Province modernizes Student Assistance Plan

Controversies include fixed contribution, spending on tax credits

Province modernizes Student Assistance Plan

If you’ve previously applied for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), you’ll want to take note of the changes the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has made to the program this year.

The changes, first proposed in the Ontario budget in April, seek to give students increased control over the amount of financial aid they wish to withdraw as they have the option of declining a full loan and only withdrawing grant support.

“Students will be able to decide exactly how much of the loan amount they wish to take out,” said May Nazar, spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “This is being phased in to ensure that the right systems are in place, so students have a seamless experience with these changes.”

In order to help students financially plan ahead, OSAP will no longer determine how much each student must contribute and will set a $3,000 student contribution.

“It’s definitely less complicated than before,” said UTSU president Ben Coleman. “However, it does make the system slightly more regressive — for one example, male students make more in their summer jobs on average and have greater savings, so by having a flat rate for everyone, it helps male students much more than non-males.”

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) echoes the concern, suggesting that the fixed rate may be too high for some students. “OUSA is committed to working with the Ministry to ensure that robust appeal mechanisms exist for students facing this issue,” said Read Leask, OUSA Steering Committee member from Queen’s University.

Assets belonging to students are also being reassessed; students are no longer required to report the ownership of a vehicle and with the inclusion of a fixed contribution, the first $3,000 in a student’s assets will be exempted from OSAP’s aid assessment.

“This allows students to come up with their fixed contribution by drawing on their own assets, which could include money in bank accounts, tax-free savings accounts, bonds, stocks, term deposits, mutual funds and Guaranteed Investment Certificates,” said Nazar.

“This primarily helps students who are slightly better off, as those are the students more likely to have investments and assets,” said Coleman.

In addition, the loan limit has also increased to $155 per week for single students and $355 per week for students who are married or have dependent children.

“On August 1st of every year starting in 2016, the maximum weekly loan limit will be adjusted by the annual change in the Ontario Consumer Price Index as of July 31, rounded to the nearest multiple of $5. Indexing OSAP helps to make sure aid amounts keep up with growth in student costs,” said Nazar.

“Although the recent changes are a step in the right direction, OUSA would like to extend eligibility for the Ontario Tuition Grant and re-allocate funds used to issue education tax credits to be directed to grants.” 

“The crazy thing is that Ontario spends more on tax credits than it gives out in loans, so it would be entirely possible to move to a financial aid system with no loans by spending the tax credit money on grants instead,” added Coleman.

“As Ontario already offers a generous aid program of grants, bursaries and scholarships, we aren’t considering a move to an all grants system at this time,” said Nazar.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin visits Innis Town Hall

Liberals discuss economy, Indigenous issues

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin visits Innis Town Hall

Ahead of the federal election on October 19, former Prime Minister Paul Martin visited the University of Toronto on September 9 along with Liberal member of parliament Chrystia Freeland who is running for re-election in the University-Rosedale riding. They spoke on topics of national debt, infrastructure, the environment, and aboriginal affairs.

The economy

The first topic of conversation was the financial crisis. Martin is of the opinion that eliminating the budget deficit is not Canada’s first priority. “There has been a lack of growth in Canada and this must be addressed first. With growth will come economic wellness. We must investment in transportation, healthcare, and research. “Technologies such as genomics are important for future development in Canada. They help support aging populations such as myself.”

Freeland also emphasized a desire for growth in Canada. Her proposed solution came in the form of a downtown relief line and more streetcars and buses.

Freeland expressed a strong interest in reducing economic inequality. “Income inequality is a top priority of mine.” She backed the Liberal plan to hike taxes for the top one per cent of income earners in Canada. “The top one per cent make more money and they should be taxed more.”

Martin also referred to Canada’s environmental improvement compared to other G7 countries. “Canada was once ranked last among G8 countries for environmental quality. We are now ranked first.”

Indigenous issues

Both leaders agreed that aboriginal affairs are an issue in Canada. Mr. Martin expressed an interest in preserving aboriginal cultures, while Freeland expressed interested in accommodating them.

“Canada’s residential school system destroyed aboriginal culture and destroying cultures is immoral,” said Martin. He identified language as the key to preserving a culture. “Language preserves culture. In order to preserve aboriginal culture we must preserve aboriginal languages. This means we must support aboriginal communities and schools.”

Freeland stated that she is interested in a multicultural community that includes accommodating aboriginal communities so that they have a place in Canada. “We are the most successful diverse community in the world,” she said. “The only problem is that our treatment of aboriginals has been abominable. Aboriginal cultures require the same amount of accommodation that other cultures have gotten.”

Concluding the session, Freeland urged all to go out and vote, even if not for the Liberal Party. “Liberals do not possess extreme ideals like the NDP or Conservatives. We stand in the middle of the road and we seek realistic solutions. Even if you are not going to vote Liberal vote for the sake of democracy and Canada.”

Many students for friendly divisional rivalry

Sometimes it gets rude

Many students for friendly divisional rivalry

One of the most anticipated events of Orientation Week, or Frosh Week, is the Tri-Campus Parade. On Friday, first-years from the three U of T campuses, professional faculties, and colleges gathered at Varsity Stadium for parade mustering.

Parade mustering involves orientation leaders encouraging first-years to cheer in order to build up excitement. While cheers that promoted the unity and uniqueness of each individual college could be heard, other chants containing expletive-filled insults were also made loud and clear.

College rivalry is a ccontentious issue at U of T. Many colleges have begun enforcing stricter criteria when selecting their cheers due to the problems posed by rape culture and misogynistic cheers.

The intensity of college rivalry too, has recently given rise to discussions about potentially abolising the college system. Others argue that the college system fosters a greater sense of community at universities with at many students as U of T.

Not all share this viewpoint. Tristan, a member of Victoria College majoring in linguistics, told The Varsity that he does not understand the purpose of separating the university into colleges. He feels that it is a case of contention.

Nadia, a first-year student in life sciences, took a different approach as she passionately spoke about the merits of college rivalry: “I want everyone to know that St. Mikes is the best one there… we totally took over the streets and today we’re going to do the same,” she said before the parade. 

The Varsity spoke with several students from different divisions, most of whom expressed support for friendly rivalry and said that their interactions with other divisions were positive. Some students said that they would prefer less negativity, with one student citing a banner that read “Vic makes us sick” as an example.

At Trinity College, however, none of the first-years were willing to be interviewed. When approached by The Varsity, a frosh leader said that there is a policy that first-years cannot speak to non-trinity students during frosh week. The Trinity orientation coordinators denied that such a policy exists and stated that there was no communication from them encouraging students not to talk to people outside of trinity. Trinity is no stranger to controversy, as the college has already come under scrutiny in the past for other controversial frosh practices.

Sicario

Dennis Villeneuve's latest flick is a nail–biter of epic proportions

Sicario

Dennis Villeneuve likes to make you anxious. Two years after his relentlessly suspenseful Prisoners and the Toronto-based nail-bitter Enemy, Sicario, Villeneuve’s most recent thriller about the interminable war on drugs, is a master class in cinematic tension, and is riddled with more anxiety than a Woody Allen protagonist. Taking place on the border of  Mexico and the United States, those seeing Sicario — whether it be during the 40 annual Toronto International Film Festival, or after its impending wide release on October 2nd — will be seated firmly on the border of “I really have to pee,” and “I don’t want to leave my seat.”

As much a tale about the ethical and moral ambiguity of the US’ war on the Mexican drug trade as it is about the people who fight it, Sicario, while narratively obscure and uneven, gleans tautness and tenseness from its otherwise archetype-ridden screenplay. The story follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a naïve, tactically talented FBI agent at the helm of a crack kidnap response team, as she’s recruited to a joint task force with a sandal-wearing, chummy government operative (Josh Brolin) and a laconic, anti-cartel prosecutor-turned-gunman (Benicio del Toro). The unlikely trio, disparate in worldviews but equally lethal with a firearm, are bound together by their mission, which takes them to the destitute city of Juarez in pursuit of an elusive cartel kingpin.

The particulars of the mission are sketchy at best, and entirely absent at worst. We share the green and semi-puerile perspective of Kate. The camera lingers outside of windows as conversations carry on silently on the other side, and scenes cut away before their completion, conjuring the paranoid impression that something is always being withheld – that we’re being kept in the dark about the true nature of the border-busting quest and the true nature of these characters.

Nerves are wound even tighter during Sicario’s action set pieces, which all start with an “I can’t take it anymore” build-up and erupt into lightning-quick bursts of raw violence. Whether they be strategic firefights or brutal hand-to-hand combats, these sudden bursts of havoc are rendered all the more uneasy by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s bass-and-string heavy score. Sicario’s corker comes in its final stretch when the film glides into an intense night time tunnel raid, shot exclusively using night and thermal-vision lenses by the incomparable (and criminally Oscar-less) Roger Deakins. Cinematographically, Deakins crafts a triptych of intimacy: tight framing captures Kate and her team at their most vulnerable and morally corrupt, hovering aerial shots convey the deplorable regional conditions where the drug trade runs rampant, and point-of-view camera work embroils the spectator in the gritty, frightening, and bleak field work of drug enforcement.

Unfortunately, Sicario doesn’t stick the landing. In its final 25 minutes, Sicario veers into Zero-Dark Thirty and No Country for Old Men territory, displaying sequences that are exemplary in isolation but unsatisfying and out of place within the film’s broader narrative framework. The film’s technical virtuosity, however, more than makes up for its relative unevenness, and reasserts that when it comes to Denis Villeneuve, there’s absolutely nothing — or, perhaps, absolutely everything — to be anxious about.

Victoria

Like Birdman, the renaissance of one-shot movies continues in Sebastian Shipper's latest film

Victoria

Victoria begins with sound and colour. At first it’s hard to know what you’re looking at, but then you understand: you’re in the strobing heartbeat of a nightclub. As the aperture slowly adjusts and shapes become distinguishable amid the flashing lights, the camera dances tightly alongside the heroine, sometimes drifting away and circling around, but never fully departing from her for the film’s entirety. On one such night, Victoria encounters Sonne (played by Frederick Lau), a charming man flanked by a thuggish, but loving group of compadres: Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit), and a drunk Fuss (Max Mauff). Victoria and the guys quickly become friends, walking around and taking on the city in their young and reckless nature. This calm is necessary before the storm that is Victoria’s second half.

In one particularly beautiful moment, Sonne and Victoria spend some time alone together in the cafe where she works. She makes him hot cocoa, while he flirts with her and opens up the piano sitting in the corner. Later we learn that Victoria is a failed piano prodigy, someone who had to sacrifice her relationships in order to master the instrument. The camera holds on Victoria’s face while they interact, played to pitch-perfect vulnerability by Laia Costa, where nothing is said but everything is silently communicated through a look of conflicted emotion.

Such is the language of the film, which uses the movement of the camera, ambient sound, and lighting to communicate the conflicted mind of a person who has dedicated their entire life to a craft only to be told they’re not good enough to continue. When Victoria is asked to be the getaway driver of a spontaneous heist to pay for Boxer’s protection benefits from prison, it doesn’t take much to convince her.

A propulsive thriller shot in one continuous take over 22 locations, all within a short taxi ride away, it would be easy for viewers to write off Sebastian Schipper’s film as a gimmick at first glance. Last year’s Birdman (Iñárritu, 2014), though an Academy Awards darling, received plenty of heat for disguising its illusory seamlessness with hidden cuts and slight of hand.

And while it is likely Victoria will never quite reach the same audience that Birdman did, those who do see it will come away breathlessly entertained and decidedly less polarized by this genuine one-take. While the former impacted with bombast and theatricality, Victoria executes with graceful precision, propelled by tight improvisational acting and the assured talents of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. Aided by the keys and strings of composer Nils Frahm, whose sparse music blooms in the aftermath of sudden bursts of intensity, what could have been a trainwreck in its naturalistic style remains firmly on the rails, stripped to its barest essentials but moving at peak efficiency.

Blues’ big break in Belgium

Women’s volleyball captain Charlotte Sider goes pro

Blues’ big break in Belgium

The newest Varsity Blue athlete to go pro is last season’s volleyball captain and standout, Charlotte Sider.

The Ottawa native — who studied kinesiology — played left side for the Blues for five years and has recently decided to take her talents to Belgium, signing an eight-month contract with VT Optima Lendelede for the 2015-2016 season.

Growing up, Sider played many different sports, including swimming, tennis, track and field, basketball, and, of course, volleyball.  However, it was not until the tenth grade that she decided to focus on volleyball.

Sider, a driven athlete and captain, realized that among all the sports she played, volleyball was the one she was most passionate about and most wanted to pursue. “[I’ve] always had the desire to play [volleyball] at the highest level possible,” said Sider, who has now reached that goal by signing a professional contract.

Sider also credits her experience at U of T  as influencing her decision to turn pro —  from coaches, to medical staff, and, of course, her teammates. “U of T provided [me] with a strong support system… [and] a firm foundation for volleyball,” she explained.  The program also taught her professionalism, which is applicable beyond the world of professional sports.

During her time at U of T, Sider was also provided with numerous opportunities to represent not only the university, but Canada as well.

She was a member of the FISU beach volleyball team in Kazan, Russia in 2013, where she and her partner Rachel Cockrell — of the University of Manitoba — made it to the quarterfinals. Sider also represented Canada at the under-21 and under-23 world championships.

These experiences may have helped prepare Sider for playing in Europe, where volleyball is much more of a spectator sport than in Canada.  In fact, Sider says that many teams play their matches in gyms and stadiums designed specifically for volleyball. The larger fan base overseas also means that it is easier for the athletes to make a living playing in professional leagues.

Sider says she is taking things in stride, embracing her current opportunity in Belgium, where playing volleyball will not come without some unique challenges — like adapting to a new culture and learning how to communicate — but she says that she is looking forward to “[experiencing] volleyball in a totally new context.”

Regardless of any obstacles that may arise, Sider is staying positive by reminding herself that “volleyball is volleyball no matter where you live.”

Though trying to take life “one season at a time,” the future looks bright for this former Varsity Blue.

U of T field hockey dominates in home opener

Blues defeat Panthers 6–1

U of T field hockey dominates in home opener

On September 11, the Varsity Blues women’s field hockey team won their home opener game against the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers. The Blues had a terrific win, with a final score of 6–1. The 60-minute game was a tough battle during the first half, but the Blues quickly took the lead in the second.

The first goal of the season was scored by Ally Evanyshyn, and was recorded minutes into the game. Struggle ensued as the Panthers attacked, and were successful in scoring a point. After quite a few tries, another goal for the Blues was scored in the first half, placing Toronto in the lead.

The second half began with excellent defense from both teams. The Blues kept the Panthers in their goal for most of the second half, with stellar offence. Some key attackers in the match were Tegan Stairs and Megan Johansen. The midfielders responsible for keeping the Panthers on their toes with sharp, precise passes were Emma Wingrave and veteran Amanda Woodcroft.

Woodcroft — who is in her fifth season with the Blues — and a member of Canada’s bronze medal winning Pan Am team, described the match as rough, yet was still impressed with the tenacity of her team and their perseverance to pull through to the end. “It’s always great to win the first game. It was even better since the team got to play together after a while” said Woodcroft, who has been training two times a day for the past two weeks with the rest of the team. “It was great to play today because all we did was run before [the match].”

You can see Woodcroft, and the rest of the Blues field hockey team in action on October 17 when they take on the McGill Martlets.

World–class TPASC open to some U of T students

Decision yet to be made on whether non-UTSC students will pay membership fees at facility

World–class TPASC open to some U of T students

If you attended the Pan Am Games this past summer for a diving or swimming event, you would have found yourself at the newest addition to the University of Toronto’s family of facilities, the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC).

TPASC is owned by both U of T and the City of Toronto — allowing both students and community members access to the most expensive investment in Canadian amateur sport history.

Although the facility opened a year ago, it has been closed to the public since the beginning of the Pan Am Games in early May.

Included in the TPASC are a fitness centre, aquatic centre, field house and climbing wall. The fitness centre — the new home of UTSC’s drop-in sports programs — is a multi-level concourse equipped with free weights, squat decks, and Jacob’s Ladders on the lower level and a cardio studio above, consisting of treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines.

The most impressive feature of the TPASC, however, is the aquatic centre, which houses two Olympic size pools which served as ground-zero for the diving and swimming Pan Am events — the place where U of T alumni Zack Chetrat won bronze in the 200-meter butterfly competition.

All of the TPASC facilities, with the exception of the competition pool, which opens on September 28, will open on September 14, and will be mainly used for aquatic programming such as lane swimming and aqua fit classes during the school year. Believe it or not, U of T’s Varsity Blues swim team will continue training at the Athletic Center pool, meaning fewer lane closures and program hours.

Certainly one of the most exciting features of TPASC is its 41-foot climbing wall. This is the first climbing facility at U of T, and is available for drop-in sessions or for lessons. The facility offers a variety of climbing routes for beginners and experts alike.

TPASC is also the new home of the Canadian Sports Institute Ontario, which provides sports service and research. They work with Canadian athletes and coaches to deliver programming, provide rehabilitation, and much more.

For the time being, students need but a TCard to access TPASC, which will be open from 5 AM to 12 PM daily, seven days a week, so students no longer have an excuse to miss a workout, and have the unique opportunity to swim where Olympians swam, and train like the pros.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that U of T St. George and U of T Mississauga students might be limited in their access to TPASC in the new year. This was reported in error, as students from both of these campuses are welcome to use the facility at no charge in keeping with pre-Pan Am Games policy. The Varsity regrets the error.