalition by the Liberals against the will of the PCs. And if they didn’t vote in a way that suggests this to be the case, Hudak can shrug it off as a vote in which his hands were tied — claiming the future of the coalition rested on it and Hudak would have rather seen an imperfect Liberal—PC plan than a disastrous Liberal—NDP coalition that would come to pass if he broke ties with the Liberals.

Finally, it would give Hudak and his MPs serious governing experience. The coalition’s cabinet would have major posts filled by PCs, including a choice cabinet position for Hudak himself. This would mean that any Hudak—led PC government in the future would not seem like an untested commodity but a safe and responsible alternative — you could change premiers without risking an untrained government.

Whether or not the leaders take up this idea depends on a number of variables: the personal egos of the leaders; the practical divide between the farthest right members of the PC caucus and the farthest left of the Liberals; the breaking of centuries of political tradition by forming a coalition between the two largest parties in parliament; as well as the popular response to such a move from Ontarians. All this considered, such a move is improbable but by no means impossible and should be considered seriously by the two leaders. Four years from now, come the next election, the Liberals and the PCs would both emerge from a coalition ideally positioned to portray themselves as serious contenders for the provincial government.

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The Liberals should form a coalition with the NDP
Patrick Baud

Despite a truly soporific campaign, the provincial election held earlier this month in Ontario yielded an interesting result. The vote left the governing Liberals one seat short of a majority at 53 seats. Last week, Liberal leader and current Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his intention to form a government without seeking to form a coalition or to conclude another kind of accord with one of the two opposition parties.

Instead, McGuinty hopes to negotiate the passage of individual laws with the opposition. This may be the ideal strategy for the Liberals, but it certainly is not for Ontarians.

Rather than governing on an issue-by-issue basis, the Liberals should seek to make a deal with the New Democrats.

While it would be unreasonable for them to form a coalition given the near majority held by the Liberals, New Democratic leader Andrea Horwath could agree to support the Liberals on the budget and a few key bills for two or three years. In exchange for their support, the Liberals would agree to modify their policies, and adopt new ones in certain key areas. This would allow the Ontario government to function effectively and to avoid the kind of legislative deadlock that plagued the federal parliament during Stephen Harper’s early years as prime minister.

Such an accord is not without precedent in Ontario nor even for the New Democrats. After the 1987 provincial election, then leader of the New Democrats, Bob Rae agreed to support David Peterson’s Liberals to form the government in exchange for some policy concessions laid out in a formal agreement. An informal agreement would also be possible. After the 1975 election, then leader of the New Democrats, Stephen Lewis, agreed not to defeat the Progressive Conservatives under Bill Davis in exchange for the introduction of rent control legislation.

It would be better for the Liberals and the New Democrats to sign a formal agreement publicly so that they can be transparent about the purpose and limits of the deal. The focus should be on the economy, which was where both parties devoted much of their energy during the election campaign. Fortunately, both parties agree broadly on the objectives of economic policy, if not necessarily on the means which should be used to achieve them. During the current climate of economic uncertainty, it is crucial that the government seek to encourage growth and to reduce Ontario’s sizeable deficit.

While the specific policies that would be used to achieve these goals would have to be negotiated between the two parties, there were some hints offered during the election campaign of what such an approach would look like. For instance, rather than lowering corporate taxes across the board, the Liberals could agree to focus tax cuts on small and medium-sized businesses, which the New Democrats advocated during the campaign. Since these businesses create most of the jobs in Ontario, it should be the government’s priority to ensure that they can do so.

Similarly, the New Democrats could lend their support to the Liberal proposal to create a grant that would reduce tuition fees for college and university programs by one third for most families. This is not to say, however, that there would be complete agreement between parties nor that there should be. They differ, for instance, on the role that the government should play in protecting Ontario industries. Adopting a “Buy Ontario” policy, as the New Democrats propose, would weaken the competitiveness of Ontario businesses and thereby weaken Ontario’s ability to export. However, these differences should not be used as an excuse for the Liberals and New Democrats not to work together to effectively govern Ontario.

The alternative is either years of legislative deadlock as the Liberals refuse to compromise or years of mediocre, timid government, left unable to make decisions to safeguard the future of Ontario. While the Liberals and the New Democrats certainly do not agree on all matters, they agree on what are the most important issues facing Ontario and can surely find a way to take action on them. If they cannot, then Ontario will not be well positioned to deal with the challenges that continued economic uncertainty may bring.

News in brief

Feminist nun’s controversial 17th century letters translated
Iconic feminist nun Arcangela Tarabotti’s translated letters are being released by the University of Toronto early next year.

Tarabotti, a Venetian-born rebel Benedict nun, was forced into a convent at the age of 11 — a custom for rich Italian families. This experience led her to pen six controversial books denouncing the Italian patriarchy, such as “Paternal Tyranny” and “Convent Life as Inferno.”
Meredith Ray, a University of Delaware Italian professor and co-editor of the book, told to the Toronto Star that Tarabotti refused to crumble under criticism to write her novels and braved the risk of execution.

Following the U of T release, the Toronto Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies and the publishing house Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages, have decided to publish “Arcangela Tarabotti: Letters Familiar andFormal,” an English-translated compilation of Tarabotti’s letters.

— Marie-Violette Bernard
With files from the Toronto Star.

University of Toronto tops world rankings
The University of Toronto is currently the top university in Canada, placing first in the country and 19th worldwide, according to the annual Times Higher Education ranking.

Though ranked 17th last year, U of T is maintaining its lead over UBC and McGill that are further behind at 22nd and 28th. Based on categories like quality of teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook, U of T’s comprehensive score is down 0.4 per cent from last year’s scores.

The University is still the sole Canadian school to hold a top 20 spot in what The Globe and Mail called the “most influential global rating systems.”

“I am delighted to see our dedicated faculty, and those of many sister institutions, recognized for their inspiring teaching and world-leading research,” said U of T’s President, David Naylor, in a university-issued press release. U of T has maintained its top 20 status for two years.

— Jennifer Gosnell
With files from The Globe and Mail and Times Higher Education.

Zombies injured on Resident Evil set
Twelve actors dressed as zombies were taken to several Toronto hospitals with non-life threatening injuries last Tuesday after suffering a fall from a raised platform on the local set of Resident Evil: Retribution.

Injuries ranged from bruising to cracked ribs, but paramedics who responded to the accident call had difficulties differentiating between legitimately injured actors and those who were simply in costume.

Describing the scene of the accident, police Sergeant Andrew Gibson said, “It did kind of catch us off-guard when we walked in.”

“I was trying to figure out where the blood was coming from and what blood was real blood,” recalled EMS responder Nicole Rodrigues.

The Ministry of Labour has initiated an investigation into the accident.

— Mayce Al-Sukhni
With files from the Toronto Star, BBC and CBS.

Renewing our democracy

Preliminary figures shows that only 49.02 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot. For the first time in Ontario history, less than half cast a ballot to decide who would form the next government. This means more people essentially chose “none of the above.” The emphasis on “registered” is important because there are thousands of working-class citizens, so marginalized that they don’t even appear on the voter’s list (and to this we should add thousands of disenfranchised immigrants with “no status,” some of whom have lived here for decades.)

What are the implications of this massive abstinence? What does it tell us about the supposed “democratic” system in which we live?

For example, the Liberals, who gained only 37 per cent of the vote, have the right to govern this province with the votes of only about 18 per cent of the registered voters. If we take into account non-registered Ontarians we can see how small a mandate they really have.

So why is this the case? More voting options were offered this time than anytime in history. Internet voting was introduced in some parts. There was even “assistive voting technology” to help those with hearing and seeing impairments.

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“Educated” elites (or cynics of all types) like to tell us that this is due to the electorate’s ignorance that they don’t have a sense of “civic duty.”

I, however, would argue that the problem doesn’t lie with people but with the system.

Looking back at the platforms of main political parties during the Ontario elections, we should ask ourselves if there was a single one who offered real solutions to unemployment, our ailing economy, and prevailing social inequalities. The answer is none.

The NDP, the party that was built by workers and progressives to challenge the status quo didn’t offer much more either. Horwath, who was mostly unknown to people before the debate, promised “change that puts people first.” But her platform didn’t have much that was different from the parties of big business.

Looking at NDP’s platform, one actually wonders what Horwath meant by “change” since all she offered was the status quo. For solving the job crisis, she proposed to hire a ‘jobs commissioner,’ basically, another overpaid bureaucrat who could somehow beg the big business to please invest and “create jobs.” She suggested freezing already very high transit fares. For workers who drive, the NDP’s long-time policy of creating public auto insurance was abandoned (for the first time in recent history).

When it comes to areas where NDP has usually fared better (health care and education) again, nothing more than status quo was offered. In fact, the NDP promised an additional $53 billion investment in health over the next four years. That is $7 billion short of what is required to cover the current rate of increase in expenditures. An NDP government was going to cut health care by 2015.

And finally, no doubt, the most disappointing section of NDP’s platform was post-secondary education. Directly going against its own policy, again and again ratified at its conventions, the party promised a freeze on already skyrocketing tuition fees.

We can see that none of the parties — not even my very own NDP — offered policies that would stand up to the austerity agenda that the capitalist governments are offering around the world.

While I had many positive reactions when canvassing in this election, I felt sympathy with every door that was shut on me with every working-class person who told me “these politicians are all the same.”

After all, this is the true balance sheet of the bogus capitalist “democracy”: Three successive governments (NDP, Progressive Conservatives, Liberal) have carried through cuts and austerity, and today, none of them promises anything else. Besides, there is no accountability whatsoever. Once elected, there is no meaningful way people can participate in making decisions that determine the course of their lives. (let alone the fact that most important decisions are not taken in Queen’s Park but in the boardroom tables that none of us are invited to).

This system offers little avenue for any sort of political participation.

Previously in this newspaper, I asked a question: with the situation as it is can our system even be called “rule of the people”? When I wrote that article, back in December 2010, I also said that these are not just “far-left musings” and that “thousands of Canadians [are] asking themselves this question.”

I might have been proven correct because merely a few weeks after this dismal turnout, thousands around the country are planning to launch #occupymovements
similar to the one in New York. By taking aim at big corporations and banks, they show that they know very well where the power lies. They are voting with their feet.

It is the job of political activists, including those in the NDP, to offer a solution that people can rally around so they can abolish this non-participatory dictatorship of capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist system, where resources are owned collectively and people can rule directly through their own institutions.