Push for proxy power ahead of UTSU AGM

Students allege poor communication, inaccessible system

Push for proxy power ahead of UTSU AGM

For the second time in recent years, colleges, faculties, and student groups across campus are mobilizing to collect proxy votes for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The efforts come amidst criticism of the manner in which signatures on proxy forms are verified, and the amount of personal information required on the form.

The proxy system allows students who cannot attend the meeting in person to give their vote to another student who can attend the AGM, with each voter permitted to carry up to 10 proxy votes.

In order for the proxies to be valid, students wishing to carry proxies must pick up a proxy form in person from the UTSU or University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) office. Each form must be embossed with an official seal, and be completed legibly by the member looking to proxy a vote.

“A Number war”

Eric Schwenger, newly-elected president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UCLit) said that the proxy system is necessary in order to meet accessibility concerns and to provide students who cannot attend the meeting with the chance to vote.

However, Schwenger recognized that the system has its drawbacks. “The current system… becomes less of a matter of ensuring students can have their votes heard and more of a disproportionate proxy battle where the real issues are lost in a number war, which is a real shame,” he said.

Student leaders at Trinity College urged students to attend the AGM, and to proxy their votes to ensure their voices could still be heard if they could not attend. “We believe it is important for all students to be engaged in student government, particularly when there are decisions being made that have the potential to make a major impact on students,” said Tina Saban and Connor Anear, co-heads of Trinity College, in a joint statement.

Mathias Memmel, co-president of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) circulated a letter to all students of the Faculty of Music on October 14, informing them individually that the UTSU AGM was taking place and encouraging them to attend. “I also told them that a vote would take place that, should it pass, would see the college/faculty representation removed in favor of a structure that would manipulate representation on the UTSU and potentially misrepresent our constituency,” Memmel said.

“[The proxy system] has serious challenges in that it favours well-organized groups over actual student engagement,” said Ben Donato-Woodger, LGBTOUT public relations coordinator, adding: “We filled two proxy forms because we came on board rather last minute… We explained why it would give LGBTOUT members a better UTSU.”

“Neither the system nor the timeline” communicated by the UTSU

Memmel took multiple issues with the proxy system and said that he was unaware that the UTSU had released voter proxy forms, and that he found out two days before the deadline by chance via the UTSU website.

“Like the AGM itself, neither the system nor the timeline for proxy forms was communicated to us by the UTSU,” Memmel said.

Saban and Anear shared Memmel’s concerns about the period of time in which students were required to pick up the proxy form, collect signatures, and return the forum to the UTSU or UTMSU office. “Our greatest concern was that there was a fairly limited time to collect proxy votes,” Saban and Anear said, noting that the Thanksgiving break took up a portion of the proxy period.

“This limited time period, combined with the fact that students had to sign proxy forms in person and pick up and drop them off in person at the UTSU office, meant that students, particularly those who live off campus, had constraints placed on their ability to vote,” they added.

Yerusha Nuh, a member of the University Affairs Board, Governing Council, took issue with the delay in the dissemination of mass emails advertising the AGM. According to the UTSU’s bylaws, notice of the AGM must be provided to members 21 days in advance of the AGM via email. The Varsity obtained correspondence wherein Nuh expressed her concerns to Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president. Nuh also alleged that only a subset of the UTSU’s membership received emails about the AGM. In response, Bollo-Kamara stated that the UTSU does not have access to the membership list and needs to coordinate with the university in order to send out a mass email and said that she was unsure why only a subset of the membership received an email. The Varsity confirmed that emails pertaining to the AGM were sent out, but on different dates.

In an email to The Varsity, Bollo-Kamara said that the AGM was advertised in print media across campus, displayed on poster boards, social media, and on the UTSU website. “The UTSU put out the notice of the Annual General Meeting and the availability of proxy forms on September 30, the day after our Board of Directors chose a date for the AGM,” she said.

“Not openly accessible”

“The current proxy system [the UTSU] has is not openly accessible,” said Teresa Nguyen, president of the Engineering Society (EngSoc). Nguyen said that EngSoc proxies are available online for student convenience.

“If their elections needed to be online, why can’t their proxies? The Provost mentioned online is a key component of making things open and accessible,” she added.

Memmel echoed Nguyen’s concerns. “It should also be noted on the grounds of equity that providing proxy sheets via the UTMSU office — which I might add has a unique funding relationship with the UTSU — and not via other colleges [or] faculties is unfair… The existing voter proxy system and the requirement that a student register for the AGM, logistically prevents 50,000+ students from voting,” Memmel said.

Bollo-Kamara explained that the UTSU uses personalized forms signed out from their office to minimize the risk of fraudulent proxy collection, and to ensure that each student holding proxies is accountable for the signatures on it.

Nuh raised concerns with the amount of information that was specific to UTM. “How were UTM students supposed to know about the proxy procedures on the UTM campus if there was never any announcement made? Moreover, it is also unfair to St. George students as it is now open to interpretation whether UTM proxy forms were submitted according to the UTSU’s official procedures as there was no UTM-specific procedures in the first place,” Nuh said.

“Highly unnecessary” personal information required

According to Saban and Anear, several students also expressed concern that their phone number was required to proxy their vote. “This seems highly unnecessary and there was no explanation provided for it,” the Trinity heads said.

“The fact that students were required to list their library card number on the proxy form also created an unnecessary difficulty,” they added, remarking that the library card number is not explicitly listed on new TCards and that the proxy forms did not explain what the library card number was.

Bollo-Kamara stated that the information on the proxy forms is collected for security reasons, to verify identity and to minimize the risk of fraudulent proxy collection. “It is only used for the purpose of proxy verification, and then it is destroyed,” Bollo-Kamara said.

Proxy forms are verified by staff members who are bound to a privacy contract given to the UTSU by the university administration in order to access the UTSU’s membership list. Proxy forms are void if the proxy holder is not a member of the UTSU. Individual proxy votes are void if information is missing or incorrect, as stated on the proxy form.

Allegations of misinformation on both sides

Allegations have also surfaced that representatives of the UTSU have contacted clubs and course unions in a bid to increase the number of proxy votes in favour of the bylaw amendments. The Varsity received a report claiming that at least one course union on the St. George campus received messages saying that the UTSU will dissolve if the proposed bylaw amendments are not passed at this AGM.

Additionally, club executives at UTM have allegedly circulated information to their membership containing similar information.

Members of the UTSU executive, in turn, have alleged that people who do not have the full background have been disseminating false information, which they said causes confusion for students trying to understand the issues. Several information and consultation sessions among individual groups and divisions took place over the past week.

Woodsworth College, the UCLit, and LGBTOUT are among the colleges and student groups to have hosted such sessions. The UCLit and LGBTOUT invited members of the UTSU executive to speak at the open meetings.

Trinity College is set to hold its information session on Monday, October 27.

Memmel said that he corresponded with Bollo-Kamara regarding a meeting between the UTSU and the FMUA executive and claims that he never received a reply after suggesting that they meet in September.

Memmel criticized the early efforts to investigate alternative Board of Directors structures. “The Investigating Board Structures document produced by Nzube Ekpunobi [in] 2013 makes no recommendation of creating an identity-based structure in place of the college structure, yet this document is cited as being the rationale for the current proposal,” Memmel said.

The AGM is scheduled for 6 pm on October 29 in the OISE auditorium.

Health support precarious

Students question exhaustibility of birth control coverage, physiotherapy

Health support precarious

In the heart of midterm season, students are concerned about more than just papers and exam results. Though health care is frequently taken for granted, some students are finding it hard to access the care they need.

The University of Toronto has a network of insurance plans and service options available to students depending on their enrollment status, faculty and campus.

Full-time undergraduate students, professional faculty students, and Toronto School of Theology students at the St. George and Mississauga campuses are covered, by default, by a Green Shield Health insurance plan administered by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

Part time students are covered through the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), while UTSC students have a plan through their own students’ union.

International students are not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and are required to purchase the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).

According to May Nazar, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, said this is because international students have a temporary immigration status which puts them outside of the scope of the Ontario health system.

“It is the responsibility of individual colleges and universities to ensure that international students have a health insurance option,” Nazar said.

Uneven birth control coverage 

Many students cite access to safe, reliable birth control as a top health concern.

This has specifically been an issue for women looking to use a progesterone coated intrauterine device (IUD).

The device, which works by releasing the hormone progesterone from inside the uterus, is described by Toronto-based gynecology clinic Meridia Medical Group as “the safest form of birth control” in preventing pregnancy. However, it does not prevent sexually transmitted infections.

The progesterone-coated IUD costs around $420 and lasts five years. In the UTSU insurance plan, $250 per year is allowed for oral contraceptives and contraceptive device claims.

This is enough to cover more commonly used birth control methods such as the pill and the shot, because the cost of these methods is distributed over several years. The one-time cost of an IUD, however, means that the student must pay the difference between the insurance coverage and the cost of the device upfront.

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, president of the UTSU, said that contraception and reproductive health coverage is a crucial aspect of the UTSU plan, but that the $250 limit is a matter of compromise.

“The plan provides basic coverage for a number of procedures and services in order to meet the diverse needs of the membership while remaining affordable,” said Bollo-Kamara.

Jennife Poole, a third-year bioethics and health studies student, said that the plan’s limits constitute a notable omission, and that all methods of birth control should be evenly accessible. “Not everyone is the same; everyone has different lifestyles. It can be hard to take the pill every day,” she said.

Poole made the transition to the Depo-Provera shot after a recommendation from a physician at Health Services based on her lifestyle.

“You can’t pick and choose between which method is covered,” she added.

Erin Bionda, a third-year Rotman commerce student, echoed Poole’s remarks. She said that it is reassuring to take a pill every day, but it is not without its risks and sideeffects. “It can be a challenge to find a pill that works well with your body,” she said.

Bionda switched pill type three times due to side effects. She cited this as evidence of the importance of options.

Rachel Costin, public relations representative at the U of T Sexual Education Centre, said that the university has a responsibility to thoroughly take care of its students’ health needs, which includes providing a variety of birth control options.

“There are people who can’t take the pill because of side effects or can’t use the patch or anything like that…” Costin said.

“It would make them more responsible if they covered more than just the standard forms,” she added.

Athletic treatment a waiting game

Some students also cited rehabilitation therapy as an issue.

For Catelyn*, a fourth-year English specialist, the convenience of Athletic Centre (AC) physiotherapy sessions has been undermined by the burdensome process leading up to actual treatment.

Rehabilitation therapy at the AC is available on an unlimited basis for students who have paid their athletics incidental fees. For the 2014–2015 school year, that amount is $314.14.

When Catelyn went to University Health Services this September with a dislocated shoulder, she thought she could get a referral directly to the David L. MacIntosh Sports Medicine Clinic, which is associated directly with the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology.

However, she discovered that she wouldn’t receive physiotherapy treatment there until she consulted with a doctor at the same clinic.

The clinic has a mandate to treat sport-related injuries in the U of T community.

When Catelyn called the clinic, she was told it would take a month to get an appointment. Having used this route for physiotherapy treatment before, she decided it wasn’t worth the wait. “I knew from experience that after that appointment, it would probably take another month just to get to see a physiotherapist,” she said.

About one-third of the clinic’s therapy appointment times are set aside for varsity athletes.

Catelyn describes herself as fortunate for having been able to access treatment at a physiotherapy clinic off-campus. She has a private health insurance plan that covered the cost of this treatment.

Due to the closeness of the off-campus clinic, and the fact that the doctors readily accepted her referral from Health Services, Catelyn said she saw no advantage to using the university’s health system.  “It was so much easier,” said Catelyn of her off-campus health care experience.

For students that rely on the UTSU health insurance plan through Green Shield, however, this option may not be financially viable.

A session with a physiotherapist is covered up to $30 per visit under the UTSU plan, and is capped at 20 visits per year. A 60-minute session in downtown Toronto can cost $100 or more, leaving students to pay the rest out of pocket.

Even though athletics incidental fees cover treatment itself, the David L. MacIntosh Sports Medicine clinic can also prove expensive for students. There is a $60 annual administration fee, and summer membership is extra for those who aren’t in summer school.

Poole cited her reliance on the UTSU plan and her awareness of the AC’s services as major factors in her decision to seek treatment at the David L. MacIntosh clinic.

Poole started receiving treatment in the summer for a hip flex strain from running.

As she was not registered in summer courses, Poole had to purchase an AC membership for a $90 charge. She waited only a week for her initial appointment, but has since noticed that the volume of patients is higher in the fall semester.

Once connected with a physiotherapist, Poole said that the treatment was highly beneficial, and her physiotherapist was knowledgeable and professional. She also had no trouble scheduling enough appointment time. “There was a while where it was really bad so [my therapist] had me coming in two, three times a week,” said Poole.

According to Catelyn, the resources that the AC provides should be more easily available to students. “I think it is something that universities should be providing for their students.” She expressed concern that her own experience with physiotherapy on campus is reflective of a broader access problem.

*Name changed at student’s request.


Ministerial mandate letters released

Letter to Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities emphasizes job preparation, improved post-secondary education quality and accessibility

Ministerial mandate letters released

Three months after receiving a mandate from the people of Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne has issued mandate letters to ministers in her cabinet.

While such letters, which give ministers and their departments instructions going forward, have long been a part of Ontario political life, the events of September 25 were different.

The letters were published publicly for the first time, a move in line with Wynne’s emphasis on transparency.

Reza Moridi, a nuclear physicist who serves as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, was challenged by the premier to lead from the often-referenced “activist centre” while looking through the “lens of fiscal prudence” with an eye to a balanced budget by 2017–2018.

The letter centres on preparing young Ontarians for the job market through programs, giving more high school students job experience, and placing an increased emphasis on the trades, while also improving the quality and availability of post-secondary education across the board.

Moridi highlighted his government’s record on the issue of availability and affordability, pointing out that average student debt for four-year programs has declined by 20.9 per cent since 2000–2001.

“Ontario offers one of the most robust student assistance programs in Canada… Once all government supports are factored in, the students with the greatest need pay substantially less and virtually no student pays the full sticker price,” Moridi said.

When asked how he would follow through on the letter’s pledge to make Ontario “North America’s leading jurisdiction for talent, skills and training” and draw international students, the minister implied that the government’s plan would be sufficient to realize this goal.

“These goals will help us ensure our colleges and universities are providing quality and innovative programs that speak to their strengths as an institution, through differentiation,” he said.

Moridi also mentioned the Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Fund, another major part of the Liberals’ plan that aims to provide young Ontarians with access to investment and mentorship.

New Democratic Party (NDP) Training, Colleges and Universities critic Peggy Sattler saw it differently, and said that the government has not accounted for some of the logistical problems surrounding monetary assistance.

“We know the Ontario system of financial aid is overwhelmingly complex and difficult to navigate. To just assume students will figure out where to go to access which pots of financial aid creates more barriers for students already having to overcome barriers to access to post-secondary education,” Sattler said.

Ontario has the lowest per-student funding and the highest tuition fees in Canada.

On the jobs front, Sattler was also concerned that Wynne’s government will not do enough to crack down on unpaid internships, which have been an NDP priority since before the election.

For his part, Progressive Conservative Training, Colleges and Universities critic Garfield Dunlop saw the potential for fiscal issues and lamented a lack of specific dollar amounts in the letter. “[The biggest] problem we have today is funding levels. Where is the money coming from?” Dunlop said.

Dunlop also questioned the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability given their record on Ornge and the gas plant scandal.

Dunlop also said that publishing the mandate letter limited Moridi’s capacity for independent leadership. “It’s been dictated to him,” he said.

Glen Jones, professor of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and expert on federal and provincial university policy, looked on the administration’s goals more favourably.

“I think that the letter itself should be respected as a unique way of signaling government priorities emerging from the premier’s office and increasing transparency. We now know the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities’ marching orders from the premier — and this is the first time that these mandate letters have been released,” he said.

Jones also praised the Ontario Liberal government’s efforts to increase access to post-secondary education, saying they have the best record of any administration in four decades.

“I am not sure that there is much [for university students] to disagree with. The letter sets out a series of goals that have already been articulated by government, but it also identifies goals like access and student financial support as key priorities,” Jones added.

Other stated aims in the letter include transferring funds from the least to most effective employment training programs and working with employers to assess the job readiness of graduates.

Stabbing reported at origami club event

Students could face charges following violent altercation at F.O.L.D.

Two unnamed male students were reportedly involved in a violent altercation at a F.O.L.D. (Flying with Origami, Learning to Dream) event on October 10.

Scissors were reportedly used as weapons in the altercation.

The event was a modular workshop held by the student group in Sidney Smith Hall, and was planned with the intent of teaching students how to fold hexaflexagons and firework origami designs.

The altercation was the result of personal matters unrelated to the club and allegedly escalated from verbal exchanges to physical violence. Witnesses tried to intervene and an ambulance was called. The two students went to the police station and could face charges.

Susan Cui, F.O.L.D. president, declined requests for comment. “The situation is still under investigation. At this moment we cannot release any information and will be unanimously declining an interview,” Cui said.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, also declined comment on the incident. “As the matter is before the courts, the University will not comment [on] the specific allegations. The University is committed to a safe campus environment,” Blackburn-Evans said.

F.O.L.D. was founded at the St. George campus in 2007 with a mission to promote the entertainment and educational values of origami.

Since the alleged incident, F.O.L.D. has continued to host on-campus events, including a Halloween-themed workshop and an origami night in collaboration with the Centre for International Experience.

UTSU criticized for alleged AGM misinformation

Some students told that union will dissolve if controversial board motion does not pass

UTSU criticized for alleged AGM misinformation

Despite efforts by representatives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), misinformation and bewilderment about the motions on the table at the upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM) continue to pervade campus.

Confusion has centred on the nature of the motion to establish new articles of continuance for the UTSU. In light of the change in legislation under which the union is incorporated, articles of continuance are necessary for the union to exist as a legal entity and must be submitted by an established October 15, 2015 deadline.

With the articles of continuance, the UTSU is also looking into potential alternative organizational structures. Bylaw amendments appear as a single motion on the AGM’s order of business, with the controversial proposal for the new structure of the Board of Directors chief among them.

Some student leaders and groups have raised concerns that several UTSU representatives allegedlycirculated information suggesting that the current motion is the only option for developing a legally compliant board structure.

One course union executive, who requested to remain anonymous, allegedly received text messages in which a UTSU representative appears to claim that certain student organizations could cease to exist, or have their funding cut, if bylaw amendments do not pass.

Contrary to the alleged misinformation, the survival of the union does not ride solely on a “yes” vote to this particular motion at the AGM. Rather, the union would have to try to pass the same or a different board structure at a meeting later this academic year.

“At [the AGM], UTSU must adopt bylaw changes to be compliant with the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, and if it does not it risks losing its status as an incorporated entity,” reads a post on the University of Toronto Mississauga Muslim Students’ Association (UTM MSA) Facebook page.

Commenting on that post, Zach Morgenstern, UTSU director for Victoria College, attempted to dispel some of the notions that were communicated to students. “I just wanted to confirm, that if the board structure motion fails (which is quite possible), it will be possible to organize another general meeting in the next 365 days to address the problem, so there’s no need to panic about UTSU collapse right away,” Morgenstern wrote.

Similarly, a post on the OUT@UTM Facebook page suggests that the consequences for voting “no” to the motion is a step towards dissolution of the UTSU. “On October 29 there will be an AGM by UTSU about a motion. It’s a pretty long story, but what I’d like to point out is that there is also a possibility that UTSU may be disbanded,” reads the post.

While it is correct that the bylaw changes must take place, some argue that it is misleading to suggest that passing the current proposal at the AGM is singularly decisive in its stakes for the union’s survival.

The UTSU has attempted to keep students abreast of the motions being voted on at the AGM. Both UTM MSA and OUT@UTM commented that they received their information from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

“In the case where those bylaw changes are not adopted and the motion fails, UTSU will have to organize another meeting to discuss the issue and make any amendments within a year or else it will lose its status as a registered organization,” said Bilal Rifai, senior advisor of the UTM MSA and a member of the UTMSU Board of Directors, adding: “I don’t see anything wrong with what we posted.”

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president, communicated the urgency of passing compliant bylaws at the AGM, but was careful to note that the union’s survival does not rest solely on a “yes” vote to this particular motion.

“If the proposal is not adopted at the meeting, we will have just under a year in which to pass a Board structure that is compliant,” reads an official statement by the UTSU.

The statement was written by Bollo-Kamara following a meeting of the executive committee.

Millennials focus of Open Access Week

International event informed public on the presence of transparency in academia

Millennials focus of Open Access Week

In recent years, copyright regulations have been under fire for creating costly barriers to published materials and for lack of adaptability to changing technologies. In 2012, amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act saw the Supreme Court expand their definition of fair copyright practices to include research, private study, education, parody, and satire.

The revision allowed educators to share short excerpts with their students. A short excerpt may include up to 10 per cent of a copyright-protected work, one chapter of a book, one article, a single poem or musical score, or a full entry from a work of reference such as an encyclopedia.

This expanded definition has resulted in a conflict of interest between Canadian universities and Access Copyright, a not-for-profit organization representing authors and publishers.

There is a worldwide movement to make academic journals more accessible to researchers by fostering discussion around the benefits of easy, free access to published works.

One such movement is Open Access Week, an international event dedicated to informing the public on transparency in academia. The University of Toronto held a series of information sessions, film screenings, and symposiums as part of the week.

Kicking-Off “Generation Open”

The World Bank and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition hosted the university’s kick-off event last week.

The theme for this year’s Open Access event was Generation Open. According to the 2011 census conducted by Statistics Canada, millennials make up nearly 27 per cent of the Canadian population.

The event was live streamed on the World Bank’s website and hosted by Meredith Niles, a post-doctorate research fellow at Harvard University. In the opening remarks, Niles spoke of several organizations participating in the event across dozens of campuses, including Open Access Nepal and Open Access Nigeria.

There was a particular focus on early career researchers and students, with topics on the support roles of institutions and how open access relates to young scholars throughout their career paths.

José-Marie Griffiths, a panelist who serves as vice-president for academic affairs at Bryant University, said that institutional mindsets are slow to change and highlighted the leadership role that young people can have. “Early career researchers will push, and need to push, to educate broader communities about the issues and environment that we are living in today,” Griffiths said.

The sessions also focused on the influence early career researchers can have on the future development of published research.

“As future leaders, [early researchers] hold the power to shape what publishing in academia will become, so educating younger generations on their options in publishing new research and what academia could look like in the future with a more open and inclusive academic environment could enable them to make a huge impact,” said Nelly Cancilla, copyright outreach librarian at the University of Toronto.

Plugged in 

In keeping with the youthful theme of the event, social media tools were used to promote Open Access 2014. Twitter users live-tweeted the kick-off webcast, posting their questions and comments in 140 characters or less with hashtag #OA. Facebook events were created to communicate various event details, and Instagram users were invited to share their experiences via photos.

Also promoting Open Access is a new free app, Open Access Button. The app was created in November 2013 by a group of volunteer students and researchers frustrated by the copyright restrictions inhibiting them from accessing journals for their own research. The app searches the web for free academic journals so the user can avoid paywalls and aims to create free copies where they don’t yet exist.

“The purpose of the theme, Generation Open, is to stress the importance for young researchers or future researchers to become aware of and get involved in the issues regarding publishing and access,” said Cancilla.

Access Denied

In 2013, U of T failed to renew its copyright license with Access Copyright, citing an “inability to secure a license at a reasonable price.” The university now acts independently of Access Copyright in its copyright dealings.

While the licence cost students $27.50, an annual fee they no longer have to pay, some students reported a significant increase in the price of course packs since the cancellation of the licence agreement.

Access Copyright has challenged the amendments to the Copyright Act, most notably through a lawsuit filed against York University in 2013. The outcome of the lawsuit will affect how higher learning institutions are able to implement the recently adopted fair dealings guidelines, something that the University of Toronto is monitoring.

“I’m not in the position to comment too broadly on the ongoing litigation, but I will say that the case is certainly important and we are keeping our eyes open,” said Bobby Glushko, U of T Scholarly Communications and Copyright Librarian.

In conversation with the Honourable David Onley

Former lieutenant governor of Ontario discusses new role at UTSC, accessibility, legacy

Earlier this month, the Honourable David Onley took up his new post as senior lecturer in UTSC’s Department of Political Science. Onley previously served as the twenty-eighth lieutenant governor of Ontario. The Varsity sat down with Onley to discuss his new role at UTSC, his public service legacy, and his accessibility advocacy work.

The Varsity: After your tenure as one of Ontario’s longest-serving lieutenant governors, why return to UTSC?

David Onley: I live physically close and, because I am a graduate from Scarborough College 1975… it seemed like a logical thing. Georgette Zinaty, [UTSC executive director, development & alumni relations,] and I met and there was a discussion of “maybe you should consider teaching.” It was far enough on the horizon that it gave me serious time to think about it. At that point, I had no idea my term [as lieutenant governor] was going to be extended to September of 2014. That led to a series of conversations with former [UTSC] principal [Franco] Vaccarino. I attended different U of T functions and met with U of T president Meric Gertler. President Gertler eventually asked if I would be the school’s ambassador to the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

TV: What will you be teaching and what would you like students to learn from your teachings?

DO: It will be a political science C-level course on the vice-regal office in Canada. We had toyed around with the idea of teaching a course on Ontario politics but, after some discussion, realized that the best use of my experience would be to focus on the vice-regal office and not just the provincial lieutenant governor’s office…[I]t is the vice-regal office and British parliamentary democratic structure that is the biggest separation point between ourselves and the Americans. Canadians have always had a vice-regal representative in the country going back to Champlain. I want to trace it forward, showing key moments in our history. Vice-regal representatives have made decisions that changed Canadian history.

David Onley served as lieutenant governor from 2007 until 2014. FILE PHOTO:BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

David Onley served as lieutenant governor from 2007 until 2014. FILE PHOTO:BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

TV: Looking at your career in journalism, what have you learned from the experience and how have you benefitted from it?

DO: Certainly, the capacity to speak before an audience in television for 22-and-a-half years helped develop that skill set in speaking with general public and, as a reporter, in dealing with government. I graduated from U of T with an Honours BA Specialist certificate in political science, with a personal interest in Ontario politics. From an early age, in terms of my career, I had this interest in politics but became nurtured during my university years and was able to apply it in many ways in my time at City TV. In a way, it really did prepare me for the office of lieutenant-governor.

TV: You will be serving as the university’s Special Ambassador to the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. What does this role entail, and what would you like to achieve?

DO: The role is still being defined, but I have already had the opportunity to show people around the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. I am going to represent the University of Toronto at events leading up to the games. One of the responsibilities is to be physically here [at UTSC] during the games themselves.  It is a phenomenal complex. I have had the great privilege of attending the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Paralympics and have seen the aquatic centres in both countries. The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre is on the same podium as the two venues. It is… a world-class facility.

TV: Beginning January 1, 2015, the Ontario Access Disability Act (OADA) will require private and non-profit organizations to implement accessibility policies.  What could be done to improve accessibility on campus?

DO: I chose to attend the UTSC campus back in 1970 because, back then, it was easily the most accessible post-secondary facility in the province. The architects had accessibility in mind and that tradition has continued. All these years later — while it has expanded dramatically in the physical plan and the number of students — it’s still a remarkably accessible facility. There is an audit about to get under way… to see what [accessibility] changes could be made, so I will be involved in that process. Within the context of UTSC, we have a structural and historic commitment to accessibility. In the accessibility office, there is a commitment that extends right through the hierarchy of UTSC. It is my hope that UTSC can continue to be a leader and lead by example in this regard… OADA was passed nine years ago, and the tenth anniversary will occur around the time of the Pan Am and Parapan Am games. It will be a time to reflect how far we have come and how much further we have to go.

TV: Looking back on your service as the twenty-eighth lieutenant governor and the legacy of those who came before you, what would you like to be remembered for?

DO: I set out from the beginning to enhance the relevance of the office of lieutenant governor to the community and culture. The office gets flooded with hundreds and hundreds of invitations, so one need only accept those invitations, show up, and be physically present. Then, you have represented the office to different communities. But are we relevant to the culture? That is the key question and that was what we needed to do as an office. We embrace[d] social media, and reach[ed] out to community groups who have never been at the lieutenant governor’s office. Yet, they too were fundamentally a part of the culture: the Chinese Canadian community, members of the Southeast Asian community, representatives from Latin American groups who have a presence here in our culture. Physically making the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite accessible through the province’s building and installing of an elevator inside the suite. Prior to me, there was a high degree of inaccessibility in the office.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.


Housing costs high, conditions poor

Lack of affordable housing downtown leads students to seek out alternative, sometimes unsafe, housing

The cost of off-campus housing continues to soar in Toronto. University students are paying more and more for unsafe lodgings that are often located within dangerous, poorly managed, or over-crowded units.

According to a recent survey conducted by the City of Toronto, the average monthly cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city is around $1,010. Apartment rent costs have risen about one-and-a-half times faster than inflation since 1990.

Based on these statistics, the tenant would have to earn about $40,000 per year to afford a stable lifestyle after taking into consideration costs for transportation, food, and heating.

Earlier this month, Vital Signs, an annual civic report card from the Toronto Foundation, reported that Toronto’s youth unemployment rate is around 17.6 per cent. Ontarians who work minimum-wage jobs for 20 hours per week earn about $11,440 annually.

As a result, some students are forced to take increasingly drastic measures to ensure they are able to make ends meet and maintain their living conditions.

Within the university, the issue of access to safe and affordable housing is not new. As it prepares to expand and increase student enrolment, more students will find themselves in situations where landlords may exploit them.


Dryden Rainbow, a fourth-year student, said that while she has always felt safe in her house on Bathurst Street, most housing problems are caused by the transient nature of the spaces. “People live there for a year or two — four years max — meaning most tenants feel no obligations to maintain the house. This leads to structural issues that you might not even be aware of when you view the house or decide to rent, as they are hidden from view,” Rainbow said.

Rainbow emphasized that students should know their rights, as it is easy for landlords to take advantage of students’ ignorance.

A fourth-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that, when looking for housing last year, one landlord indicated that he would only rent to heterosexual couples.

Although the student did not end up renting from that landlord, she said that the experience with the landlord she chose has not been much better.

“My actual landlord last year kept on telling me not to cook Indian food because curry makes the walls smell, and her husband would walk in at any hour without notice,” the student said.

Meghan Peterson, a fourth-year student, lived in a poorly maintained apartment in the Spadina Avenue area in her second year. “We spent $500 [plus utilities] a month to live in a tiny termite-infested basement apartment. When my roommate moved her bed on the day we moved out, she found a puddle of water underneath her bed from a wall that had been leaking all year,” Peterson said.

When Peterson expressed concern over holes in the ceiling that turned out to be caused by termites, her landlord covered them up and instructed her to keep a dehumidifier on.

Peterson initially moved into the apartment because it was late in the summer and she was afraid that she might be unable to find anywhere else to live. “For $500 a month in other cities in Ontario, we probably could have had a larger home. But for us, we ended up in a tiny basement with no windows,” she said.

Peterson added that it is difficult to gauge how much an apartment should cost, due to the variety of living spaces available in Toronto. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re being ripped off or not — especially as a naive second year who has barely lived off residence,” Peterson said.

Kalyna Onufryk, also in fourth year, echoed Peterson’s sentiment that safe, affordable housing is more readily available in other Canadian cities. “We don’t really drink out of the tap anymore because the water is very cloudy and has a funky taste. It has a lot of mineral deposits in it,” Onufryk said, adding: “It’s just not clean.”

Onufryk pays $1,075 per month but said that the conditions do not reflect the price. “The place is nice but looks run down,” she added.

Onufryk said that her biggest concern is the lack of university-supplied student housing. “If you want an affordable place, you need to move further away or move into somewhere that is not sanitary,” she said.

Some students opt to live at home and commute multiple hours per day because there are not many affordable downtown options. “I know someone who is commuting from Oshawa and someone from Hamilton. Those are not easy commutes,” Onufryk said.


Tammy Robbinson, coordinator of strategic communications for the City of Toronto, said that students having issues with their housing units should first speak to their landlord. Robbinson also recommended that students with concerns report landlords and unsafe living conditions to the city, and approach the landlord-tenant board with complaints. Earlier this year, The Varsity reported that 11 students had been living together in an apartment of less than 3,000 square feet.

While U of T has expressed its plans to build more housing units for students, these plans are still years away from fruition. As a result of the growing pressure of housing demands, both the university and the city are entertaining new strategies.

According to a City of Toronto report, the overall supply of rental housing units did not increase between 1996 and 2006. Rental demand is projected to increase by 20 per cent by 2031.

The report also said that 21 per cent of renters — 100,000 households — were paying 50 per cent or more of their income on shelter in 2001.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, acknowledged the increased demand for student housing.

“The University of Toronto is committed to ensuring our students have a great experience during their studies — that includes access to high quality housing that provides safety and support to the young people who live there. There is a growing need for student housing across all three U of T campuses,” she said.

Blackburn-Evans also laid out a plan as to how the university intends to solve the issue of student housing on all three campuses. “The University is…working with The Daniels Corporation as a partner on a proposed project to build a residence for students at the corner of Spadina and Sussex Avenues, immediately adjacent to the St. George campus. That project is currently going through a wide-ranging consultative process, involving the local city council, city officials and neighbors in the affected areas,” Blackburn-Evans said.

U of T offers a number of services to help students find housing, including online apartment search listings and a program through which students may find roommates. The online database connects students to housing options and also allows them to search advertisements by location and tailor their search according to a set of preferences. The City of Toronto has also introduced a series of strategies aimed at alleviating the strain of student housing.

According to Robbinson, the strategy is a four-step consultation process involving research and community input. A report with preliminary findings will then be forwarded to an executive committee, culminating with recommendations from the executive committee in December 2015.