Admin strives to woo athletic supporters, with Bubble vote near

In 1998, the century-old and crumbling Varsity Stadium was nearly turned into a hotel in the hands of private developers. With its mind set on keeping the space for students, the university came up with several different plans to rebuild the site. In 2002, the Faculty of Physical Education and Health proposed an elaborate new stadium that would be partly funded by a student levy. The project was rejected by students in a referendum, and FPEH went back to the drawing board.

The current phase of the project was first put before Governing Council in 2005, according to FPEH’s dean Bruce Kidd. The committee that considered the proposal included representatives from the Graduate Students’ Union, University of Toronto Students’ Union, and Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students.

“All their representatives signed the report which included a business model that called for a $10 per term per full-time student fee,” said Masha Sidorova, co-chair of Council for Athletics and Recreation.

The report in question states that: “There will be no student capital levy for Phase 1 and only a modest increase in student operating is proposed (under $10 per term, to begin in 2008-09).”

Fast forward to 2008: none of those student unions have offi- cially endorsed the proposal. “My understanding is that [the signed document is] not binding,” said Rini Ghosh, then-president of UTSU (at the time known as SAC). “Considering our ideological beliefs, I don’t think Howard Tam [SAC’s representative on the project planning committee] would have committed students to pay the extra levy.”

In March 2007, the fee increase was taken to the Council on Student Services, where all the students on the board opposed it. UTSU members maintained that such an increase in fees could not be implemented without being first taken to the students. That was that—or so they thought.

“At the March 2 COSS meeting, we were under the impression that we had to come to a final decision at that meeting,” said UTSU president Andréa Armborst, who was then UTSU’s VP internal and non-voting chair on COSS.

In the meantime, FPEH had raised $24 million to build phase one of the Varsity Centre and the Bubble. Some criticized the university for building the facility without ensuring students would be willing to pay to use it.

“The university’s new strategy is to build something and then use the threat of it being taken away to force us to shoulder the costs of operating it,” said Arts and Science Students’ Union president Ryan Hayes. “You can expect to see the same thing happen with the Centre for High Performance Sport.”

Armborst disagreed. “The FPEH has been very straightforward with us. I don’t believe it’s a threat. The fact that students are having to pay for student space is not something the student union agrees with, but it’s an unfortunate reality,” she said. Armborst added that, while she trusted the FPEH, she was accustomed to taking the university administration’s word with a grain of salt

“Quite often what we hear from the university is contradictory to what actually happens in operational matters,” she said.

While plans for the CHPS are a long way from being finalized, a May 2007 preliminary project proposal presented to the university’s Planning and Budget Committee stipulated that students would pay 75 per cent of the annual $2.8-million operational cost. “We will be asking students to pay for their use,” said Kidd.

Kidd has taken the position that student fees for athletics are a regrettable necessity.

“I wish there could be another model. I wish that the province would fund both capital and operating [costs] for these important programs,” said Kidd, “but I just don’t see that happening.”

Ignoring the truth about free trade

It seems that the Democrat Party suffers from a bad case of amnesia these days. Once a party of international intervention and nation building, its members now call for a hastened withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Lately, on the domestic front, this forgetfulness can be witnessed by the row between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, over their mutual disdain for free trade. Both have proposed to renegotiate NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement—with Canada and Mexico. Both have accused the other of being inadequately critical of the trade deal.

This amusing spectacle also occurred during the presidency of Democrat darling Bill Clinton when NAFTA was signed. In the 1990s, the Democrats modernized their political philosophy to branch out to more middle class voters satisfied with the free market economy. Clinton led this reformation under the branding of “New Democrats,” and the passing of a plethora of other trade deals. In fact, Clinton holds the record for passing the most bi- and multi-lateral free trade deals among all U.S. presidents. This is clearly problematic for Hillary: as then-first lady, she is assumed to have been providing the counsel that led to such decisions. But it is also problematic for Obama and Democrats in general, because it was during Clinton’s terms that the Democrats in congress approved of such bills.

Perhaps more willful ignorance than amnesia, this unilateral proposal to renegotiate a treaty with America’s allies reeks of self-contradiction. In the past eight years, Democrats have hounded President Bush for his UN unilateralism, declaring his Iraq war illegal under international law and his abrasive style damaging for America’s reputation. Yet the international treaties signed with America’s trade partners require principles of legality and cooperative reputation that seem to have flown out the window. If the Democrats have feared America’s image abroad appearing selfish and arrogant, then selfishly and arrogantly ending an agreement because it threatens your interests seems like an odd solution to the problem.

Theoretically speaking, a reformed NAFTA under Obama and Clinton’s currently suggested guidelines would focus on labour and environmental standards. American and Canadian standards are relatively equal and fairly high, so the focus will fall on the poorer Mexico. Both candidates feel America is being “cheated” under this current deal because, in their view of the American economy, unskilled workers are losing jobs to neighbours down south with less stringent work and pay standards. Both would like Mexico to join Canada and the U.S. on an “equal” playing field in a new trade agreement. Essentially, the requirements call for more stringent labour and environmental standards to remove the advantage Mexico has in its trade affairs. It is a form of protectionism that seeks to pacify the competition.

Even if we disregard that net U.S. jobs have increased since NAFTA was signed, these policy suggestions are at best misguided, and at worse, cynical. From a policy perspective, renegotiating NAFTA is clearly a bad idea. The gains, if any, in terms of employment for unskilled American workers are outdone by the increase in the costs of consumer goods. This hurts all Americans, but it afflicts the poor, who spend the greatest share of their income on basics. The only thing “fair” about renegotiating NAFTA would be the equal suffering we would all incur. The jobs that have displaced American workers will be taken away from poorer Mexicans who have lost their cost-effective ability to attract American companies. Liberal concerns of worker exploitation down south sound unimportant when these workers may no longer have a job at all, thanks to a renegotiated NAFTA.

Given how crucial manufacturing bases such as Ohio and Michigan are to swing states, it is hard not to accuse the Democrats of pandering to populist pressures. In their desire to win the election, they have abandoned the government practices they preach, erased from the public consciousness. Democrats have engaged in a blatant act of opportunistic hypocrisy. Most importantly, they have ignored the potential economic and moral costs of a renegotiated NAFTA.

Fed budget’s in: For most students, no change

Months before its tenth birthday, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation has received its death notice. Unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last Tuesday, the federal government’s Budget 2008 will scrap the CMSF, which gave need-based bursaries and merit-based scholarships. Its $350-million annual allowance, combined with the annual $138 million currently doled out in grants, will go towards the new Canada Student Grant Program.

While the creation of the national grant program has drawn cautious praise from student groups, critics panned the lack of major student financial aid reforms hinted at last year by Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

Though the grant system will reach more students—an estimated 100,000 more, for a total of 245,000 recipients—it has no new funding sources, so individual beneficiaries will see less cash. However, the funding for grants is set to increase each year, hitting $430 million by 2012-13.

“Although there wasn’t new money allotted, we were quite happy to see the student grant program,” said Amanda Aziz, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. The CFS had campaigned for a merged grant program and the demise of the CMSF.

“We don’t want to see money spread more thinly, but the new framework they’ve announced is a good start,” Aziz said.

The new system, to kick off in fall 2009, will be income- rather than need-based, where recipients classified “middle-income” or “low-income” will get monthly grants of $250 or $100 respectively. In a departure from the CMSF, its successor will give money to students up-front and guarantee funding through every year of the student’s program.

After a year-long review, the Canada Student Loan Program will receive $123 million over four years, of which $74 million is to help students with loan repayment, though the report gave no details on how the assistance will be carried out. The money will also go towards an improved web site and more aid for married and part-time students.

Some student loan advocates were unimpressed. “The budget is a good thing for everyone except student loan borrowers,” said Julian Benedict, founder of the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness. “The grant program is going to be a help to reducing the debts of new borrowers in the system, but right now, the government has done nothing to address the sky-high interest rates on student loans.”

Small increases in research and development funding come with conditions. An increase of $80 million, or five per cent, allotted to three federal research granting councils has been earmarked for specific industries: automotive, manufacturing, and forestry and fishing.

Another $21 million will woo the world’s top scientists, creating up to 20 Canada Global Excellence Research Chairs, also in predetermined areas: health, the environment, natural resources and energy, and IT.

Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, criticized the stipulations. “We appreciate the new research funding, but we’re extremely concerned that the federal government is increasingly targeting research funding rather than allowing the priorities to be established by the research community,” he said.

The government also has its eye on brilliant students: $25 million will go towards Canada Graduate Scholarships for the top 500 doctoral students at Canadian universities. The new scholarships, designed to lure international geniuses and hold on to domestic ones, have been compared to the U.S. Fulbright awards. Canadian recipients can also apply for an additional $6,000 stipend for studying abroad.

Varsity Centre is an invaluable resource to students, one that’s worth our investment

In another great stride towards improving the student experience, the University of Toronto spent $25 million to rebuild the historic Varsity Stadium, equip it with the best all-weather turf in the world, and enclose it in winter with an air-supported, heated dome, scheduled primarily for student use. The new facilities were built at students’ requests, and planned with student input every step of the way. When the doors were opened, students came in throngs to cheer on their sports teams, participate in intramurals, to hit golf balls, to run, and to compete against other schools as the Varsity Blues.

Unfortunately, there are some students opposed to the notion of paying for the operating costs of the Varsity Centre. Most of these students base their opinions on inaccurate hearsay. Currently, we foot the bill for the Varsity Centre’s operational costs. The purpose of the plebiscite is to estimate whether students wish to continue paying for operating costs through ancillary fees. Regardless of the outcome, athletic fees will increase by about two per cent per full-time St. George campus student, due to inflation. In case you are wondering, we cannot vote on inflation.

UTSU VP university affairs Michal Hay’s recent comments regarding the Varsity Centre are incredibly misleading. First, the 2002 referendum differs from this year’s plebiscite. In 2002, students voted No to a Varsity Centre proposal that asked students to fund both the capital and operational costs of the Varsity Centre. Since 2002, the Faculty of Physical Education and Health has worked to raise the funds to cover all capital costs. Students benefit from a world-class athletic facility only having to contribute to the operational costs.

I find it duplicitous that Hay is currently a member of the No Levy campaign. Remember the plebiscite for the student commons? It asked students to contribute both capital and operational costs through a student levy. Michal was a supporter of the Yes campaign at that time. Considering his position as VP university affairs on UTSU, Hay’s public support of the No Levy campaign impairs UTSU’s ability to run a fair and unbiased plebiscite. It also undermines the integrity of the upcoming vote.

The obvious facts are still apparent: these athletic facilities are used by over 10,000 intramural participants, tens of thousands of students, and over 800 varsity athletes. Unquestionably, the facility is not used by everyone, but neither is Hart House, U of T Health Services, or Student Affairs. The funding of these services is based on the democratic principle that services are more equitably accessible when the costs are shared amongst the population. Students lobbies for reductions to the cost of education are created through taxpayer-funded government subsidies. I hope that I am not the only one who sees the hypocrisy of some of the Varsity Centre naysayers. Support your fellow students, and vote Yes to keep the Varsity Centre an equally accessible space for all.

Steven Greening is the Equity Officer and C.A.R. Representative on the Physical Education and Health Undergraduate Association

‘Apartheid’ ban causes ruckus, little action

While student groups at Ryerson and York and U of T’s OPIRG were all prepared to send busloads of students to a rally on Friday against McMaster’s ban on the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” few actually showed up.

Joey Coleman, a McMaster student and writer for Maclean’s magazine, said that the buses that drove students in from nearby universities were mostly empty. And many thought that was as it should be.

“I think this was a McMaster matter, I don’t think it was necessary to involve students from outside,” said David Levine, the president of Israel on Campus at McMaster.

McMaster Student Union’s president Ryan Moran spoke briefly at the rally, stating the union was in favour of calm, respectful debate but not actions that would incite anger.

The controversy began when the university’s copy centre refused to photocopy a poster with the words “Israeli Apartheid Week” on it. The poster was was changed and resubmitted, still with the offending phrase, and the copy center passed it on to the university’s Human Rights and Equity Services Office.

The HRO banned the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” citing concerns that it would make students feel uncomfortable. Both the MSU and McMaster University decided to support that decision.

The ban did not prevent Israeli Apartheid events from taking place, nor did it mean that club funding would be taken away from the McMaster chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.

While the York Federation of Students may have sent buses to support free speech, on the Thursday before they had decided to shut down a student debate on abortion.

In a press release published by Students for Bioethical Awareness, student group president Margaret Fung stated, “I was told in a meeting by members of the York Federation of Students that debating abortion is comparable to debating whether a man should be allowed to beat his wife. They said that there is freedom of speech to a limit, and that abortion is not an issue to debate.”

According to the SBA’s press release, this meeting included YFS executive director Jeremy Salter, VP operations and secretary of the executive committee Fuad Abdi, and president of the York Debating Society Amir Mohareb. The document also notes Salter making statements echoing those recently published regarding the Canadian Federation of Student’s views on pro-life groups as comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan. YFS is currently a member of CFS, Local 68.

With files from Allison Martell and Joey Coleman

Varsity Centre belongs to students, but we shouldn’t have to carry more of its costs

In 2002, 78 per cent of full-time undergraduates voted “No” to paying a levy for the Varsity Centre. This week we will vote “No” again. Athletics already has the highest non-refundable incidental fee, which has increased by 40 per cent since 2003.

The Varsity Centre belongs to students, and we should be able to use it without being continually threatened to pay more. Through substantial increases to our previous fees, students are already paying more than enough.

In fact, our fees have already increased to fund the Varsity Centre. The proposed $18 per year asked of us is in addition to the $23.36 increase athletics will receive next year. Likewise, our fees permanently increased almost $20 this year, plus an additional $18.

The $18 fee was rushed through U of T governance last year for a one-year temporary increase with the understanding that students would vote. This is a new levy.

If we say “No,” student use will not suffer. Our current fees cover the costs of the Varsity Centre, including intramurals, the tri-campus league and many other programs. If we vote “No” to this increase, students will still contribute $252.40 for the 2008-2009 academic year, and $126.20 for the 2008 summer session—and this does not even include fees paid to Hart House.

If the elite $53-million Centre for High Performance Sport is built (another phase of the Varsity Centre Complex), the Faculty of Physical Education and Health says students will be asked again for a levy increase to cover up to 75 per cent of the estimated $2.8 million in operating costs. This is likely to be an increase of upwards of $50 per student.

It is unfortunate that the Faculty of Physical Education and Health threatens to decrease student access to our own facility, unless we shell out even more than the increases of 40 per cent, paid in the last few years.

It is even more unfortunate that some students feel pressured to succumb to these threats, especially when it is not necessary.

Although some of these students, including the current co-chair of the Council on Athletics and Recreation, formally apologized last year for what they called “misleading students” over the proposed fee increase, this behaviour seems to be repeating. Students are only told about fee increases that could result from this plebiscite, uninformed of the additional $23.36 indexed fee increase scheduled for next year.

U of T students deserve an excellent athletics facility, but the costs should not fall to students. We’re already paying too much. It is imperative that we vote No to this levy to stop the trend of asking students to shoulder more and more of the costs of this university. The University of Toronto, as well as provincial and federal governments, must be held accountable to their obligation to fund post-secondary education. This includes cocurricular activities.

Michal Hay is the UTSU VP University Affairs. Ryan Hayes is the ASSU Vice-President. Both are members of the “NO Levy” Committee.

Liberals, quit your dithering

Last Tuesday, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty outlined the 2008 budget in the House of Commons. Included in the proposed financial document was the introduction of a tax-free savings account for individuals over the age of 18, changes to the student grant program in post-secondary education, as well as funding for seniors, Aboriginal Canadians, and immigrants.

In actuality, this year’s budget does not benefit many Canadians, paling in comparison to the huge spending and tax-cuts of this Conservative government’s previous budgets. The savings account allows citizens to save up to $5,000 per year tax-free. However, the average family typically spends more than they make in a year, and so this account only benefits the wealthy. Of course, the Conservatives couldn’t care less. This budget suits both their short and long-term goals perfectly.

You would think the Liberals would take advantage of such a lazy and inefficient budget from Harper’s government. After all, like many Commons votes this year, both the NDP and Bloc Québécois will vote against the government. The Liberals could easily vote against this budget, triggering a spring election. So why don’t they? Liberal leader Stéphane Dion claims that the Conservative budget doesn’t challenge the current government. Dion fails to see that this is exactly why the Conservatives provided such a lacklustre budget to begin with.

What about the recently passed crime bill, which secures a minimum sentence for gun-related crimes, and the debate over the mission in Afghanistan? Both are excellent reasons to challenge the Conservative government. The Liberal party, also known as the official opposition, is failing at its most important task. Maybe they have forgotten the responsibilities that the position entails.

The Liberals should be ashamed of themselves. In refusing to oppose this budget, they have forfeited their reputation as a financially responsible and authoritative government. They have lost the respect of many Canadians for accepting a Conservative budget that fails to significantly increase funding for environmental projects—something the Liberals have claimed as a high priority.

Allegations that the Conservatives attempted to bribe independent British Columbia MP Chuck Cadman in 2005, and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was aware of it, has prompted demands that the RCMP investigate the matter. The Liberals are once again discussing the possibility of a spring election.

We’ve heard this posturing before. More and more, Dion appears to be all talk and no action. It all depends on whether the Liberal leader sees bribery of a politician (an offence under the Criminal Code) as worthy enough to oppose the current government. The Liberals should consider finding a new leader if they ever hope to sustain the support of Canadians.

When sub-atomic worlds collide

The final portion of the ATLAS particle detector was put in place in the ground beneath the Swiss-French border this past Friday. The detector is expected to measure muons from particle collisions in the Large Haron Collider. The collisions studied are supposed to recreate the conditions that existed shortly after the Big Bang. The underground particle path of the LHC is 17 miles in diameter. Construction began in 1994 and the project involves over 10,000 scientists from all around the world. The LHC is expected to begin operating in mid-2008.