In conversation with Thomas Mulcair

Leader of the opposition discusses post-secondary education, Bill C-51, sexual violence on campus

In conversation with Thomas Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair, a professor and lawyer, assumed office as the leader of the Official Opposition on March 24, 2012. Since then, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been locked in a battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau over which party will win the next election.

The Varsity sat down with Mulcair to discuss post-secondary education, Bill C-51, sexual violence on campus, and the CUPE 3902 strike.

The Varsity: What do you see as the role of a university education in the twenty-first century?

Thomas Mulcair: It’s of course personal. The individual can add to their life and their experience in the world. But I think if we want to be honest with ourselves, it’s also social and economic. It’s true that the only way to create new wealth is to create new knowledge. There’s that practical side of it. But also in the world in which we live today, the role of a university education is more important than ever — getting people to understand, as objectively as possible, the world around them. Our sources of information have increased exponentially, but the ability to wade through it doesn’t necessarily follow suit. That’s why critical thinking and a good broad-based education will always, in my view, remain important. I think, in this world, this interconnected world, more than ever having the ability to wade through things… I think university education — any form of education, but especially a university education — is more important than ever in our society.

TV: Through what mechanism should post-secondary education be funded?

TM: I’m not one of those people who thinks it should be tuition-free. I come from a really large family of 10 kids. It was very, very hard for me to go to university because we didn’t have any money — financially, I mean, it was hard. But despite that, I didn’t begrudge the fact that I finished with a reasonable debt that I had to pay back. Quebec invests quite heavily in support programs — loans and bursaries for students. I don’t think I would have been able to go to a place like McGill [University] if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was in Quebec and there was that level of support. My bottom line is always that, nobody who is able to do their studies should ever be discouraged from doing them for purely financial reasons. We have to make sure that it’s affordable.

TV: Can you talk a bit about the specific initiatives or programs that you’d like to see the federal government implement under a more active role?

TM: I think that the first thing that you can do quite easily, because you can work quite fast on it with provinces and territories, is increase funding for research. That’s easy. And right now, in Canada, we’re backsliding quite a bit. We used to have one of the higher percentages in terms of the OECD or the G20, and now we’re constantly backsliding in terms of our position on that. It’s not terribly surprising. We have a government that doesn’t believe in science of any kind — social, or pure and applied. It’s also said that if you’re going to have a good government you need to practice fact-based decision-making. Mr. Harper practices decision-based fact-making. It’s not quite the same thing. So I think that that’s an easy place where we could get back involved.

TV: We have an ongoing strike at the University of Toronto involving some 6,000 teaching assistants, exam invigilators and other academic staff. Do you have any comment on the precarity of employment among non-tenured faculty?

TM: That’s a really good point. Having been contract faculty for several years at Université du Québéc à Trois Rivières, and at Concordia [University]… Those are really lousy working conditions. And there’s a massive difference between full-time, tenured staff and the ones who are doing the heavy lifting as part-time sessional lecturers or teaching assistants. And they have to be paid decently. It’s not as if young people aren’t paying enough tuition for them to have a decent salary. So that’s something we are strongly in favour of correcting.

TV: There’s been a lot of discussion lately surrounding sexual harassment and sexual violence on postsecondary campuses. Do you see the federal government playing any role in combatting sexual harassment and sexual violence?

TM: The federal government has an obvious role with its share of law enforcement and lawmaking in Canada. The Criminal Code, unlike the United States where criminal law is done state-by-state, here in Canada it’s a federal code. It applies across the country. And changes to that legislation over the years has broadened the definition of what sexual assault is, and made it easier to get prosecutions. In the past, it used to be very hard because it was based on a very strict definition. That’s changed over the years. That’s a good thing. With regards to actual programs themselves, more often than not, that type of social side is left to the provinces. But the federal government could play an active role, as it does in a lot of crime prevention aspects.

TV: Do you have any concerns over how Bill C-51 would affect students and academics?

TM: We’ve been paying a little bit less attention to the way it could affect academics, but students, as key actors in our society who are often at the forefront in contesting things… will be in the same position as environmental groups, of which students are often members, or First Nations communities, for the good and simple reason — and there’s a great [article] in today’s National Post, of all papers, by someone who just tears a strip off Harper on this on a purely technical side; says it’s a massive invasion of our rights and freedoms with no tradeoffs. There’s nothing in return for it. Harper can’t even give me a single example. I asked him six times. He can’t give a single example of why this bill is necessary — what it goes after that existing legislation does not go after. Everybody who’s looked at this agrees that it throws the net far too wide. It does constitute a real threat to your rights and freedoms in our society… We’re a party of principle. We’re going to stand up to this one. We’re opposed to it, and we’re going to vote against it.

TV: Can you talk about specific policies that the NDP would implement to improve youth employment and youth outcomes?

TM: The job market is incredibly tough for young people. Toronto has 16 per cent youth unemployment, which is huge. It’s totally unacceptable. We also know that we could help the job creators, which would often include self-employed… We’ve also proposed to lower the business tax rate… Across Canada, young people are paying a very heavy price for the shift in our economy. Mr. Harper has killed off large sections of the manufacturing sector. Those were good jobs that were killed off. They’re being largely replaced by part-time, precarious work — more often than not in the service sector… One of the other things that we’re putting on the table is to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will be a strong signal to the provinces and territories to follow suit. And we hope that they would. We think that getting a decent living wage into people’s hands, although $15 an hour is not a lot, it’s still a lot more than the $10 an hour that you’re making in some provinces now.

TV: Does the NDP have any specific plans for diversifying the Canadian economy?

TM: The biggest mistake [the Conservative Party] made is to put all our economic eggs in the extraction basket. It’s a huge mistake, and we called them on it a long time ago. I called them on this since I became leader, but long before that when I was finance critic. It’s a mistake. Keeping a diversified, balanced economy… is actually good because when there’s a shock, whether it’s falling oil prices or something else, the more diversified, the more you can absorb that shock because you’ve got other pillars to the economy. You don’t only have the primary sector of extraction, whether that’s fisheries, agriculture, forestry, mining, and the like. But you’ve got a strong secondary sector, with manufacturing, upgrading, refining. You’ve got a tertiary sector, the service sector. You’ve got a very viable, balanced economy, and you’ve got the ability to absorb shocks. By putting all our economic eggs into the extraction basket, they left us exposed to a drop of that basket. There are a lot of broken eggs on the floor right now. That’s another reason that the Conservatives are playing a hide-and-seek game with the budget — it’s the peek-a-boo budget — because they know it’s a lot worse and they were going to ride into this election campaign saying that the books had been balanced.

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

Last week on the picket lines

How the strike is shaping up so far

Last week on the picket lines

Monday: Both sides reject deal

CUPE 3902’s Unit 1 and the university both decline offers made by the other side after Unit 1, which represents around 6,000 teaching assistants (TAs), exam invigilators, and other university staff, drafted a settlement and presented it to the university on Friday, March 13. The university revised the agreement on Monday, which the Unit 1 bargaining team rejected.

Unit 1’s initial proposal included $600,000 of extra funding, to be spread out over four years. This figure would have helped to raise TAs’ funding from $15,000 and included a $17,500 tuition waiver. According to Ryan Culpepper, CUPE Unit 1 chief negotiator, the university’s counter offer did not include any new funds and was around $22,500 less than the first offer that Unit 1 rejected on Friday, February 27, triggering the strike.

Tuesday: Disruption at UTM

Following the deal rejection on Monday, increased picket line presence blocked the three entrance points to UTM, causing delays of up to 90 minutes. Police were stationed at various locations in the UTM area to direct traffic, and drivers were advised to take alternative routes if possible. The UTM shuttle bus service relocated its stops and warned travellers that delays were expected.

According to The Medium, UTM administration was slow to notify its students of the delays. Despite picket lines reportedly forming as early as 8:00 am, notices of the disruption were not issued until 11:00 am on the UTM administration’s social media channels, and not until 4:15 pm on their website.

Wednesday: St George students walk out; “tentative agreement” reached

Around 1,000 students staged a walkout on the St George campus, congregating in front of Simcoe Hall. They remained there for around two hours, playing music and chanting in support of the striking TAs.

Later that day, the university announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with CUPE 3902 Unit 1. This potential deal includes a “graduate funding package top-up,” intended to give Unit 1 members at least $17,500 of base funding, proposed as a fund and not on an individual basis. The reallocation of funds means an augmentation in the amount available to the top-up and for tuition assistance from $3.3 million to $4.935 million — an increase of $1.635 million. Under back to work protocol, strikers would receive 15 of 22 working days of pay.

Thursday: UTSC students stage sit-in

UTSC students gathered in front of their registrar’s office to protest “severe financial insecurity and unfair treatment of our TAs, the increase in tuition fees for domestic students, the unregulated tuition fees for international students, and the university’s investments in weapons’ manufacturers and fossil fuels.”

The sit-in occurred with the support of CUPE 3902 members, who said that the students “should absolutely go ahead with the sit-in.” Students present held banners and signs that read “I <3 TAs,” “U of T Negotiate,” and “#WeAreNotYourBasicIncomeUnit” among others.

The protest happened following the release of a letter dated March 17 from UTSC’s chairs and academic directors, calling for the provost to commit to a minimum funding package for graduate students that is competitive and takes into account the cost of living in Toronto.  

In the meantime, some students are encouraging others to record the number of classes, labs, or tutorials they have missed due to the strike and demand a refund for an amount based on that figure.

Friday: Simcoe Hall vandalized; union votes to send agreement for ratification

Students and staff awoke to the sight of “SHAME” emblazoned in large red letters over the doors of U of T’s Simcoe Hall, which houses many of the university’s most important administrative offices.

While it is unclear who was behind the incident, CUPE 3902 strongly condemned it. “To vandalize a building in the heart of the St. George campus does not advance any one’s cause. Rather, it only serves to distract attention from where it needs to be, resolving a labour dispute that is hurting the university community,” said CUPE 3902 chair Erin Black in a statement.

At a meeting in the evening, Unit 1 members voted to send the tentative agreement reached on Wednesday to a ratification vote of the entire membership. The decision narrowly passed, with 789 votes in favour to 739, and eight spoiled ballots. 

UTSU elections in full swing

Some accusations, few demerit points pepper campaign period so far

UTSU elections in full swing

Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual violence


The campaign period for the 2015 UTSU elections officially began at 9:00 am Monday, at which time both the Brighter UofT and Change UofT slates began to distribute campaign materials. The Change UofT website was launched Monday, while the Brighter UofT website was delayed due to technical difficulties.

Change UofT is running Cameron Wathey for president; Grayce Slobodian for vice president, internal and services; Frishta Bastan for vice president, equity; Agape Amponsah-Mensah for vice president, external; and Xinbo Zhang for vice president, university affairs.

Brighter UofT is running Ben Coleman for president; Ryan Gomes for vice president, internal and services; Sania Khan for vice president, equity; Jasmine Denike for vice president, external; and Vere-Marie Khan for vice president, university affairs.


The first taste of election controversy came Tuesday when Change UofT, the slate led by Cameron Wathey, was found to be distributing flyers with an insensitive and potentially triggering word-search puzzle. 

The puzzle included the phrase “Sexual Assault” among phrases such as “Snow Day” and  “Go Blues.” Some alleged that the placement trivialized the issue of sexual assault. “I don’t think finding sexual assault is going to accomplish anything to be honest except trigger some folks,” tweeted student Nashwa Khan on Tuesday.


On Wednesday evening, Change UofT posted a defense of their word search flyer, saying that it was not an attempt to trivialize the issue.

“We felt that for us to omit sexual assault from the list of words to find would only serve to reinforce the stigma and the silence around a public conversation about sexual violence and rape culture on our campuses, which we believe is missing,” the statement read.

Also on Wednesday, former U of T student politician James Finlay accused the Change UofT slate of taking its name from a former slate with a similar title. According to Finlay, the slate name Change was used by a group of students, himself included, to oppose what they describe as a “line of direct incumbency” in the UTSU. The Change slate was active from 2008-2010.

Finlay says that the use of a similar name by Change UofT is misleading because the slate contains incumbent candidates: Cameron Wathey for the position of president and Grayce Slobodian for vice president, internal and services. “…Change means renewal, bringing in fresh blood. It means introducing something different than what was there before. The fact that they’re appropriating the name and using it for a purpose that’s totally contrary to that is a pretense. They’re essentially lying to the electorate,” Finlay accused.

Change UofT did not respond to a request for comment on these allegations.

As of Wednesday, the Brighter UofT website was active, but their platform was not available.


All executive candidates went head to head on Thursday at the mostly genial executive forum.

One audience question from a student wearing a yellow t-shirt — the colour adopted by Brighter UofT supporters in the crowd — was not in keeping with safe space, according to the Change UofT candidate answering the question.

The question asked the vice president, external candidates about resource allocations to campaigns that “do not represent the majority of students.” When asked for clarification on the question, the asker gave the example of the UTSU spending money to support campaigns for indigenous rights.

Amponsah-Mensah responded by saying that the example given was discriminatory and inappropriate.

“The land that we reside on is aboriginal,” Amponsah-Mensah said. “I just spoke about discrimination. I feel as though that question is in that realm.”

The Brighter UofT slate issued a statement late Thursday night condemning the audience question and indicating that the individual who asked the question will step back from involvement with the team.

“As a slate, we will actively work to right the offense, and ensure that those who stand with us are aware of our commitment to equity and anti-racism,” the statement reads.

Some students later took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the environment in which the elections are taking place.


Early Friday morning, account activity from Change UofT presidential candidate Cameron Wathey’s Facebook page showed him “liking” a misogynistic post on the UofT Confessions page.

In response, Wathey issued a statement on his Facebook page Friday morning assuring his social media network that the activity was not his own. In the statement, Wathey said he is “disgusted” by the “perpetuation of misogyny and rape culture on our campuses and in the community,” and that anyone who knows him would recognize this as an attack and not his own action.

Celia Wandio, an Arts & Science at-large director candidate, left the Change UofT slate on Friday to run as an independent. The decision followed the controversy surrounding the Change UofT campaign material that allegedly trivialized sexual violence — something Wandio has been focused on combatting as the founder of U of T Students against Sexual Violence.

Wandio says that her decision to run as an independent should not be seen as an endorsement of either slate, and that she feels no animosity towards her former running mates on Change UofT. “I care about and support so many of them, and I recognize that they made an effort to take my opinions into account in their actions. However, it got to a point where I felt a pretty big divide in how we felt we should respond to this situation, and I could not see a scenario in which we could negotiate this to come to a solution we all felt comfortable with,” Wandio said.

Wathey said that he supports Wandio’s decision to leave his slate. “The whole team supports her decision and we will continue our friendship and our work together regardless of the outcome of the election,” Wathey said.”

The Brighter UofT election platform became available on their website Friday.

Meet the Presidential Candidates: Ben Coleman

Brighter UofT opposition candidate on board structure, mental health

Meet the Presidential Candidates: Ben Coleman

Ben Coleman is running for president of the UTSU with the Brighter UofT slate. After spending the past year representing Arts & Science students on the Governing Council, Ben Coleman has his eye out for the Presidency of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The fourth—year student from Ecology and Evolutionary Biology hopes to lead the UTSU with “realistic and strategic” policies.

Coleman sat down with The Varsity, fresh from the candidates’ forum on Thursday, to discuss polity, policy and politics.

The Varsity: The price of a university education keeps increasing. How can the UTSU work towards keeping this price affordable for students?

Ben Coleman: There are specific things that we’re worried about. The classic example: if you’re a law student and you end up with $100,000 of debt when you leave, if you’re lucky enough to find a job that’s paid, say you were going to choose between working for a legal aid society and working for a corporate law firm, if you have a $100,000 of debt, you may just go work for the corporate law firm…

I think it’s bad for society if people… say ‘Oh, well you know they can make more money so we might as well charge them for more tuition’, and end up driving people out of non-profit work and work that helps society at large.

There’s this justification that you can make a lot of money, in certain fields, after you graduate, therefore the debt is reasonable. But you really have to think about it and see whether it’s good for society…

If two [students] who are equally talented go into university, they both get the same degree, same marks, you want them to have an equal chance at life. And if one of them happens to be from a poorer family and they have debt, then it makes it harder for them to accumulate wealth. They may have to delay having children, buying a house… So we really should be cautious about justifying tuition as an investment, because the high debt perpetuates inequality.

…We need to twist the government’s arm instead of trying to persuade them to give more funding. No government in poor financial shape wants to be throwing money around. Telling the stories better, about why it’s bad for our society to have students with large debts, that’s not something that gets out.

TV: How do you plan to continue the consultation process on the restructuring of the Board of Directors?

BC: We have to engage with all the college and faculty student governments, engage with clubs. [Gomes] and [Petra] had that open meeting and I think we just need to have more of those… We want to encourage as many people who care about this to help, because honestly, once you get into the weeds of these issues, it’s very tricky.

…Ryan’s proposal is essentially a compromise. I’m quite excited for a UTSU that has equity even more structurally built into it. Culturally it’s been built into it for the last while, which is very good. But structurally built in I think is good progress.

I don’t consider myself qualified to lead the process of figuring out who those identity-based reps should be. That needs to be [Khan] or somebody else who really knows what they’re doing. Because that’s such a crucial process… and we need to get it right. There were some concerns about tokenization or forced outing if you have these positions… I don’t think I’m qualified to solve that problem and make that a really good proposal. For the identity-based directors specifically, not for the whole thing. I know some policy.

TV: Should the UTSU take a stand on political matters outside the purview of students or the university?

BC: Four years ago, I used to think like ‘Oh, the UTSU shouldn’t be political’. And I think if there’s anything I’ve learnt from the current executives that I would say has been quite valuable, sometimes the line between what is political and what would be apolitical is either not there or very complicated.

… I’m ok with the UTSU taking political stances in that I’m ok with students who are activists being supported by the UTSU. Let’s be optimistic, say we have 15 per cent voter turn out, and then [the UTSU] says we are now the moral authority on all issues and tries to do activism in that way, I think that’s where the lack of credibility comes in and that’s why [some] people get upset. I mean, there are some people who do legitimately believe that it be limited but I would disagree with them…

For some controversial issues that our team wanted to address, our approach has been: give the space for our members to educate other members and do it in a way so everyone has a say because I think people can participate in that a lot more rather than hoping that we represent everyone.

TV: Back in October 2014, the provostial advisory committee on student mental health published recommendations to improve mental health. They are now working on the implementation of the recommendations. What role should the UTSU play in this process?

BC: I’ve been to a meeting where I’ve seen an admin go from ‘You don’t need to tell us about these problems ‘cause we already know they exist,’ then hearing a bunch of students speak about CAPS, and [saying] ‘Oh, you know what? On second thought, we didn’t realise how bad this was.’ So… if we create safe spaces, sometimes we get the feedback that makes admin change their minds. Effectively, being able to listen to students, and as [Vere-Marie Khan] was saying, getting that from students in a safe space and taking that to admin in a way they understand…

We can encourage the admin to be brave. …Every university in Ontario is struggling with adequately providing services with mental health, and the fact that there were no CAPS wait times in the report says to me that the admin hasn’t mustered up the bravery to really look at what’s wrong…

The University of Ottawa did a very self-critical report and they found they hadn’t even set up a sexual assault office and they got good press because they were honest with themselves and they really looked at what’s wrong. So I would encourage [the admin] to be brave, they’ll do a lot better being brave and being honest…

TV: Why do you want to be the UTSU president?

BC: It’s very fulfilling to do this… When you do something, even the tiniest little change is so satisfying, because you know there are students out there that [change] might’ve helped…

As student leaders we always want to make space for those people who previously had to suffer in silence… and have their voices heard…

There are some really excellent people on this team. I’m so excited to win and work with these people. It’s going to be so much fun and it’s going to be so gratifying because they’re all so great and they all care.

I want to give students a choice… You can’t have half-assed opposition, we need to present an actual choice to students. Do you want these qualified student leaders or these qualified student leaders, pick between them. The best thing for the race is if people go… ‘let’s increase the standards of what we expect from student leaders, let’s expect that both candidates are always going to be really good people.’ So I’m really excited to offer students a choice.

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

Correction (March 23, 2015, 9:18 am): A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Coleman as an incumbent candidate. In fact, he is a candidate with the opposition slate. The Varsity regrets the error.

Meet the Presidential Candidates: Cameron Wathey

Change UofT incumbent candidate on tuition fees, the union taking political stances

Meet the Presidential Candidates: Cameron Wathey

Cameron Wathey is running for president of the UTSU with the Change UofT slate. He was an international student who attended University College (UC) for film, english and history. Prior to his involvement in the UTSU he was involved in the Caribbean Studies Student Union, the Cinema Studies Student Union, and UC orientation.

Wathey sat down with The Varsity on Saturday to discuss his position on some of the issues most important to students at the University of Toronto.

The Varsity: The price of a university education keeps increasing. How can the UTSU work towards keeping this price affordable for students? 

Cameron Wathey: Over the past…little more than a year, I’ve worked with the team to get rid of flat fees. We had to take a new approach to that because…we had been lobbying the administration to get rid of [flat fees] for the past couple of years since [they] was implemented in 2008. We lobbied the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid at the time. We brought [together] over 6000 petitions [including] UTM which was very much involved with the project, and we were able to get the government to listen.

One of the things that I’m primarily concerned with is international students. [International student] tuition keeps going up, right now we pay five times more tuition than everyone else… Incoming students [will] pay approximately 10 per cent [increase] and continuing students around 5 per cent [increase]. I think there’s a 3 per cent cap for domestic students.

There are [also] ancillary fees that we have to look into. Ancillary fees are basically another part of or tuition fees…Professional faculties also pay more. …[F]or instance engineers have to pay an additional fee…for an elective in the faculty of Arts & Science, which doesn’t make any sense. So making sure that we’re…working with [the professional faculties] so their tuition doesn’t keep going up.

Also [we will] work closely with UTMSU to ensure that we’re working on regulated fees at UTM being implemented, in the same manner that we worked on tackling flat fees.

TV: How do you plan to continue the consultation process on the restructuring of the board of directors? 

CW: I don’t think there’s one answer to this. There’s not one perfect structure. Throughout our 114 year history you can see that the UTSU has changed significantly, almost from year to year. We have to consider the fact that the needs of the membership change and also the strategies change…[W]e’ve changed in the past to reflect the membership and I think we need to change again to reflect our membership.

We are a vehicle for change here at this university, and if people want representation we [all] have to meaningfully participate in our students union. I think everyone needs to come together and we need to participate and compromise. I think we also have to consider that the [board of directors] structure has to support diversity but also unite us. U of T is a very diverse community, we see that all across the campus. We have to make sure that we’re representing all U of T students.

When people start talking about fragmenting the union, that’s not the way to go. When we come together, when we work together we are able to accomplish much more…We need something that works for the immediate future that also reflects this political moment in time.

TV: Given the time constraints on being compliant with the Canada Not for Profit Corporations Act, how will consultation work? 

CW: …[W]e need to meaningfully reach out to our members. We’ve finally gotten access to our listserv this year, which means we can finally reach out to all of our members at once. [We] also need to reach…out on the ground, them, possibly even conduct…a survey.

TV: Should the UTSU take a stand on political matters outside the purview of students or the university? 

CW: When it comes down to it, we are a political organization. We have been a political organization in our broader history, and we’ve been able to pressure the university administration. [The union has] done an outstanding number of things in the past such as making sure that women have access to hart house, undergraduates have access to Robarts, starting the first pride in Toronto by walking through Kings College circle.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the membership [as to] whether we do take a [political] stance because many of our motions are presented at the AGM and we decide from there.

TV: Back in October 2014, the provostial advisory committee on student mental health published recommendations to improve mental health. They are now working on the implementing the recommendations. What role should the UTSU play in this process? 

CW: Yolen has done a lot of excellent work on this…I think we need to acknowledge…the types of stressors that students undergo. We have to acknowledge that CAPS has worked for people but the waiting time is getting longer and longer.

Talking to racialized communities, we’ve also noticed that CAPS is predominantly white so making sure that students feel represented [and] making sure that we know what kind of choice is available to them [are priorities]… Making sure that U of T is prioritizing mental health both in terms of funding and in terms of [increasing] awareness of the services that they already… have and building community. I think that the union can work on building community, hosting events, hosting exam destressers and destressers in general.

[We should make] sure that we are working on all of these challenges. It’s a difficult task but I think [the] union can definitely implement… services… while also ensuring that we are working on the bigger picture.

TV: Why do you want to be UTSU president? 

CW: I want to be the president of the UTSU because I came to U of T not knowing what direction I wanted to go, and being lost in the biggest city in Canada. I came here from an island of 30 odd thousand people to a population of 2.5 million and wanted to just fit in and feel at home and the University of Toronto has provided that to me.

I think that there’s good reason why [the University of Toronto] is the best institution in Canada. It does have a community and I want to build on that community. I want to make sure that all voices are being heard at the table from colleges, because my college provided me with that sense of home and I am so grateful for that.

I also know that now more than ever we need a leader. Spitting out statistics, anyone can do. But I think that we need someone that can bring the people together. I think we need someone who’s coming from all sides of the table and understands each perspective. I’ve worked closely with the colleges in the past and I’ve worked closely with the community all over. And we need to make sure that we are coming together because right now is a very key political time for the student union.

We’ve been able to accomplish a lot but we need to accomplish a lot more. We need to make sure that students are being prioritized, at this university because it is a university, not a corporation. I can take anything that’s thrown my way, and any amount of scrutiny. I’m not going to back down and I’m not going to shy away from anything. I’m the type of person that’s relatable, personable, and ready to listen to you and what your concerns are. I think we need that in a leader. Finally, I just really love U of T and I want to represent it.

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

Equal Voice U of T meets with federal minister

Discussion surrounds women in leadership, politics

Equal Voice U of T, a multi-partisan organization devoted to increasing female representation in government, organized a meet and greet with Kellie Leitch, federal minister of labour and minister of Status of Women last Thursday.

During the talk, Leitch discussed her collaborations with Equal Voice on a number of projects. Leitch said that she prioritizes the advancement of women in leadership roles. The minister gave the audience a short autobiography, starting with her origins in Fort McMurray, and discussed her own experiences navigating the world of politics.

Leitch praised the organization for their work in executing their mandate. “ It’s outstanding to be part of an organization that empowers young women to get involved in politics,” said Leitch.

The minister’s final notes were on the Girl’s Advisory Council, a federal initiative under her purview that she announced on International Women’s Day. The council, according to Leitch, is aimed at acquiring female youth’s perspectives to advise the government.

For Daryna Kutsyna, president of Equal Voice at U of T, Leitch is a personal role model. “I think that the work we do is common sense. Women bring about a different perspective and it’s common sense to showcase different perspectives,” she says.

Shuyin Yu, reporter for, says that events such as these attract a host of students who are interested in equality in government. “We have so many people interested in law and politics and it’s important to get involved with the events,” Yu says.

According to Yu, events like these bring feminism into the spotlight, adding that promoting female representation in politics is a step towards positive change.

She also says that, as 30 per cent of federal Cabinet members are now women, progress is on the horizon.

As a U of T alumnus and professor currently on leave, Leitch was recognized as a role model for gender equality.

“I have a mother and a sister whom I love and I’m glad they live in a free country where they can pursue the lives that they want,” says Mack Blith, who attended the event because of his interest in politics.

Leitch used the speech to share her optimism about Canada’s democratic system. Using herself as an example, she explained the democratic privileges Canadians have to succeed.

She says that her own humble origins are evidence enough for hard work being fruitful.

TEDxUofT hosts third conference

“A Constellation of Insights” draws 500 attendees

TEDxUofT hosts third conference

While many University of Toronto students were catching up on sleep or getting ready to face another day of studies, a crowd of around 500 quietly filled the Medical Sciences auditorium on March 15. It was one of the first bright spring days, and the room hummed with anxious excitement.

The occasion was the third annual TEDxUofT conference, an offshoot of the now-famous TED series. TEDx gives independent organizers a chance to screen TED videos, as well as organize live presentations from local scholars and creative minds.

TEDxUofT is not the same as TEDxToronto, which occurred for the sixth year in a row last October at Koerner Hall. Both events are entirely volunteer-run.

The conference, themed around “A Constellation of Insights,” addressed a range of topics.

The first speaker was U of T instructor Michael Reid, well known by students familiar with introductory astronomy courses.

Reid said that the way science is taught is fundamentally wrong. He believes in teaching that everyone can “do” science, just as everyone is taught they have the ability to read.

He compared the Canadian literacy rate to the scientific literacy rate: 99 per cent compared to 42 per cent. “If the literacy rate were 42 per cent, it would be considered a crisis,” Reid said,

Avis Glaze spoke about the need for access to technology in the digital age, saying that schools “need to open up for those who don’t have access to technology.”

She highlighted the struggle for minority groups, saying it is necessary to make sure those students have the means to succeed.

Glaze also emphasized character development as part of a curriculum. “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to create a menace to society,” she said. “Empathy can be taught.”

PhD student Samantha Joel spoke about the way that modern-day relationships are thought of as consumer purchases. As with other purchases, people are often under the impression that they would choose the best possible option for themselves.

“We think of ourselves as consumers, even in dating… and we assume the decisions we make are all about ourselves,” Joel said.

Her research points to the opposite of what we often believe to be true. As people we “inherently, fundamentally care about other people’s needs. We are not self-interested,” Joel added.

One of the final talks of the day was by Scot Wortley and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who discussed how crime narratives differ by race, including perspectives of youth and police in Toronto.

Wortley explained how, as a white man, his privilege lies in that if another white man commits a crime, it will not affect him at all. Both presenters explained that the biggest predictors of criminal activity are perceptions of social justice.

They quoted a young, Canadian black man they had interviewed in their work, who said simply, “This is not my country.”

They finished their talk with an urge for Canadians to stop complacency. “Racism is softer, gentler, perhaps more polite here, but just as much of a problem,” the presenters said.

A show of solidarity: undergraduates walk out

Students leave class to pressure university administration

A show of solidarity: undergraduates walk out

Last Wednesday, undergraduate students, teaching assistants (TAs), and other supporters left classes at around 12pm to attend the Student Solidarity UofT-Wide Walkout in solidarity with CUPE Local 3902 Unit 1.

The event, hosted by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, attracted a large crowd that chanted in front of university offices in Simcoe Hall.

The reasons listed for the walkout included the university’s allegedly providing the public with misleading information, refusing to communicate with students, and refusing to meet with CUPE 3902.

UTM and UTSC held similar events last week.

In a press release by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union executive committee, executives acknowledged student concerns about the academic disruption, but endorsed the CUPE 3902 members. “The counter-offer that was recently proposed does not display any interest on the part of the university administration in a fair and equal agreement,” the press release said.

“The university should understand that, if they are ‘committed to our academic success’ then they must make every effort to negotiate in good faith with our educators who are the key to that very success,” the press release added.

Elena Basile, a Sexual Diversity Studies instructor at University College and an English lecturer at York University, made accommodations in her class so students could participate in the walkout. She is currently a contract faculty.

“The commercialization of education, and knowledge overall, over the past 15 years or so, has meant that universities increasingly run like corporations, with all of their verticalized and contracting-out logic attached,” Basile said.

She pointed to over-inflation of salaries at the top echelons of the administration and dependence on student fees and grants tied to industry as problems resulting from the corporatization of the university.

“This produces at least three sets of problems: a cohort of undergraduate students increasingly indebted just to make it through school; precarious graduate student teachers and researchers who can barely afford to do what the university is asking them to do, i.e. produce innovative knowledge and pedagogies; a disaffected cohort of precarious part-time faculty scrambling to piece together a living while also trying to keep up with research,” Baslie added.

Graham Hassell, a fourth-year student hoping to graduate this year, attended the walkout. He hopes the walkout shows the administration how undergraduate students are invested in supporting their TAs.

“I don’t appreciate being told that everything is alright,” Hassell says, adding “I have a class that is currently cancelled — things are not all right. I think that some people perhaps are going too far in accusing the administration of being misleading, but there is definitely some misinformation being spread.”

Brian Law, president of the Computer Science Graduate Student Benevolent Society, was also present at the walkout. “Maybe it’s for nothing, but even if it is nothing for the moment, even if it doesn’t bring everybody back to the table right away, it is a symbolic gesture of strength and unity from the [undergraduates] that this kind of thing can happen,” Law said.