Spotlight on: The Varsity Blues Wrestling Team

Wrestling is a very intense, physically demanding sport, requiring superior agility and strength.

The Varsity Blues Wrestling Team is comprised of only four men and three women who are actively competing. The teammates practice together and with non-Blues wrestlers.

“We have some international wrestlers,” says Blues wrestler Dene Ringuette. “Quite a few who are the best in Canada, who are almost uncontested.”

There is a maximum of six practices per week. Some practices are devoted to technique, while others are solely devoted to matches. The intensity of the practice differs depending on whether or not a tournament is approaching.

“You have volume training, and then you have high-intensity low volume training before major events. This basically mimics what you do at competitions,” says Ringuette.

Team members have the chance to improve their technique with members of other clubs who drop by to practice with the Blues. Teammates are supportive of each other, often acting like coaches for other wrestlers.

“At practice everyone works together,” adds wrestler Alyssa James.
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Although upon first glance wrestling may not seem safe, Riguette insists that, “Despite the fact that there are a lot of injuries, it is a very safe sport. I can’t think of one that is that safe for how intense it is.”

There are a few distinct styles of wrestling. Folkstyle wrestling is found in the United States and Cuba, while Greco Roman is most popular in Europe. The Varsity Blues wrestlers primarily compete in Olympic freestyle.

Folkstyle involves technique similar to freestyle, but with slightly different rules, while Greco Roman is entirely different. For Greco Roman, feet are not allowed to be used in any way — whether to take your opponent down or to escape a hold. Greco Roman wrestling involves more high-amplitude throws. Riguette won the Greco Roman Ontario Provincials last year, but his training is not focused on this style.

”It’s certainly done as an afterthought here in Ontario. I guarantee that all my opponents see it as an afterthought,” says Ringuette.

The team participates in up to eight tournaments per year within the university circuit, and in tournaments outside the circuit, including provincials and nationals. At every tournament, each match is best two out of three, two-minute rounds. Matches last between four and six minutes.

An exception occurs if an athlete executes a five-point takedown: this occurs rarely and only if the opponent’s heels go over their head during the course of the throw.

“The criteria for a five-point take down is that during the course of a throw or a leg takedown, their feet have made an arc, meaning their feet have gone head over heels,” says Riguette.

This takedown ends the match.
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Another possibility is the one-point takedown which is when you take the opponent down by grabbing their feet and putting them into a non-dangerous position, like on their back.

There’s also the two-point takedown.

“For two-points you’d have to expose their back to the mat while par terre (on the ground)” says James.

A three-point takedown is from “feet to back” — when you take the opponent by their feet, they must end up on their back.

If the score is zero-zero when time is up, the tie-breaks are decided by flipping a coin.

“One person gets to grab the other’s leg — if they score, they win. If they don’t score, the other person wins,” says Ringuette.

If the final score is a tie but not zero-zero then the last athlete who scored wins the match.

At both competitions and practices the Varsity athletes get to compete against and practice with players from all around the world, always learning new techniques and styles.

“Often I find that Russians are the best wrestlers. Their style is more balanced, more like a chess match,” says Ringuette. “They never seem to beat up an opponent. That’s more the American style. The Russians are focused on deception, and I find that it works better. It’s not about trying to sneak in there quick. Instead, they’ll set you up at the beginning.”

Both James and Ringuette say they enjoy wrestling because there are always new techniques to be learned, it is physically intense, and it is an individual sport. Although the team boasts some elite wrestlers, it also welcomes those who are new to the sport.

“If you want to join, just come to practice, and if you work hard enough, you’ll get to compete,” says James.

Elementary, my dear Watson

On February 14, 2011, Alex Trebek will play host to a battle of man versus machine.

In a special edition of Jeopardy, IBM’s deep analytics question-answer computer “Watson,” named after IBM president Thomas J. Watson, will play against top Jeopardy winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. IBM researchers hope to answer the question of how a computer will fare in a competition of knowledge retrieval and natural language processing when it’s up against human players.

The rest of us are hoping for an answer to the question of whether a computer can ever be smarter than a human. Although it is tempting to pit this as a fight between artificial intelligence and human intelligence, it is much more important to consider it as an event with profound implications for understanding the nature of intelligence and what it means to be an intelligent being.

Watson represents a big step in IBM’s long journey toward creating innovative intelligent machines. IBM’s previous landmark was a computer named “Blue Gene,” which scientists used to map the three billion base-pairs of the human genome. For Watson, the issue is instead to tackle a different but equally complex task: natural language.

“Language was an area that, even at the beginning of the computer era, people believed computers would be good at,” says Dr. Bill Murdock, a Watson algorithms researcher. “So far, computers have failed.”

From the beginning, the problem has always been “open question answering.” This problem is very different from a simple search task that everyday computers are built for. It also more closely resembles how humans actually communicate.

“People can understand language because we relate it to our own thinking and our cognition,” says Murdock. “Language is grounded in our experiences — not in a formal mathematical language that computers can only understand. Computers understand unambiguous things, not like human language.”

Indeed, one of the most curious and impressive challenges will be testing Watson’s ability to discern the many nuances, regionalisms, slang words, and short hand terms that run rampant in Jeopardy questions.

“Jeopardy is a playing field by which we can do some science,“ says Dr. Chris Welty. He explains that Jeopardy producers were at first hesitant about the idea, since they did not want the event to be a mere stunt or gimmick for their show. They reconsidered, however, when they realized the idea was not something to be passed off — a lucky break for IBM researchers, since Jeopardy provides the perfect conditions for testing a natural language processing machine.

“Jeopardy as the broad domain aspect asks all kinds of questions — something we really wanted to take on,” says Welty. “And you have to work quickly. Technology must be responsive. We needed to make a system that can extract unique information from a large amount of general information, and faster than a human can.”
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Early tests showed that Watson’s processing speed would be a major problem to overcome. Researchers used a process of putting as many algorithms as possible into the system, and then seeing which ones they could trust to provide a correct answer. The system works on parallel processing. Once Watson is fed a question, it activates all relevant algorithms, and cross-references them with the question. If there is a high degree of overlap or similarity between certain algorithms, this increases Watson’s confidence that it has found the correct answer.

Watson can also input answers into its own system to see if the Jeopardy question appears. This further reinforces its confidence in its answer, highlighting the statistical basis of Watson’s processing.

As one might guess, to be a competitive player at Jeopardy, Watson would need as many algorithms as possible, representing all available knowledge. Luckily, this obstacle was overcome thanks to the Internet, where vast amounts of information are now available digitally.

Watson represents IBM’s most ambitious foray into deep analytics and natural language processing. However, Watson’s early test matches were difficult for IBM researchers to watch:

Watson: “I Love Lucy for 800.”

Question: “It is Ricky’s signature tune and later the name of his club.”

Watson: “What is song.”

According to Dr. David Gondek, “Watson didn’t have a good notion of what the answer type was, or what it was even being asked.”

It would take two years for Watson to play at a competitive level. This was accomplished by building a computer the size of a classroom.

Dr. Eduard Hovy of the University of Southern California says the implications for such a machine will become more apparent and astounding once we can imagine a Watson the size of a PDA.

A more practical-sized Watson could be used in the healthcare industry. IBM researchers hope to build a Watson that can store all the medical information in the world — from illnesses to tried treatments — in order to provide information to doctors when treating patients. Doctors would be able to ask Watson to name all the treatments that have been performed for a particular ailment in the past, and choose one accordingly.

Lawyers could also benefit from Watson when searching for precedent cases, by asking it to name all of the cases similar to the one at hand. Watson would essentially make information retrieval more efficient using its ability to understand human language.

“Can you imagine computers communicating more fluently in natural language?” asks Welty. On February 14, we won’t need to.

The Varsity Interview: Lieutenant Governor David Onley

The Varsity: I just wanted to start off by congratulating you on almost four years in this office.

David Onley: Four years, yes. Well, three and a bit now. I don’t like to use the “four years” just yet.

TV: Why’s that?

DO: Well it’s just hard to believe that so much time has gone by. It really has — even to say three years is amazing to me.

TV: It must be all sort of a blur now, but what was it initially like to get that phone call from the Prime Minister?

DO: It was an amazing moment. There is a process that you have to go through when you realize that you’re on the short list and you’re actually interviewed for the job. So the last Thursday of June of 2007, just prior to the Canada Day weekend, I was called by the Prime Minister’s office, [and they said] that they wanted to interview me. […] The interview was scheduled to go on for 45 minutes, but the way [the interviewer] was sitting, every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of his watch, and [the interview] was 10 minutes shy of 90 minutes. […] [On] Wednesday, it was 20 minutes to 5 and this gentleman called. And the first thing he said was the Prime Minister needs to talk to you. […] I was driving, at the top of the Don Valley Parkway. And I thought to myself, Lord don’t let me hit anybody, just keep it straight in this lane.

TV: The Governor General, in his installation speech, mentioned three pillars he wanted to address during his time in office: families and children, learning and innovation, and philanthropy and volunteerism. At the onset of this journey, what were the goals that you personally set for yourself?

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DO: The primary one is the whole concept of accessibility within our society. And it’s an issue that I’ve been promoting through my whole term in office. It is something that is more than just for people with disabilities, who [constitute] 15.5 per cent of our population. When you take into account the immediate family members, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children of those disabled people, it is now comfortably over 50 per cent of the population who are affected. And with the aging boomer population, who just by virtue of aging will be encountering more issues, accessibility is no longer an option, it’s mandatory. […] I’ve made a series of good allegiances and alliances and contacts with a range of communities, whether it’s the Black History association or the Monarchist League or children’s hospitals. [It’s important to] reach out to many different ethnic communities who have come to Canada and to whom the monarchy is a new experience.

TV: You mentioned your father’s faith. What’s been the role of spirituality at this stage in your life?

DO: Well for me, as a Christian, it’s been a fundamental part of my life. There are issues and there are problems in life that you just simply can’t answer with traditional mathematics, chemistry, physics, languages. The issues of suffering, the randomness of bad events — as the title of that famous book many years ago said — bad things do happen to good people. And why is that? When I got polio at three and a half, I wasn’t a bad person, but it happened. And why was the police officer killed a week and a half ago? And why was the congresswoman shot in the US? And ultimately the questions we all wrestle with are where do we come from, why are we here, and where are we going. And I think it’s important in life to not ignore those questions.
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TV: Obviously being visibly disabled comes with its own burdens and pain, but I was wondering what advice you’d offer those who feel emotionally trapped or inadequate or discouraged?

DO: I think somehow, within ourselves we have to realize that there’s no one that’s perfect. Society can airbrush all they want and present images of perfection. But even if you don’t have any immediate imperfections, it doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer or be struck down by MS or get hit by a car. I saw a picture in the newspaper today and there was a gentleman in an electric wheelchair speaking at the TTC hearing about the changes to bus routes. When I saw the picture I thought, “well, good for him.” He’s out there, doing more than so many people. He’s making his voice known and his opinions heard. I think that, regardless of your religion, we are made in the image of God, and some of us have issues or difficulties. If you’re judging a person’s value or worth based on what disease they’ve encountered or on a birth defect, these are not descriptions of character.

If there’s any overall criticism of the way our society markets things, it’s that we put a ridiculous overemphasis on the peripheral and on imagery. Far too little on the core values of what it is that makes a society unique, why we have the quality of life that we have, despite its imperfections, and its heartache, and its miscarriages of justice. In comparison to just about any other country in the world, we’re doing very well. I like to tell the students in elementary school that these things didn’t come about by accident, that slavery had to be done away with. We had slavery in the province of Ontario in 1791 until the first lieutenant governor took the steps to get rid of it and create the court system that we have. Such a fundamental concept of freedom happened in 1791; it didn’t happen in the States until a war was fought over it. There’s a quality of life and values that didn’t happen by accident and those values are far more important than any transient image.

I know I’m combining two elements together in terms of motivation, and I don’t expect that someone struggling will be motivated because of the experiences of John Grave Simcoe in 1792. But at the same time, it is possible. There are more opportunities here than anywhere else.
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TV: What’s been a particularly poignant moment from the past three
and a half years?

DO: I have an enormous sensitivity to basically any time I’ve presented a memorial cross to the families of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. That’s been just really powerful. […] [Furthermore] the three police funerals I’ve been to. One for the OPP officer in Ottawa, Officer Czapnik; Officer Hack, who died in a car crash in pursuit of a suspect; and most recently, Sergeant Ryan Russell. I was the only person not affiliated with the police who spoke. Those were deeply moving moments that I’ll never forget. […] On the positive side of things, [there have been] just amazing moments: meeting the Emperor and Empress of Japan and having them here in the suite [of the Lieutenant Governor]; having Queen Elizabeth visit there, the first monarch to visit since before the war; meeting Hu Jintao; meeting Prince Charles when he came; and people in the world of entertainment like Dolly Parton and Don Cherry. Probably the mot significant memory I have that I’ll always take away with me would be at the Prime Minister’s dinner for the Queen, held at the Royal York. […] She made eye contact with me, came over and started to talk about what a wonderful evening she had, and how she’d be seeing me tomorrow and how she rather looked forward to it.

Sororities and fraternities targeted by Vaughan

Members of U of T’s fraternity and sorority houses are crying foul after receiving a financial hit.

As of late January, the houses are subject to a zoning bylaw that classifies most as “rooming houses,” requiring them to obtain a licence and close if too many noise complaints are issued.

Adam Vaughan, Councillor of Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, spearheaded the changes last June, citing noise complaints about frat houses lining Prince Arthur Avenue, a street otherwise filled with private condos and townhouses.

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Vaughan is also moving to prohibit the houses from renting out their property for lucrative movie shoots. He alleges the profits, which can amount to $7,000 per day, are used to fund parties that prompt noise complaints. Options for the ban will be discussed this month.

“The idea isn’t to chase them out of the neighbourhood, the idea isn’t to close them, the idea isn’t to stop them from providing cheap, affordable housing,” Vaughan told the National Post. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at four o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?”

Fraternities and sororities at U of T aren’t affiliated with the university, and most are located off-campus.

“I can’t speak to the relative legitimacy of complaints that Councillor Vaughan may or may not have received,” said Adam Carson, speaking to the Toronto Sun on behalf of local frat houses.

“I can say though that we don’t feel that licensing and regulation is a necessary step that’s required by the city Any of the issues that the councillor has brought up […] are addressed and covered by the existing municipal code.”

Councillor Karen Stintz has moved to re-evaluate the zoning changes, and study if sufficient consultation took place beforehand.

With files from the Globe and Mail.

UTSU hosts Churchill and Davis

On Wednesday, February 2 keynote speakers Ward Churchill and Angela Davis spoke at Convocation Hall to an audience of 350 people as part of the University of Toronto Student Union’s eXpression Against Oppression week.

Ward Churchill is an American scholar and activist who focuses on the historic treatment of Native Americans and political dissenters in the United States. He gained media notoriety in 2005 for an essay he published in 2001. “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” alleged that the September 11, 2001 attacks were a natural and unavoidable consequence of US policy. Angela Davis is an activist, author, and retired professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is the former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.

The talk was part of a series of campus discussions, performances, and movie screenings organized by UTSU’s Equity Commission to raise awareness of equity issues at home and abroad. Both speakers spoke to a number of issues, including their experiences with organizing against oppression, the conditions of Aboriginals in Canada, and emerging issues at the University of Toronto.

The talk began with a speech by OISE faculty member and Assistant Professor Roland Sintos Coloma, who started the evening talking about what it means to apologize. He made reference to the infamous Maclean’s “Too Asian” article.

“If the media offends us we have the right to talk back,” said Coloma. He urged the audience to voice their concerns and send postcards to the minister of culture to cut public funding from Maclean’s.

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Churchill then began to speak, focusing on what he characterized as the detrimental role of corporatization on campus. “Power is not listening. […] You do not speak truth to power, you speak truth to people. […] Private financing of post-secondary education leads to crushing of academic freedom.”

Churchill continued to discuss alleged oppressions of speech due to political beliefs in academic settings. He used the example of Norman Finkelstein, who wrote The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, who was allegedly denied tenure because of his political views.

Davis began her speech discussing access to education and corporatization on campus. “The University of Toronto is not a public institution. It is a publicly-assisted not-for-profit corporation.”

She went on to speak about the “American prison-industrial complex,” alleging that Stephen Harper is taking a similar approach. “It’s a shame he is prioritizing prisons not education.”

At the end of the speech both speakers were invited by Danielle Sandhu, vice president equity, to sign the stop flat fees petititon in support of free higher education.

The talk received opposition from some students. After the keynote the Student Political Action committee condemned what they alleged to be the use of student fees to promote “radical politics” on campus.

“Both speakers said some pretty outrageous things,” said Student PAC representative, Robert Boissonneault, in an email to The Varsity. “They have a right to say those things, though. That does not mean they should be hosted, promoted, and paid for by our student union with our money.”

“U.T.S.U collects nearly $2 million from students every year and that money should be spent on things that matter to ordinary students, not on promoting a radical political agenda.”

The start of a revolution?

“The age of revolutions is over,” my grade nine teacher in Iran told me. He suggested I was wrong to say that the people of the Arab world would rise up to overthrow their dictators with their own power. He probably said so after having read some paraphrased version of Fukuyama’s famous article “The End of History?,” explaining to us how things like popular revolution were “so yesterday.”

Looking at the early years of this century, one might have been forgiven for believing that. The only region of the world that saw massive revolutions in this period was Latin America, and these revolutions were far from normal, mostly revolving around socialist leaders being elected by the ballot box.

But if you didn’t get the clue from the recent rise of revolutions in Iran, Thailand, and Kyrgyzstan in the last couple of years, the rise of the magnificent revolutionary movement that began in Tunisia, and which is beginning to rampage across the Arab world, should be proof enough.

The importance of these events can’t be overemphasized. Relying on their own power, Tunisian masses fought the cruel, Western-supported regime of Zine al Abidine Bin Ali and made him flee the country in less than two weeks. This was the first time ever that an Arab despot was overthrown by a popular revolution. Before, it was said that something like this couldn’t be done. All the Western proponents of “democracy” were happy to back dictatorial regimes in the region and were confident that these regimes would remain in power. Right before Mr. Bin Ali had to pack his suitcase, The Economist, the most far-sighted paper of global capitalism, said: “Tunisia’s troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74-year-old president or even to jolt his model of autocracy.” After this was proven wrong, it was the turn of all “experts” to predict why this revolution would never spread to other Arab countries. Stephen M. Walt, one of many “distinguished” right-wing pundits for the journal Foreign Policy, wrote an article that could be judged by its title: “Why the Tunisian Revolution Won’t Spread.” There were specific articles saying why Egypt, especially, was “stable” and immune from all of this!

Next thing you know, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians fill Cairo’s Liberation square demanding the immediate overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, another corrupt ally of Western imperialists. As I write these words, Mubarak still clings to power and has unleashed his goons on the revolution. As the battle over Egypt’s fate goes on in the Liberation Square, even Barack Obama has had to ask the old American ally to let go and leave power immediately. Similar movements are going on in Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, and Algeria. One thing is clear: the Arab world will never be the same again. A revolution has engulfed the region.

But what now?

This is, of course, the easy part of the revolution. Dictators may flee, but the question remains on what will replace them, and what will become of people’s quests for democracy, equality, dignity, and justice.

A few observations can be made.

One is the conspicuous absence of Islamic fundamentalists in these revolutions. A fairy tale that we were told by the Western governments was that the only alternative to the despotic Western-backed regimes in the region would be Islamist theocracies like Iran’s. However, now that the actual revolutionary movement of the masses has started, how many calls do you hear for the establishment of Sharia Law? It is clear that the demands of the revolution are for revolutionary democracy and not Islamic theocracy.

And if you thought this revolution was about supporting Islamist forces against the more pro-Western forces, just consider this fact: when there were demonstrations in support of the Egyptian revolt in the West Bank and Gaza, they were both suppressed; respectively, by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Islamist Hamas government. This led Omar Barghouti, a well-known Palestinian activist, to say: “Fatah and Hamas agree on so little; at the core of that little common denominator lies repression of dissent and suppression of freedoms.” The same could be said of the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have been dealing with their own revolution for the past two years, and are dead scared of the latest developments.

But if Islamists are not to fill the vacuum, who is?

Pundits — especially those who argued for stability — are now talking about “orderly transition.” What they have in common with the dictators of the region is their call on the people to exercise “restraint.” Basically, not overthrow the whole regime and hasten “stability.” As I write these lines, Egyptian masses are learning a bitter lesson about what happens when you don’t arm the revolution. Dozens of goons, many of them policemen who shed their uniforms, “spontaneously” (but are strangely well-armed, and riding horses and camels) attack people, killing dozens, and injuring hundreds.

Who is to take power in the midst of this chaos?

There is a lot of advice being bestowed on the Arab masses right now. Our very own Clifford Orwin, who teaches political science at U of T but is also a fellow at Stanford University’s notorious Hoover Institution, mused in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail that, “It’s hardly an accident that the only functioning Arab democracy, albeit a struggling one, is Iraq,” and reminded us that “democratic self-government” in Tunisia and Egypt “may well require the same intensive international nurturing.”

Thanks, but no thanks, Professor Orwin. Take your advice to your right-wing pals in the United States. If there is one thing that the Egyptian masses have learned it is that the only power they can trust is their own. They should storm the barracks, arm themselves, and set up neighbourhood councils all over the land that could convene a genuinely democratic assembly to decide the fate of their own country. The first decision of such an assembly would be to take over the unjustly acquired wealth of dictators and capitalists and start a society in which people truly run their own lives.

An Arab revolution has started with a quest for democracy. It will not stand still until it has established complete political and economic democracy, which might as well be called socialism.

Arash Azizi is co-chair of the Marxist Discussion Club

Out with the old

U of T has instituted a new retirement program in order to encourage what it calls renewal in faculty ranks. The new package offers a year’s salary to members age 60 or older with 10 years of service and supplements an existing program giving faculty members 75 per cent of their salary after 3 years, in addition to the regular retirement program.

“While our existing faculty are, of course, renowned for their research and scholarship, we always need to be recruiting new researchers and scholars to renew our disciplines,” wrote U of T Vice-President and Professor Angela Hildyard in an email. “We are able to engage in some renewal through replacement of faculty retiring under our existing programs. However, following consultation with the deans, it was felt that this was a good time to engage in some more concentrated renewal.”

Altogether, about 500 faculty members are eligible to apply for the new program and the university has committed to begin searches for vacancies within five years. Applications are due at the end of April.

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Hildyard denied that the program was intended as a cost-saving measure and also dismissed any suggestion that the university was seeking to downgrade certain departments or units by transferring faculty positions to certain areas. She conceded that there would be some savings in terms of salary differentials between older and younger members but said these would be “marginal.” Older professors generally earn more than newer hires.

“This program is meant to encourage people that are really thinking about retiring, to encourage them to make that decision now,” said George Luste, president of the faculty association. The university initiated talks for the proposed new program with the faculty association in mid-November. Luste said the main point for UTFA’s consent was that the program provides for a kind of universal entitlement as opposed to being distributed on a more discretionary basis.

He also noted that the new program left open the possibility that those who accepted could come back right away as a per-course stipendiary teacher. “I think that’s the administration’s way of ensuring that it will minimize any impact on existing undergraduate and graduate programs.”

Regulation for the win

Regulation vs. Deregulation. This is a hotly contested topic that has been given intensive media play in the wake of the global economic crisis and the practices that are alleged to have led to it. The arguments for and against both positions are built on a lengthy history, and people are fundamentally divided. Of course, the issues pertaining to government regulation are vastly more complex. At the risk of presenting an over-simplified, Elle Woods-style case, the bottom line is that regulation is good and deregulation is bad, especially when it comes to the economic and financial sectors, as demonstrated in recent events in the U.S. and Canada during the global financial crisis. If only it could all be so simple. That valuation may be fine and dandy, but are all the Canadian regulations in place serving us well? What does it even mean, really?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines deregulation as, “the act or process of removing restrictions and regulations.” In terms of economics, regulations are outlined and enforced by governments in order to exercise some degree of management over market forces. They are intended to protect institutions like banks, to insure healthy competition in markets in order to protect consumers, and generally prevent complete economic collapse. Deregulation does not mean killing laws against fraud, but easing government control of business operations that constitute a more laissez-faire, free market. It is not to be confused with liberalization, which involves introducing more entities into markets, because liberalization can maintain government regulations and protection of consumer rights whereas deregulation involves the removal or relaxing of such controls.
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Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, has been attacked for the deregulatory policies he implemented. Many economists and politicians blame deregulation for the financial crisis, arguing that the whole debacle could have been prevented. The Fed is equivalent to the Bank of Canada, our nation’s central bank, which operates under the mandate “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada.” Both are responsible for monetary policy, federal currency, and overseeing the financial system.

The difference is that in Canada, our central bank has maintained a policy of regulation and has successfully avoided the level of economic hardship experienced in the U.S.. A report released at the end of January by a bipartisan U.S. investigative panel serves as a harsh criticism of the deregulation policies Greenspan advocated. The report quite clearly states that the government had the ability to avoid the 2007-09 financial crisis that has had global repercussions; it just decided not to. Illustrating the highly contentious nature of this issue, the report was only endorsed by the six Democratic members of the Commission. Three Republican members published a competing report that states: “U.S. monetary policy may have contributed to the credit bubble but did not cause it,” and the fourth Republican member issued a report that finds the actual root of the crisis lay in U.S. housing policy adopted in the early 1990s. So the merits of regulation as opposed to deregulation are very much tied to ideology, yet clearly all sides agree that deregulation policies were a factor that contributed to the economic collapse. And there is no disputing as to the severity of the financial crisis. In 2009, current U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman and Great Depression expert Ben Bernanke said, “As a scholar of the Great Depression, I honestly believe that September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression.”

While Canada obviously suffered, we fared much better than our southern neighbour. In an interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006, a Fox News host noted that Canada’s strict banking regulations ensured that no Canadian banks needed a bailout — the only Western country that fared so well. He also asked if Harper was concerned that regulation was impeding the innovation and risk-taking that occurs in a more free market, the main argument of deregulation supporters. Harper’s answer helps prove the point that regulation is best. As he stated, in reality Canada emerged from the financial crisis “probably with the only truly free market financial system in the world.” Those of you who have signed the petition to prevent ISPs from switching to Usage Based Billing, paying for every byte you use, have regulations to thank for its expected success. Although the CRTC made the recommendation, if not for the policies of regulation in place in this country, ISPs would be able to make any changes they desire without limitation. Like grounding a misbehaving teenager when he or she disobeys the rules, regulations work to protect consumers from big corporations, and protect financial institutions from themselves.