Passes for the masses?

The mayor and TTC officials faced off with UTSU at Monday night’s town hall to discuss the U-Pass proposal. As currently offered by the TTC, U-Pass would have postsecondary students at participating institutions pay $60 per month for a metropass in a compulsory payment of $480 per year, with no opt-outs. The offer would only include full-time undergraduates, and would have to be approved by a student referendum.

Mayor David Miller’s commitment was unswerving.

“The U-Pass is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Miller. “What we’re trying to do at the TTC is to provide a way for university and college students to get better, cheaper access to transit.” Miller had promised to create a U-Pass during the 2006 municipal election.

Many students at the meeting were thrilled at the proposal, but a greater number were disturbed at the thought of having to buy nearly $500 worth of unneeded transit passes.

At the St. George campus alone, U-Pass would sell 30,000 discount metropasses. Currently, UTSU only sells between 4,000 and 12,000 metropasses per month.

TTC councillor Joe Mihevc and chair Adam Giambrone pointed out that people with unlimited passes use transit more often. They assured students that even if they didn’t use the pass to commute to school, it would be their “passport to the city.”

“Once it’s up and running, you’ll love it,” said Mihevc of the program.

The city officials cited a 2005 study carried out by the TTC’s marketing department, according to which 92 per cent of U of T students said they would use a U-Pass during the school year. Not everyone was convinced.

“I’d use it once!” called a heckler in the crowd.

Data for the 2005 study came from a questionnaire given to 5,353 students across the GTA. City officials referred to the offer as though negotiations were concluded and nothing remained to do but vote. Mihevc urged students to push for a referendum as soon as possible.

The city hall suits won some converts. One student took the microphone during a Q&A period just to thank the councillors for their offer.

One angry man lambasted both the offer and the TTC for proposing it. “I’m kind of disturbed that you’re pitching this project to our student union as a band-aid to your public relations,” said the undergraduate St. George student. “I would greatly prefer the TTC would figure out how to organize its resources.”

Matt Kopzinski, a third-year civil engineering student, took a dim view of the TTC’s claim that they would lose money on the U-Pass program. The new ridership, he contended, would likely bring increased federal subsidies for transit. “You’re trying to bump up your numbers by getting us all to mandatorily do this,” he accused the councillors.

UTSU is so far unsatisfied with the TTC offer, and is working with all other GTA schools who are considering a U-Pass. If one school accepts the current offer, the bargaining position of the others will be weakened.

UTSU likely will not consider voting on the program until at least fall of the next academic year.

“This would be the biggest referendum we’ve taken to students, so we’d want to make sure we get all the details out and that everyone knows what they’re voting for,” Scrivener said.

Gabe De Roche, who represents Trinity College on UTSU’s board of directors, warned that city politicians must make their proposal more attractive to non-commuter students.

“You’re going to have a very difficult time to get the ‘yes’ votes, because as anyone familiar with student politics knows, it’s very hard to get commuters to vote.”

Asked repeatedly about opt-outs, Miller, Mihevc and Giambrone maintained that allowing opt-outs would drive the price up to the same levels as the $96 VIP metropasses currently sold through UTSU.

Asked how planners estimated the number who would opt out, Scrivener replied, “Really there is no estimate, but we have geographic statistics that give some indication.”

Residence students make up 14 per cent of St. George campus’s undergraduate population.

“It essentially amounts to a 10 per cent increase to our tuition, and a 10 per cent increase is not acceptable,” said De Roche. “It’s got to be cheaper, and if it can’t be cheaper, then we have to maintain the current program with opt-outs.”

Congressional intervention for baseball

On May 17, 2005, members of major league baseball’s owners and players union were summoned by Congress to testify in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the alleged steroid use dominating the sport. Among the catalysts for the investigation was the BALCO steroid scandal which linked many prominent athletes to performance- enhancing drugs, and former baseball player Jose Canseco’s tell-all book Juiced, which purported to expose many users whom Canseco had played with over his career.

The 2005 congressional hearing was the primal scene for what would eventually be the end of the steroid era. And since that day, the dark cloud that hung over America’s national pastime, turning die-hard fans into disillusioned cynics, has slowly began to settle. At Tuesday’s hearing to discuss the Mitchell report, a 28- month probe into the use of anabolic steroids in major league baseball, committee chairman Henry Waxman castigated player representative Donald Fehr and commissioner Bud Selig for their role in the scandal.

“I want to make it clear that the steroids scandal is not just about ball players. In my view not enough attention has been paid to the Mitchell Report’s indictment of the people running baseball,” said Waxman. “The players seem to have been surrounded by enablers, and offi cials willing to look the other way. The owners and commissioners offi ce are every bit at fault as the players.”

During the hour-long televised hearing, the house committee expressed their concern for the infl uence that the pervasive use of steroids and human growth hormone in professional sports will have on the next generation. “Young athletes are very impressed by what their sports heroes say and do,” said Waxman to a crowded room, which included George Mitchell, also asked to testify. “There’s a real authority carry-over in these situations. They assume that because a person is an expert in one area, that they’re qualifi ed in another.”

In his opening statement to the committee, Mitchell concurred with Waxman’s criticism, stating, “Many young Americans are placing themselves in serious risk.” While not making light of the situation, Mitchell urged those in attendance to keep the bigger picture in perspective. “It’s important to deal with well known athletes who are illegal users, but it’s at least as important, maybe more so, to be concerned about the reality that hundreds and thousands of our children are using these substances.”

Tuesday’s hearing will not likely be the last of its kind. Waxman and other district representatives on Capitol hill have already anticipated new challenges posed by the rise in human growth hormone use. “Many players have shifted to human growth hormone not currently detectable in any currently available urine test,” said Mitchell.

The committee will meet again on Feb 14, at which time Roger Clemens and trainer Brian McNamee are expected to testify about their link to performance-enhancing drugs as detailed in the Mitchell Report.

Because of the May 2005 congressional hearings, Major League Baseball was forced to take a refl ective look at itself. The recent hearing was meant to serve the same purpose. On Tuesday, the federal government wanted to remind Selig, Fehr, and the rest of the union that inaction on their part would no longer be tolerated. “The minority of players who used these substances were wrong,” said Waxman. “They violated federal law, and baseball policy. They distorted the fairness of competition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of players who followed the law.”

Underpaid clerks walk off to protest $1.6M golden handshake

Last Tuesday, 450 secretaries and clerical workers at Concordia University in Montreal staged a half-day strike in order to protest for better conditions.

“We’ve been without a contract since 2002,” said André Legault, president of the union representing these support staff at Concordia’s Loyola and Sir George Williams campuses. “It’s time for the university to step up to the plate.”

The strike took place on the first day of registration for winter classes, bringing nearly all activity to a standstill. The average yearly salary for these union members, 80 per cent of whom are women, is $33,000. This is a paltry sum compared to the $350,000 paycheque of outgoing president Claude Lajeunesse, who also received $1.36 million upon departure after serving only two years of his five-year term.

Concordia has not made clear the terms of this agreement, but it was certainly a point of contention during Tuesday’s strike.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Legault said, “[The union workers] can’t understand why someone who is no longer working at the university is getting paid that much money while we’re sitting around here doing really hard work.”

The million-dollar university president is already a feature of several American universities. In 2004, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York, earned $891,400 in addition to the half-million she made serving on multiple boards of directors.

The sharp difference between the wages earned by university employees has also created problems for workers in western Canada. In November 2007, support workers, including caretakers, security staff and lab staff from two Saskatchewan universities began a strike that lasted over four weeks. The 2,400 workers from The University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, ended their strike after reaching a tentative deal that included a wage increase of at least 4.5 per cent.

The Concordia union has been pushing for compensation similar to that of the Saskatchewan universities, including wage increases of 4.5 per cent and a better early retirement package. André Legault said that four negotiation dates have been set. “We’re hoping, but there are no guarantees.”

Easy opt-out outrages Waterloo groups

U of T students can opt out of non-mandatory tuition fees like the health plan, but to opt out of additional fees, such as OPIRG’s levy, they must apply in person. Not so at Waterloo, where the Federation of Students have passed a motion to allow students to get refundable ancillary fees returned to them online.

Waterloo’s student newspaper, the Imprint, reported that the Feds approved the opt-out policy without consulting or notifying the affected parties—including the Imprint.

Waterloo groups affected by the new refund policy have said it threatens their integrity by exposing them to attacks on their funding.The new policy covers both the health plan and levy refunds. Dan Gillespie, who administers UTSU’s health plan, said it was misguided to lump these fees together in one refund policy.

“Opting out of a levy is not the same as opting out of a $200 health plan,” he said.

At U of T, funds collected for the health plan are handled separately from those collected for student groups. Gillespie is investigating the possibility of having health plan refunds credited directly to students’ financial accounts on ROSI.

“As far as opting out of funding student organizations, there’s no point. The money you get back isn’t worth it (for example, OPIRG’s levy is $5 per student per year) and I think what many organizations are doing is relevant and important,” said Regina Cho, a third-year poli sci student.

In principle, Waterloo administrators have no objection to the policy. Nonetheless, Dennis Huber, the university’s VP administration and finance, told the Imprint that getting the refund system up and running is something “the university will not be committing any resources [to] in the near term.”

Supertramps

U of T student Rosannagh MacLennan’s surprise thirdplace finish at the 2007 World Trampoline Championships has earned a spot at the Olympics—for Canada. Olympic berths in trampoline are allotted to countries based on the team’s performance.

Though MacLennan (who has only cracked the top 10 at a major international competition once before) still has to compete at the Olympic trials, she is fl ying high. “We competed in the first fl ight, and didn’t have the best routines of our lives, so we left the gym and didn’t think we were going to get it,” she said.

Launching themselves to a height of eight metres, trampoline gymnasts perform a series of 10 twists or somersaults per routine. Though Canadians have won three Olympic medals in the event since its 2000 debut, trampoline remains a lesserknown sport—athletes have no corporate sponsors and little financial gain.

But this year the Canadian Olympic Committee is sweetening the pot. The COC’s new Athlete Excellence Fund, announced in November 2007, will award $20,000 for each Olympic gold medal, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze.

In the early days of the modern Olympics, athletes were forbidden to profit from sport and barred from receiving prize money or appearance fees. The International Olympic Committee abolished amateurism as a condition for eligibility in 1973, and sports have become more and more of a full-time, professional, commercial venture.

“You know, when I was your age, I raced all over the world, I was a household name in Canada,” said Bruce Kidd, dean of U of T’s phys ed and health faculty and a former Olympic runner who competed in the 1964 games. “But I also did a full load of courses in political science and economics. I was a scholarship student, and I also had a masthead position on The Varsity.” (Full disclosure: Kidd wrote for The Varsity from 1962-65, and covered his own track meets under a pseudonym.)

“If you look at many of the great athletes at U of T in the last 20 years, they’ve been full-time athletes and only part-time students.” MacLennan trains six days a week at the Skyriders club in Richmond Hill, logging an estimated 20 hours of practice per week. She is taking three classes this year and plans to spend five years in undergrad.

As an elite competitor, she qualifies for financial support under Canada’s carding system. Athletes within the carding system receive living and training allowances as well as tuition assistance. But the federal Athlete Assistance Program and Ontario’s lottery-funded Quest for Gold program only support top-16 finishers or those who have the potential to get there.

This approach has its drawbacks, argued Kidd. “Getting to carding is a very difficult process,” he said. “If you look at the class composition of our Olympic teams, most of the athletes are drawn from middle and upper classes, and the reason for that is that only those types of families can afford the developmental costs associated with playing a childhood sport.”

Kidd said barriers to training prevent talented athletes from reaching the highest levels of competition. “I mean, it’s a sad commentary on track and field today, but I still hold the Canadian junior record for 5,000 metres, and that’s after 45 years,” he said.

According to Kidd, Sport Canada still isn’t doing enough to support amateur athletes.

Kidd cited Australia as an example of Olympic enthusiasm: “The amateur Olympic sports in Australia are the most visible and celebrated sports, whereas in Canada, you’ve got professional ice hockey and the other masculine continental sports as garnering the greatest share of public attention.”

“The growth of the capitalist sports—and this links directly with the mass media—has marginalized Olympic sports.”

For her part, MacLennan also spoke of a need for improved programs and facilities: “The American trampolinists all live in their training centre. Their food is provided for them, their board is provided for them, they have a gym there that they have access to at all times. There are some sports in Canada that have this already, but for the less developed sports, it’s rare.”

“Sports like trampoline and the Paralympics just don’t get the attention the major sports get,” she said.

MacLennan is currently ranked second in Canada, behind her synchronized event partner Karen Cockburn, two-time Olympic medallist and reigning Canadian champion. Sarah Charles, also a U of T student, sits in third place. The Canadian team earned Olympic slots for two competitors and one alternate—if these three women hold on to their lead, they will represent Canada at the Beijing Games.

In the meantime, MacLennan is concentrating on the five major competitions that stand between her and the Olympic stadium. “I’m not in the sport for the honorarium, I’m not in it for money. It’s an added bonus if you get it, but I’m going to go out in the same way and let the results fall where they may.”

‘Culture of silence’ endangers Toronto’s youth

‘Culture of silence’ endangers Toronto’s youth

new report paints startling picture of daily life in our city’s schools

Aviva German

Last week’s release of the School Safety Report on Toronto’s public schools has brought forth some startling information. According to the report, cases of sexual abuse, robberies and possession of dangerous weapons are rampant in school hallways. But the biggest problem is that these crimes are continually swept under the rug.

The report details how a “culture of silence” has permeated the school system, accusing teachers and administrators of letting crimes go unnoticed for fear of reprisal and damage to the school‘s reputation. Even those guaranteed anonymity have refrained from aiding authorities and bringing forth justice.

In his report, Julian Falconer, the head of the School Safety Advisory panel, made it clear to Torontonians that this blatant disregard for student safety and well-being is unacceptable. The panel has compiled a list of more than 120 recommendations, including random locker searches, the use of canine units for sniffi ng out lockers and storage areas for drugs and weapons, and hiring full-time counselors for at-risk schools. Many have praised Falconer and his panel for fi nally breaking through the seemingly impenetrable veil of silence. One of those who’s lauded Falconer is Lorraine Small, mother of 15-year old Jordan Manners, the student who was gunned down last May in the hallway of C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute.

Granted, the advisory panel has outlined some promising solutions, but these are temporary fi xes to a widespread problem. While it’s crucial to address the risks facing students in our schools, it’s even more important to address their underlying causes. Many are quick to point their fi ngers at the youth themselves as the cause of crime in areas like the notorious Jane and Finch neighbourhood, but as Falconer stated at his press conference, “Nothing can be further from the truth.”

The spread of poverty and violence has imperiled many neighbourhoods outside of Toronto’s downtown core, while the city continues to tackle what was once considered an “urban” problem. Many youth are raised in extremely hostile environments, witnesses to domestic violence and drug abuse. Worst of all, those who grow up in impoverished areas are rarely able to break through the cycle of poverty and violence. A life of drugs, gangs and crime, to those who have for so long felt disengaged from society, is a means of engagement.

The report’s proposal to heighten security and penalize those who bring weapons to school or assault fellow students is a sound one. A school is a place of learning, and should be a safe haven for all. Students should come with open minds, toting textbooks, not handguns. But to establish any long-term results, we must empower teachers and parents by providing them with the resources they need to inspire at-risk youth, instill positive values and above all, discipline. Enriching the curriculum with a diverse arts program would have tremendous effect for those who are looking for an outlet of self-expression. Funding for so-called “non-essential programs” has been slipping over the years, but artistic encouragement can be one of many fundamental tools to curb violence and restore confi dence. Toronto’s cash-strapped schools need the means to invest in nurturing programs and services, not just locker searches.

The audacity of dope

“I had learned not to care; I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though.”

—Barack Obama in Dreams of My Father (1995)

U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama wouldn’t just be the first black man to hold the nation’s highest office, he would also be the first to be born in the 1960s. Obama was eight when Neil Armstrong walked on the surface of the moon and celebrated his 14th birthday only five days before Richard Nixon boarded Marine One, abandoning the White House and fleeing both the Watergate scandal and a failed effort in Vietnam.

Obama’s youth saw him steeped in the ultimate highs and one of the lowest lows America has endured. Being young during these events has allowed him to absorb them in a way no other candidate in the Democratic or Republican race did at the time (Hillary Rodham Clinton was 28 during the moon’s landing, and 34 when Nixon quit). A changing America has shaped his moral character, colouring his leadership strategies in a way that would be greatly beneficial to the United States at this time.

Obama talks straight with people. Not hiding his past indiscretions is an indication of how he will act if elected. George W. Bush refused to speak in clear terms about his use of cocaine and other illicit substances, his DWI arrest unearthed days before the 2000 election. Is it really that surprising that he would hide other facts too?

True, every politician has skeletons in their closet, and works hard to spin their image. Did you know Obama still enjoys a Marlboro after a stressful strategy meeting? He does. And while he avoids being photographed lighting up, he doesn’t try to bury the truth. A candidate’s candour, seen in the small details, is the blueprint to America’s future.

It’s also important to consider how the next president will be viewed from abroad. The newest commander- in-chief must repair America’s image abroad to rekindle the relations that have become strained or cut off completely. Only confronting enemies on the battlefield is the wrong approach—look how the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War were brought to a close. To engage in discussion with its old friends and current enemies, the U.S. needs a president that will indicate that the country’s approach to world affairs has fundamentally changed.

Hillary Rodham Clinton cannot be that person. Her last name alone would make the last 25 years look like an alternating dynasty (Bush- Clinton-Bush-Clinton). The reason for the checks and balances within a two-term limit is to ensure that no single group (or in this case, two families) are to be perceived as controlling the United States. Barack Obama would look like a fresh start in every way. A black man who’s not afraid to tell the truth is pretty much as far away as you can get from George W. Bush. He also has the benefit of not being a long-term, hardcore politico who has already divided Washington into hard-and-fast camps of friends and enemies (as Hillary Rodham Clinton has). Compared to the rest of the candidates, Obama is as close to a blank slate as we’re going to get this time around.

Many critics like to pounce on Obama for his lack of foreign policy experience, citing it as a reason to bar him from the top job. But look who’s in the White House right now! In 1999, George W. Bush couldn’t name the president of Pakistan. And just as important as being wellversed in international policy is the ability for a leader to think internationally. A modern politician can’t be effective if their scope is nationally selfish. Who better to think in this way than a man whose grandmother still lives on a farm in Kenya, a man who is the product of two Americas and, indeed, two races?

It’s a campaign buzzword that’s now on the top of every candidate’s talking points, but I do believe that Obama is the candidate that would implement the most and best change for America. And a change in course is exactly what the nation now needs to remain the greatest country on earth.

Plus, the dude knew smack was wack.

Let go, LCBO

I’ve been told that my appetites are too expensive for my own good. My dad always says I have champagne taste on a Coors Light budget. In fact, much of my income goes towards purchasing single malt scotch and French wine. Probably not the best use of financial resources, but we all have our vices, n’est-ce pas?

So when I heard that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario was shifting its focus towards higher-end wine, the connoisseur in me rejoiced: “Finally, I’ll be able to find that 2002 Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape without a trip to Vintages!” But then the student within me cringed.

After all, who hasn’t spent a Wednesday night or two chatting with friends about the hardships of the week over a bottle or two of eight-dollar vino verde,? And now the government liquor store wants to take this away from us? Qu’elle dommage!

Let’s ignore the fact that you can find perfectly drinkable wines for under $10, and no, they do not all come in a box (with the exception of those wineries that are marketing Tetra Paks as “eco-friendly”). The larger issue here is the state-owned monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits. It is time to end it.

A large amount of government revenue comes directly from the sale of liquor to citizens, and I say, good for us. We should tax wine and liquor, and use that money to fund our generous social programs. We should not, however, sacrifice our freedom to choose.

It is a fundamental principle of mercantile democracy that citizens are allowed to act as well-informed consumers. (And if political scientists are to be trusted—that technically means we live in a constitutional monarchy tempered with a socialist dictatorship, but let’s agree that for all intents and purposes, we govern ourselves democratically.) Well-informed consumers should have the democratic right to choose which stores to shop at. Right now, we have only one option—and they might stop carrying wines that many of us can actually afford.

Imagine a scenario in which the LCBO closes and independent vendors are allowed to sell their own wine and spirits. All of the sudden, I have a wide range of choices and a lot more freedom. If the local liquor store sells a bottle of Henry of Phelam Chardonnay for $15 and the Dominion carries it for $12, I can make the choice of where I want to buy it and live with the consequences. It also gives entrepreneurs an opportunity: there certainly is a market for upscale wine and spirits, but there will always be a place to buy cheap drinks.

So here’s what I propose: let’s vote to end the government monopoly on wine and spirits, and let vendors sell them. Then, levy a tax collected at the point of sale on the liquor or the wine to make up for the revenue lost by closing this monopoly. In the end, the consumers will benefit. Unfortunately, we might have to wait a while until Queen’s Park loosens its moneygrubbing grip on our liquor. Until then, I suggest you pick up your favourite cheap brand while it is still to be found, and start hoarding. Cheers!