An international election

The decisions that Canadian voters make in the forthcoming election will affect me personally, both as an international student in Toronto over the next few years, and as an Indian. The same could be said of any international student in Canada, or indeed of any citizen of any country that has economic or political, or really any kind of, relations with Canada.

Canada is of course not alone in restricting voting in federal or any other type of elections to its own citizenry. It is, after all, a concept enshrined within the structure of democracy. Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, uses the American Revolution-era slogan “no taxation without representation” as a tenet of sovereignty, but its reverse applies in this case: no electoral rights if you do not pay taxes. Since I do not (yet) pay taxes in Canada, it seems only logical that I cannot vote in its elections.
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Elections tend to be framed in relatively narrow domestic terms. Though the campaign for the May election is still in its infancy, the key issues that have been framed front and center relate to matters within Canada. The Liberals’ constant emphasis on Stephen Harper’s flouting of the principles of democracy, for example, is aimed squarely at the electorate’s trust in their Prime Minister. Similarly, Conservative attack ads have attempted to portray Michael Ignatieff as unpatriotic or as un-Canadian. Fair enough, you might say; this is a domestic election after all.

Well no, not really. So called “domestic” elections have repercussions far beyond the borders of the nation in which they take place.

In areas such as economics and foreign aid, areas vital to the ability of people all over the world to subsist, the policies of individual governments have a significant impact. Consider, for example, the decision last year by the Conservative government to freeze international aid at five billion dollars a year rather than as a set percentage of Canada’s GDP. This effectively means that the “real” value of Canada’s international aid will drop year-to-year, because though the dollar value of aid will remain constant, the price of goods and services for the countries receiving the aid will increase with inflation. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the economic impact to the beneficiaries of Canadian international aid is undeniable.

Furthermore, consider foreign military intervention. Canadian planes are currently involved in the Western coalition that is enforcing a “no-fly zone” over Libyan airspace. The ethics of intervention in Libya aside, the decision of the Harper government to commit military resources to oppose the Qaddafi regime has repercussions mainly for non-Canadians, particularly, not only Libyans. What of the civilians killed by misdirected coalition bombs, or the damage to property? These losses can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, but the fact remains that they have occurred, and crucially at the hands of governments that the Libyan people did not elect.

These examples are, of course, oversimplifications of the complex interconnected world in which we live. But the idea that elections have broader repercussions than the domestic has some precedent, most notably in the “Give Your Vote” initiative run during the British general election last year. The “Give Your Vote” campaign involved British votaries committing to vote by proxy for people in Afghanistan, Ghana, and Bangladesh, who the initiatives’ website says “are directly affected by UK policies.”

The actual electoral impact of the campaign was minute — though “thousands” participated, the number of votes cast by the proxy voters was too small to affect the outcome in any one constituency, let alone the election outcome as a whole. Symbolically though — since election results matter to people far beyond a country’s borders – ‘Give Your Vote’ was an important step.

My “leftie” opposition and distaste for the Harper Conservatives notwithstanding, I am not calling for you to vote for one party or another this May. What I am asking, though, is that when you vote, you consider someone beyond your own personal or national interests. When Canadians elect a government, they elect a Canadian government for the world.

U of T’s most artistic bathrooms

Start your journey on east side of campus with a visit to the Burwash Dining Hall handicapped men’s room. There, on the inside of the snowy-white stall door, you can find a charming marker-painting of a bird on a ledge. A surprisingly delicate and beautiful work of bathroom-art scribbling, you may still feel slightly self-conscious when the bird won’t stop looking at you.

Victoria College, it turns out, is a veritable cornucopia of charming stall etchings. Make your way to the girls’ stalls in Old Vic, where you can find a caricature of an obese man with skinny legs (rendered in the evocative medium of white-out), provocatively drawn near an old “Drop Fees” sticker.

Trinity College bathroom art is more conceptual. After you’ve worked your way through Vic, head over to the ladies’ room next to the dining hall at St. Hilda’s for a spirited, poetic back-and-forth exchange about reality. The use of artfully-placed prose against a spare stall backdrop, this work challenges us to rethink the parameters of what we would normally consider “visual art.”

Looking for a (wash)room with a view? The venerable Hart House second floor ladies’ room offers a picturesque survey of the building’s outdoor quad. Scope out frisbee locations, admire the hedge-cutting guy, or simply contemplate the infinite beauty of the good old sunshine, all whilst relieving oneself.

When you go to the bathroom, are you ever in the mood for a feeling of Kafkaesque disorentation? The restrooms in the Munk Centre Basement offer vivid, black-and-white chequered floors that will make you feel like you’re playing an existential chess game. Set against the white-tile walls, the bathroom appears at once both tastefully minimalist and garishly challenging.

Finally, at the corner of Hoskin and St. George, why not visit “your Catholic home on campus” (Newman Centre, for those heathens not in-the-know) and consider the infinite grace of the good Lord’s artistic and architecural skills? The gorgeous, old-fashioned wood-panneled bathroom comes decked with a classy faux-marble sink, gorgeous mirror with roccoco frame, and, best of all, a glass window of a ship on a beautiful aqua-blue ocean. As with the best Catholic Rennaisance art, the Newman Centre’s bathroom confirms the long-lost eleventh commandment, “More shalt be more!”

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Burwash men’s

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Munk Centre

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Old Vic men’s

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Old Vic basement

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Pratt Library

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Pratt Library

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Newman Centre

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Newman Centre

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Hart House

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The Varsity office. The door doesn’t lock, so we hold it shut with empty water jugs.


Women’s Field Hockey

CIS Champions
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Kyesia O’Neale, Angela Jennings, Justine Branco, Heather Haughn, Kaelan Watson , Emily Roy, Kelley Lusk, Siobhan Gordon, Hannah Tighe, Lauren Mansfield, Katherine McNeill, Alex Thicke, Frankie Vondrejs, Gabriella Permell, Yvonne Langen, Alexandra Evanyshyn, Natalie Provenzano, Britt Siu, Jessica Aun, Samantha Lyzun, and Kathryn Williams. Photo by Jamie MacDonald/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Swimming

OUA Champions
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Taylor Bond, Zack Chetrat, Frank Despond, David Dorian, Luke Hall, Steven Hibberd, Jeremie Holdom, Emil Horvath, Steven Kalaba, Andrew Kennedy, Peter Kruzyk, James Le, Troy MacDonald, Joel Rombough, Curtis Samuel, Mike Smerek, George Soules, Zach Summerhayes, Andy Townsend, Pavel Tselichtchev, Marty Tzolov, and Eric Vanderbeek. Photo courtesy Guelph Athletics

Women’s Fencing

OUA Champions

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Julia Barette, Kiah Bransch, Emma Burns, Kelly Doyle, Kristina Han, Fidelia Ho, Miranda Jarvis, Katherine Magyarody, Jodi Marr, Natalie Melton, Nicole See-Too, Jessica Taylor, and Mengqi Wang. Photo by Hannah Liu/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Water Polo

OUA Champions
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Trevor Robinson, Ian Weir, Daniel Pyette, Brook Ruffo, Marko Brasic, Julian Filice, Luke Spooner, Tanner Regan, Milos Radojcic, Alan Chung, Paulo Ruiz, Michael Chapman, Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, and Tyler Robinson. Photo by Tyler Ball/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Soccer

OUA Champions
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Russell Moore, John Smits, Brian Mittag, Neil D’Silva, Darragh McGee, Yuriy Czoli, Yannis Gianniotis, Ryan Sciacchitano, Nordo Gooden, Mario Kovacevic, Alexander Raphael, Michael Brathwaite, Nicolas Girard, Scott Nesbitt, Geoffrey Borgmann, Dylan Bams, Federico Vaccaro, Ezequiel Lubocki, Ryan Tawil, Jesse Assing, Jean Giroux, and Lawrence Buchan. Photo by Michael P. Hall/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Dean awarded by YWCA

University of Toronto’s Dr. Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, has been announced as one of the 2011 YWCA Women of Distinction Award recipients. Amon is being recognized for her efforts at breaking gender boundaries and shattering glass ceilings in the field of engineering at home and abroad.

Professor Amon will be one of seven women to receive an award at the 31st Annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards dinner on May 18. The event will raise funds to support YWCA programmes in the GTA.

In 2006, Amon became the first female dean of Canada’s largest engineering school. During her tenure, she has drastically increased faculty’s female presence; the female faculty has jumped from 21 to 38 members, and the number of women assistant professors grew to 41.5 per cent of the faculty complement in 2008.

Amon says that her career as an engineer is the result of a lifelong spirit of curiosity and inventiveness. “Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out and explain how things work,” she said.

Much to her parents’ chagrin, Amon would continually disassemble household items. She recalled taking apart her family’s radio when she was just five years old with hopes of finding little people playing music inside. “It was my first engineering disappointment,” she joked.

At one point, Amon thought that she would pursue a career in the sciences, but switched to engineering because of its practical application. “What really drove me to engineering was […] doing things that would have an impact on peoples’ lives in the close future.”

Amon agrees with the Albert Einstein’s famous statement, that “a scientist studies what is, [and] an engineer studies what never was.” Every day, she is motivated by the opportunity to create things that did not exist before. “No profession releases the spirit of innovation like engineering,” she said.

Dr. Amon, who was born and raised in Uruguay, took undergraduate studies in Venezuela and did her doctoral degree in the United States. As an engineering student in South America, Amon did not find a noticeable difference between the fields’ treatment of males versus females. In fact, she said that there were more women than men studying to be engineers. “The assumption that engineering is not a career for women is a complete misconception,” she said.

As a professional, she found that engineering was severely underrepresented by women. Amon has seen a slow improvement in the perception of women in the field, and says that a large part of the problem is that many people do not fully understand what engineering is all about.

“I think that improving the public understanding of engineering […] will help bring more women into the progression,” she said. She noted the impact that TV shows like CSI have had on the portrayal of certain careers as exciting and rewarding. “The applications for programmes in forensic sciences have increased significantly, and there is a close correlation with [popular] shows.”

Amon thinks that it is important to increase awareness of the contributions women can make in an engineering position. Her outreach plans include the continued development of mentorship programmes like “Skule Sisters,” which pairs U of T female engineering students to high school girls interested in the field. “I think it is so important that young women see [the possibility of] themselves being in positions of leadership in the progression,” she said.

Amon says that the “thrill of looking for innovative solutions to problems” gives her the enthusiasm and energy she needs to overcome any gender barriers that she faces.

After receiving the award, Amon hopes that her success will inspire others to realize their own potential. “I feel a little bit more responsible,��� she said, “to set a good example as a woman in engineering.”

Hollywood north?

Time Travelers Wife, Mean Girls, and Good Will Hunting are among the many films that have taken advantage of the wide range of residence buildings, libraries, and lecture halls at U of T.

“As per the film policy, requests for location filming and photography should go through my office,” said Chris Harris, External Liaison, Office of Space Management. “Documentary type filming about the University — its activities and the activities of members of the University Community — are usually handled by media relations personnel.”

When it comes to location scouting, many film personnel do a preliminary survey on their own: exploring the campus, looking at pictures online, or recalling from memory. Generally, film companies contact the individual colleges when it comes for requesting a location on any of their properties. Also, the provinces’ film office (Ontario Media Development Corporation) offers a photographic database for potential purchasers.

The University charges an initial location fee to the film companies. “They are also charged for any prep time and take down time required outside of the actual shoot day,” said Harris. “Above and beyond the fee, any costs incurred are also recovered by the University. These usually include parking, caretaking, campus police, electricians, operating engineers, etc.”

Harris says that the most popular time for filming is when less students are around. “The university itself tends to have more filming activity in the summer as we have a higher tolerance for weekday filming in those months. Filming is generally not permitted on weekdays during the school year,” said Harris.

“By far and away the most popular location is University College. I’d say Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building is the new up and coming star when they’re looking for a modern aesthetic. The personnel in both these locations have been tremendously patient, supportive, and helpful,” said Harris. “For exteriors, it would have to be King’s College Circle. Generally though, almost everywhere on campus has likely been a location of some sort. Some of them seem really unlikely but to the practiced eye of a location scout, it fits the bill perfectly.”

How he got here: David Peterson

The Hon. David Peterson grew up in London, Ontario. He did his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario before going on to study law at the University of Toronto. Since then, he has worked in business, been called to the bar, and served as premier of Ontario. He is currently the chancellor of U of T.

Peterson was very involved in university life; his extracurricular activities included debating, chess, and boxing. “I really had a lot of fun,” he recalled.

Peterson stressed the spontaneity of his life. “Nothing in my life has been planned,” he said. Even entering politics was not a planned move on Peterson’s part. When asked how he decided to enter public life, he simply answered: “I didn’t. It just kinda happened to me.”

At the time, Peterson had been working in business. However, he had always been interested in politics, and had grown up in a very politically engaged family. A major motivator was his sense of obligation to the public welfare. “Everybody has the responsibility to make the world a better place,” he said.

As a young man, Peterson tried not to close doors. “I didn’t take the view that I had to be totally directed [or] focused on anything,” he said. His mindset worked out for the best. “I don’t have any regrets,” he said, “Not one.”

Peterson advises today’s young people to experience the world as much as they can. “Engage with other cultures and other situations,” he suggested. He acknowledged the unavoidable financial pressures that some face, but says that “if you have the luxury of choice, […] widen your experience.”

Peterson suggests working abroad if given the opportunity. “You can round out your life with different experiences, different places, [and] different people,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of having a variety of experiences, especially given the long summer break that university students enjoy, and sees any type of work as valuable. “Learning how to be a waiter is one of the greatest trainings you’ll get in your life,” he said, recalling the days that he, himself, worked in a restaurant. “You learn to work your tail off.”

As a young person, Peterson always worked during the summers, and preferred to do physical labour. “I was tough,” he said, “You wouldn’t have messed around with me,” he joked.

Once he worked on a railroad in Saskatchewan with Frontier College’s literacy programme. The programme, which still exists today, hired university students to work to do labour in the mining, forestry, and railroad industries. During the evenings, the students would teach English to the immigrant workers. “It was a wonderful summer,” said Peterson.

In his opinion, life lessons can be learned from the most gruelling jobs. “I’m a great believer in learning how to do things physically,” he said. “I was never going to work with a spike hammer for the rest of my life,” he noted, “but it added enormously to my tool kit as I grew up.”

“I don’t consider these […] wasted experiences,” he stressed. “I consider them […] building ones.”

Peterson also worked construction and hitchhiked around Europe. Although not directly applicable to his career, the experiences taught him lessons that he still applies today. “You learn what your own personal resources are,” he said. Even boxing gave him life lessons. “You […] learn your instinctive reaction when you’re punching somebody else in the face.”

Peterson emphasized the importance of relationships, whether they are with a co-worker, a partner, or a parent. “You […] learn the joy of connecting your life with other people’s happiness,” he said. He thinks that having a variety of experiences and meeting a wide array of people increases one’s compassion. “You’re going to be happiest when you’re making a contribution to other people’s welfare,” he continued.

Peterson sees greatest lessons in life as the one’s that foster independence. “Every kid has baggage,” he continued, “Rich people have baggage; poor people have baggage.” To Peterson, what is important is that at a certain point, people get over their baggage and realize that they’re responsible for they’re own outcome. “Make sure you control your own destiny,” he stressed.

According to Peterson, U of T is more rigorous than it was forty years ago. “Everything is a little tougher,” he said, explaining how the university is more serious and competitive. “[Students] are better, on average, than when I was here,” he noted, “and they have to be because it is, at the end of the day, a brutally competitive world.”

At the same time, he advises university students to avoid growing up too fast. “There is a lot of pressure to get serious about life earlier,” he observed, “but the longer you can avoid that, the happier you’ll be.”

To Peterson, technology has a huge role to play in the changing nature of the world. “The pressures [of] a highly technological world are very different from the pressures I faced.” He says that because of this, younger generations will continue to surpass the older ones, and described how his three-year-old grandson is an iPhone whiz-kid. “The little guy is smarter than I am,” he laughed.

Peterson is optimistic about the future of today’s undergraduates. “You’ve got a tumultuous world to deal with,” he said, “It’s exciting.”

U of T’s students should be confident that they are on the right path. “If I were nineteen again, I’d do […] a variation of what I did,” smiled Peterson,” I’d just do more.”

Having a good time?


A new study by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management breaks down consumers’ thought processes when estimating a good time for events or products.

Professor Claire Tsai believes “consumption time plays a central role in consumer decisions, and it is understudied by consumer researchers. Most people think disecting an event will always increase time estimates. We show this is not true for negative events and this finding has important policy implications.”

The authors conducted three experiments with 500 participants to show that consumers’ predicted consumption time is systematically influenced by whether they predict the consumption experience to be positive or negative. If the consumer sees the event as positive, then the estimation of time spent will be greater than if the consumer views the event as negative. This is so because “people hold a lay belief that they spend more time on more pleasurable events and less time on less pleasurable events.”

Therefore, if a consumer foresees spending more time on an event or product, such as online social networking, workout equipment, unlimited parking passes, then the consumer is more likely to purchase the product. The consumer is interested in getting the best value for their money.

In one experiment, participants were asked to predict how much time they would spend on weekend social activities. This overarching category consisted of sub-activities such as blind dates, birthday parties, and phone conversations. Once the event was described as either pleasant or unpleasant, half of the participants made a time estimate for the overarching event, and the other half made time estimates for the individual components. The findings were that when the event was described as pleasant, unpacking increased enjoyment. When the opposite was true, unpacking increased displeasure and reduced time estimates of the event.

Bill C-393 and the Failure of Canadian Democracy

Good News! The House of Commons passed Bill C-393, a proposed law to create greater access to life-saving medicines to treat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and other public health problems in developing countries.

Bad news. The Harper Government killed it.

The battle to improve Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) has been a seven year long fight. Recently, 70,000 Canadians kept up the fight by mobilising in demonstrations, signing petitions, and contacting their democratic representatives in Ottawa.

And we won. On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the majority of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons voted in favour of Bill C-393. The Bill was passed by a large margin, with 172 MPs voting in favour and 111 voting against.

Humanitarian activists such as Stephen Lewis and James Orbinski, and civil society organizations like the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network rejoiced at Canada’s monumental humanitarian decision.

Then, Bill C-393 was sent to the Senate of Canada. Once passed in the House of Commons, all Parliamentary bills must be passed by the Senate in order to become law.

So, with mere days remaining on the clock before the likely end of Parliament and a federal election, what happened to Bill C-393 in the Senate?

Bill C-393 died in the Senate, stuck in limbo because it has been prevented from coming to a vote. The Senate had five opportunities on five separate days to pass Bill c-393. Yet everyday, Conservative Senators moved to adjourn the debate to the next sitting day, until the House of Commons voted that it had lost confidence in the Harper government, and Parliament was dissolved on Friday, March 25.

An Undemocratic Scandal

Let’s be clear. The Conservative government leadership and Big Pharma were Bill C-393’s only enemies, and had a deliberate strategy to kill Bill C-393 all along, using its majority of their appointed Senators in the Senate.

This is the only plausible explanation for why the Harper government allowed its backbenchers to vote their conscience on the bill, while whipping its cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries into voting against the bill in the House of Commons on March 9.

Allowed a free vote, an impressive total of 26 Conservative MPs voted in favour of Bill C-393 — a significant show of support from within that caucus, given the Prime Minister’s opposition and the partial whipping of the party. But when you control the unelected Senate, as Harper now does thanks to having appointed many new Conservative senators, what the majority supports in the democratically-elected House of Commons can end up being meaningless.

Then there was the memo. Industry Minister Tony Clement sent a memo out to all Conservative Senators urging them to vote against the Bill C-393. As critics have pointed out, the memo repeated numerous inaccurate claims.

What was the result? Conservative Senator Stephen Greene, delivering the only speech against the bill in the Senate, read out much of the memo word for word – before then moving to adjourn further debate, keeping the bill in limbo.

Given the support from all other quarters in both the House of Commons and the Senate, the only barrier to passing Bill C-393 was the Conservative government, which stalled the bill day after day until time ran out.

The current Senators aren’t new at the bill-killing business. The death of Bill C-393 is brought to you by the same Senate that did away with the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010, which also had majority MP support in the House of Commons

“The Senate is supposed to be a chamber of ‘sober second thought’,” says Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “But what we saw with Bill C-393 was the use of the Senate to veto a bill opposed by the government even though it enjoyed widespread support in the House of Commons, even from all parties.”

A Call to Action

The federal election on Monday, May 2, 2011 is a window of opportunity to advance Canada’s commitment to greater access to essential medicines worldwide.

What can you do to ensure that the next Parliament supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime?

  1. Participate in your riding’s all-candidates meeting(s). Make the death of Bill C-393 an election issue. Ask your current Member of Parliament and the candidates running against him or her about their commitment to reform the broken Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime. For more information:

  2. Contact your Member of Parliament. Find out how your MP voted on Bill C-393 in the House of Commons. For example, the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus is located in the riding of Member of Parliament Bob Dechert, who voted against Bill C-393. Live in Mississauga-Erindale? Call (905) 277-1500 or email and voice your concern on Dechert’s opposition.

  3. Vote. Remember: the federal government dictates the country’s foreign policy. Vote for a candidate who supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime and other initiatives to respond to global health and development needs.

May 2 is fast approaching. Given this kind of record on a global humanitarian initiative, do you really want to leave Stephen Harper, Tony Clement and their government in charge of Canada’s role in the world?