Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay

Toronto's divisive political geography

Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay

We’ve certainly had an interesting few weeks in Toronto. Rob Ford has turned our proper and polite city on its head, introducing a scandalous cast of crack dealers, gang members, and potential prostitutes into the salacious drama that our municipal politics has become. To put it in Mad Men terms, Toronto has gone from Jackie to Marilyn — and if it were television, rather than real life, I’d say I like it this hot.

Every day, there are Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail authors hailing the end of Ford as fanatically as Harold Camping preaches the Second Coming. They denounce him as “brazen and dishonest,” “shocking and embarrassing,” and a disgrace to the city.

But let’s drop the rhetoric and be reasonable for a moment. Is it really Ford’s fault that he’s a fatuous drunkard? Probably. Is it his fault that he’s a racist crack head? Almost definitely. But enough of this was obvious before he ever came into office. How can we blame him for continuing to be exactly the man he was before we elected him with a whopping 47 per cent of the vote?

When it comes to Rob Ford, the buck stops with the voters. The question we need to ask isn’t how we can get rid of the mayor, but how the hell we elected him in the first place. Thankfully, it is a question with an answer: Mike Harris.

In 1998, Harris’s PC government proposed merging the old city of Toronto with five adjacent suburbs. The move was met with stunning opposition — referendums held in the regions opposed amalgamation three to one. Yet, flying in the face of democracy, Harris forcibly created the uncomfortable and incoherent sprawl we now call Toronto.

If we look at the 2010 mayoral election results, the wards that voted Ford and the wards that voted Smitherman are divided almost exactly between the city and the suburbs. Simply, the old city said Smitherman, but the megacity said Ford.

The 2010 election is a perfect, microcosmic representation of the reality of modern Toronto: two distinct ideologies, one suburban and the other metropolitan, warring for dominance of the city. In handing the political majority to Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York, we’ve given the suburban creed a serious advantage in that battle.

Admittedly, we need to get rid of Ford. It isn’t right to have such a man at the helm of our city. But our basic problem is much, much larger than him — and that’s saying something. Ford might leave the mayor’s office, but the people who elected him aren’t going away. Like it or not, they’re not going to vote any more rationally than they did when they called themselves Ford Nation.

The real problem is not Rob Ford, but the simple fact that the suburbs control the downtown core. Some have called for de-amalgamation as the answer — a nice idea, but probably unrealistic. The cost makes the idea politically unattractive, and somehow I don’t think Toronto wants to sacrifice its prestigious title as North America’s fourth largest metropolis.

Realistically, our best chance is to adapt to the circumstances — to stand strong as a city behind a single progressive candidate. Even if Ford were to win 47 per cent of the vote again, 53 per cent is still up for grabs. It is by no means a perfect solution — Ford Nation is an intimidating beast. But in the jumbled reality that is Toronto, it’s just about the only hope we’ve got.


Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.

Sikh Canadian soldier remembered

Canada's history is rich with immigrant stories

Sikh Canadian soldier remembered

This summer, when Brigitte Frot, director-general of the Quebec Soccer Federation, said: “[Sikh children wearing turbans] can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.” She portrayed the Sikh Canadian community as outsiders, inspite of its proud and tireless contribution to this great nation for the past century. But this mindless statement was not the end of this controversy — soon came Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’s Charter of Values, which seeks to ban all public servants from wearing religious clothing — including hijabs, turbans, and kippas. If the bill is passed, many Quebecers, including Sikh public servants, will have to make an unfortunate choice between their work and their religion.

Stories like those of Buckam Singh reflect Canada's rich immigrant history. PHOTO COURTEST: U OF T SIKH STUDENTS' ASSOCIATION

Stories like those of Buckam Singh reflect Canada’s rich immigrant history. PHOTO COURTEST: U OF T SIKH STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

In times like this, it becomes crucial for communities to seek stories that provide inspiration to move forward and attempt to find commonalities in our history. One such story is that of Private Buckam Singh, a Sikh pioneer who fought for Canada in World War I. Singh emigrated from Punjab at age 14 in 1907, and worked on farms in British Columbia and Ontario. This was a time when anti-immigration groups rioted throughout Canada, beating and looting immigrants. The government soon after effectively banned all immigration from India. Sikh immigrants were not allowed to bring their families along, were unable to vote, and were only allowed to work low-skill manual labour jobs, regardless of their work experience or educational background.

Despite not being treated as an ordinary Canadian citizen, Singh saw much hope in his adopted country. Thankful for all that Canada had given him, he enlisted in the twentieth Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. Like the thousands of Sikhs from India fighting on behalf of the British Empire, he soon found himself fighting in France. He received severe wounds to the head in June 1916 during the Battle of Mont Sorrel. Recovering in three weeks, Singh joined the war effort again. Less than a month later, however, he was wounded in combat again and sent to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital. The hospital was run by none other than University of Toronto graduate and poet, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields.

In England, after recovering from his injuries,  Singh contracted tuberculosis and was sent back to Canada. He spent a year in Kitchener’s Freeport Hospital and died on August 27, 1919. He was buried in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery by the military, without any family around him. The recent discovery of his Victoria Medal by historian Sandeep Singh Brar has provided the Sikh Canadian community an incredible hero to be proud of.

Buckam Singh’s story has helped Sikh Canadians unite two seemingly distinct histories and be proud of their contribution to protecting the freedom of this country. Attending the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Kitchener with the Sikh Students Association this weekend, it was heartwarming to see young Sikh boys and girls drawing inspiration from Buckam Singh’s story, ready to fight against injustice and inequality in the world. When they read In Flanders Fields, they are reminded of not only the Canadian contribution to the war, but also that of Singh: a proud immigrant.

Singh set the ball rolling for a multicultural society that celebrates its differences. Canada has changed immensely for the better since 1907, a time when Sikh immigrants were not even considered to be citizens to a country where Sikhs pride themselves in wearing the turban while serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, among other peacekeeping missions.

As Canadians, we are at an important juncture where we must reflect on our accomplishments and move forward to a country that continues to be equitable for all. Québec’s new Charter of Values does little more than institutionalize prejudice by ostracizing minority groups, and is a direct insult to the decades of contributions from immigrant communities to Canada. This is not the time to move backwards and undo the great battles that our ancestors have fought to make our great society the envy of every nation in the world.


Anamjit Singh Sivia is a second-year student studying engineering, as well as the Global Affairs Coordinator for the University of Toronto’s Sikh Student Association.

There are always choices

Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan discusses her new book, World War I, and the study of history

There are always choices

Margaret MacMillan, one of Canada’s best-known historians, returned to Toronto this week to promote her new book The War That Ended Peace. A Toronto native and University of Toronto graduate, MacMillan was provost of Trinity College and has taught at both U of T and Ryerson. Now warden of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, MacMillan is also a public intellectual and award-winning author.

Her latest book, which addresses the causes of the First World War, is the historical prequel to her famous book on the conclusion of that war, Paris 1919. While 600 pages on international relations may not be your idea of fun, The War That Ended Peace is shockingly readable and contains broadly interesting themes. The Varsity caught up with MacMillan at Trinity College to talk about that troubled, pivotal, and ultimately calamitous moment in world history, and the lessons it can offer about the world today and the role of history.


The Varsity: So, the book is 600 pages. I think for most undergraduates, even reading a 600 page book is pretty daunting. Where do you start when writing a book of this length and complexity? 

MacMillan_Margaret_The War that Ended Peace_HCMargaret MacMillan: I never start thinking I’m going to write a 600-page book. I start trying to get an idea of what I want to say. Then, what I usually find is that you have to go back a bit to explain it, and then you have to go back a bit more. So what’s very difficult is to stop myself from going all the way back. I decided for various reasons that I had to start in the 1890s… I couldn’t understand, and I thought others couldn’t understand, why Europe went down particular paths.


TV: You draw parallels between that period, 1890–1914, and President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, which you’ve also written about. Then you draw further parallels to the present day. What do you think those major parallels are?

MM: I think part of the reason I draw parallels is that it helps people to think about the past if they can relate it to what’s happening in the present. But I also find the parallels interesting. I think there is a real parallel between the world of the pre-1914 period and the world today.

I mean, we’re living in a period where you have one power that has been dominant that is no longer as dominant as it was: i.e., the British Empire before the First World War and the United States now. So it’s a period of transition. You have other powers that are beginning to develop, and develop military power. For example, before the First World War it was Germany or the United States and today it’s China, Brazil, or India.

We also have social unrest, we have international ideologies — both of which you also had before the First World War. I obviously don’t think the times are exactly the same, but I do think there are interesting parallels.


TV: It’s interesting, of course, that the events of 1914 led to war and the events of 1972 strengthened peace. Can you identify critical differences there?

MM: In 1972 the Americans and the Chinese, for their own very different reasons, decided they should talk to each other. What you had on both sides was a good will and a willingness to talk to each other. With a recognition that both had something to benefit from that improved relationship.

Before 1914, you had, for example, the British and the Germans talking to each other. Though on both sides, there were some people who recognized that they had something to gain for a better relationship, there weren’t enough people.


TV: You talk about the importance of colonies and how colonial tension contributed to hostilities that built up toward the war. The narrative around World War I has always focused on Europe. The only story we hear is that European powers competed for colonies and that when the war broke out the empires said, “jump” and the colonies jumped. Did you see any ways in which the actual people in colonies, like Canada, were contributing to the process that led to war? 

MM: No, I don’t think the people in the colonies were contributing to the process that led to war, or only as much as they were supporting the colonial power. You did have people who shared the fears of the British toward Germany, and so shared in the concern about German naval building.

But I don’t think that was pressuring Britain to do anything. I think it’s really the British that are making the policy. If anything, the British felt that the colonies were not contributing to naval defense, and felt they were getting a free ride.


TV: So it really was “Europe out?” 

MM: It was “Europe out,” I think. It was beginning to change, but it hadn’t changed as much as it was going to do in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Of course, what the empires were beginning to face, in different parts before 1914, were nationalist movements. But not everywhere — in a lot of the old European empires, the local people had not yet begun to organize themselves into national movements. There were certainly revolts based on religious grounds and particularist grounds in particular regions.

But I think the period before 1914 was one in which it was relatively easy to have an empire, because those being ruled hadn’t yet, in most cases, begun to really become a mobilized political force.


TV: And then all that changed.

MM: Oh, it was changing anyway. You can see those roots already being laid down in the period before the First World War. And the war was going to give it a great stimulus. It wasn’t the same throughout the empires. There were some bits where the local people were only beginning to realize what had happened to them.

They suddenly found themselves as part of the Belgian Empire, or the French Empire, or the British Empire. They hadn’t really taken it in. And they were being treated, often, as a political unit, where they hadn’t been a political unit before. Certainly, there was a lot happening at the grass roots, but a lot of it was going to really play out later on.


TV: A review of your book in the London Review of Books (LRB) argued that The War that ended Peace is implicitly structured around a narrative where Germany acts and other European powers react, and that in this way it portrays Germany provoking the war. Do you agree with that characterization?

MM: There’s something in it. It was written by Christopher Clarke, who is a very good German historian, and who I think feels that Germany is being treated unfairly. My sense is that he goes too far in that direction, that Germany did do some things which other powers did react to. But it wasn’t just powers reacting to what Germany was doing, it was also Germany reacting to what other powers were doing.


TV: The question of responsibility is, of course, the question when it comes to First World War history. It’s almost expected that you take a position on it. And you don’t spend a lot of a time on that question. But do you think you can assign responsibility, and what are the people or factors or nations that you would assign it to? 

MM: I think Germany, because it’s at the centre of Europe, is very important to European stability. Bismarck, when he was in charge of Germany, managed to build a system where Germany — through a series of very skillful maneuverings and alliances — really dominated Europe. The trouble with Bismarck is that he builds a system that only a genius like Bismarck can run.

The trouble with Germany is it’s at the heart of Europe; it’s very strong, it’s getting stronger. It already has the strongest army, and from the point of view of Germany’s neighbours, this is a worry and a menace. Of course, from the point of view of Germany, it’s surrounded.

So you have a very bad situation where both sides see things in their own way and they’re not seeing how the other side would feel. But I do think German policy was reckless in some cases. Letting the reinsurance treaty with Russia lapse was a mistake. And it shouldn’t have been that difficult. I mean, the two countries had a lot of synergy.




TV: Something you seem to be very aware of writing the book is walking the line between ascribing too much importance to individuals and ignoring them completely, and saying they’re caught up in great trend of history that no one could possibly have done anything to change. 

And then you leave, with the very last sentence in the book, with, “There are always choices.” You also say, “context is crucial.” So my question here is, do you see there being real choices, or is there the illusion of choice in a context that makes one path inevitable or almost inevitable?

MM: I think circumstances make certain choices more likely than others. I think you can’t expect people to make choices where they don’t have a clear choice. I think people work within a framework. So there are certain givens within that framework, but even then I think there are choices, particularly war. If you choose to go to war with someone else, there is a clear element of choice. It’s one of the great choices that is made in human history.

So I don’t think things are inevitable. I think people are confined within certain parameters as to the choices they can make. If you’re Germany, you can say we will either dominate our neighbours through our undoubted military supremacy and through our economy, or we will dominate them in a peaceful way, and that was a very clear choice before Germany in the period before 1914.

There’s a German industrialist who says in 1914, we just need to wait and sooner or later we will be economically dominant, which would bring with it political influence and so on. And that’s what Germany has chosen to do since 1945. Germany has very consciously chosen not to be a military power.


TV: A distinction has been drawn between three strands in history right now. First, you have what’s called “political history,” that’s kings, presidents, wars, treaties. Then there’s “social history, ” which is the history of how people lived in the past. And third — and this category sometimes overlaps with social history — there’s a history that’s written in opposition to the traditional account of how things happened, which was written by the people who were in power. First, do you agree with those rough distinctions?

MM: I don’t think I would ever make as clear distinctions as those. I don’t think they even exist in the past. I mean political history cannot be separated from political sociology, which means it can’t be separated from the nature of society. And the sorts of things that people argue about, the sorts of things that are called political divisions, very much reflect what’s going on in society.

I don’t like, and it does happen in history, people who think exclusively in one term or another. I think the whole thing about history is that it’s eclectic. We don’t look narrowly at one particular subject. I mean, if you’re doing a history of technology, you can’t separate that history from a history of society, values, and power structures. Why are certain things invented and other things aren’t? Why are certain types of science pursued and others not? Those choices reflect the nature of the society and power structures.


TV: In light of that, there’s been some discussion on this campus that there is a dominance of social history in the course offerings. You’ve taught here. Do you see that happening? How do you fit the different piece of that eclectic picture together in that way that you teach history? 

MM: You can teach courses with different emphases. If you looked at history, for example, of the changing position of women in Canadian society, you’d presumably not be able to do such a history without the economic history of Canada, without looking at the political structures, because changes in society often are a result of political pressures, or political decisions, or changes in the law.

I suppose the sort of history I like is one in which we don’t compartmentalize it too much. I think there’s a tendency among people who do one kind of history to caricature the other. I think we do ourselves no service by that. I think we learn from each other and come at it with different emphases, but I think if you start ignoring a whole big chunk of what makes societies tick, you’re not going to get a whole picture.


TV: In your 2013 Hagey lecture you mention that public opinion was becoming increasingly important before World War I. Of course, public opinion is even more important now. You spoke recently to the CBC about what Canada’s government is doing to the history of the War of 1812. What do you see as the most troubling uses of history going on around us right now?

MM: The creation of very partial or even false narratives, which then give justification to behaving in certain ways


TV: But specifically?

MM: You get claims being made. I mean, the Chinese are now claiming islands in the South China Sea, or they claim Tibet, on very dubious historical grounds. So I think that’s where history can be dangerous.

Or you get history called into the use of various ideological movements. You can see it with Islamist movements, where you get a vision of an Islamic past which was absolutely blissfully happy and everyone lived in harmony, and then the crusaders came along and ruined it all, and we need to recover that past.

I think this can be extremely dangerous. Because it doesn’t just unite people around a grievance, it also gives them justification for attacking people who aren’t like them. History can be a very powerful and dangerous tool.


TV: Anything closer to home?

MM: You’ve got, of course, the Canadian government trying to portray or promote a view of the War of 1812 as a struggle of Canadians against Americans — when it wasn’t. It’s anachronistic to say that there was a fully-fledged Canadian identity and consciousness in those days.

These were people who lived in Canada, some of whom were of British descent, some of whom were of French descent, very recently American, or Aboriginals. I mean, the recent commemoration of the War of 1812, at least at the official level, seems to have left out the Aboriginal contribution. It was much more complex, and I think we could recognize that.

There’s also been talk, and again it seems to come from the Conservative sections of Canadian society, that Canada is a nation made in war. I suspect this will come out again in the commemoration of the First World War. Vimy ridge is clearly going to be a big thing. Yes, war has been an important part of Canadian history, but I don’t think we’re a nation made by war. I think, on the whole, we’re a very peaceful nation, and we’re made more by peace and peaceful evolution than by war.


TV: You’ve also said history shouldn’t be left to amateurs. Are students amateurs? 

MM: No, I don’t think students are amateurs, and if I were doing it again, I wouldn’t put it like that. Because a lot of people took me to mean that only people who have professional history degrees count as professionals, which is not what I meant at all.

What I meant was that history has to be done by people who respect the use of evidence, who are prepared to deal with uncomfortable evidence, not just ignore it. What I mean by amateurs is people who write about the past in a lazy sort of way, without really informing themselves about it. And if there’s evidence that doesn’t fit whatever thesis they have, they ignore it or explain it away.

So no, I don’t think students are amateurs. If you write bad essays then I’d say you’re an amateur, if you write good essays then I’d say you’re doing it as a professional.


TV: In your Hagey Lecture, you said that 32,000 works have been written in English about the First World War. What’s your reaction to people who assume that there’s no more to say on this topic?

MM: My reaction is that there’s always something else to be said. Because history changes as we change.


TV: In the LRB review, which was generally very positive, the critic described your book as “magisterial.” How does it feel to be a historical authority? 

MM: Well, you don’t feel it. You don’t feel like a historical authority. I’m always aware of how much I don’t know. But I suppose I know more than I used to. And I know more about certain subjects than other people. But magisterial sounds terrifying, it sounds like someone with a long grey beard, looking like a Michelangelo painting of God, saying: “This is the past.” I know he meant it kindly, but you always feel you never know it all. Although I know more than I used to, I suppose. Then I’m also forgetting more.


Interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

$484 million needed in building repairs

Maintenance deferral could cost U of T much more in long term

$484 million needed in building repairs

Brad Evoy stepped out of the office to get lunch on August 1, 2012. When he got back, he found that part of the ceiling in the main lobby of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) building on Bancroft Avenue had fallen in.

“We weren’t expecting it — no one had noticed there was an issue with the ceiling at the time, from our side or the university’s,” explained Evoy, the internal commissioner for the GSU.

There are over a hundred buildings on U of T’s three campuses, and many are in need of significant maintenance and renovation work. The 2012 Deferred Maintenance report estimated the university’s total deferred maintenance liability at $484 million. The report also estimated that U of T must spend $19 million a year to maintain the current conditions of its buildings. Last year, the Ontario government provided $3.2 million through its Facilities Renewal Program (FRP).


Deferring maintenance is simply not a good idea, said Tamer El-Diraby, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Civil Engineering. “This is maintenance that is needed. If you do it early, that means it’s going to be a small job. If you do it late, it’s going to be a bigger job and it will cost more.”

Evoy said the university’s Facilities & Services responded to the problem swiftly. “They jumped on it quite quickly; they checked it for asbestos, sealed off the area, and dealt with it.”

Deferred maintenance involves postponing maintenance activities because of a shortage of funds, and several organizations in the post-secondary education sector believe that funding pressures on universities are causing that gap to grow. “There’s been an endless cat-and-mouse game about deferred maintenance; the cat-and-mouse game is universities and colleges trying to get across to the government that if we don’t pay to keep these buildings up, it costs more for the taxpayers and the students and families in the long run,” said U of T president David Naylor in a recent interview with The Varsity.

Brad Duguid, minister of training, colleges, and universities, said that the province has funded universities at record levels since the Liberals took power in 2003. “Nobody can suggest for a second that this government hasn’t been there for the post-secondary education system when it comes to capital funding. I think we’ve got very significant results out of the investments that we’re making in post-secondary education.”


Why defer maintenance?


Ron Swail, U of T’s assistant vice-president of facilities services, said that there are a number of factors that determine whether a maintenance job is performed immediately or put off until later. “Immediate repairs would routinely be conducted if there is a risk to occupant or staff members’ health and safety,” said Swail, citing building accessibility and usability for teaching as other important factors.

U of T’s total assessed deferred maintenance and score on the Facilities Condition Index, a measure of building condition, have both increased significantly over the last few years — from a recent low of $257 million and 8.5 per cent respectively in 2007 to 14.3 per cent in 2012 (see graph 2 above). Deferred maintenance calculations do not include the federated colleges — Victoria, Trinity and St. Michael’s Colleges — which conduct their own maintenance.

Graeme Stewart, communications manager at the Ontario Confederation of University Associations (OCUFA), said that underfunding is affecting the quality of education and research at Ontario universities. “I think the bottom line is as these buildings age, and as they are not renewed, essentially everything that goes on in those buildings comes under threat.”

OCUFA’s 2012 Ontario Budget Brief called on the provincial government to raise direct maintenance funding to Ontario universities via the FRP from the current level of $17 million a year to an annual $200 million by 2015–2016. It also cited estimates from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) that suggest that maintaining facilities in their current condition would require $380 million in funding per year over the next decade.

Duguid said those demands are unrealistic. “I think it’s a little fanciful to suggest that somehow the province can just wave a magic wand and come up with hundreds of billions of more dollars every year.”


Is there a funding problem?

Michael Kennedy, a media officer for U of T, said that the university acknowledges the funding pressures on the government. However, “the low level of funding for maintenance is an ongoing issue for the University and one that is regularly raised with the provincial government.”

Naylor said that what matters is not necessarily the dollar value of deferred maintenance, but “do we have a lot of deferred maintenance that is reasonably pressing, and what are prudent and sensible responses to get it fixed to avoid a crisis that affects student, faculty, and staff, or avoids needless expenditure? The answer is, we have a lot, we know how big the level is, but for many years it has been almost impossible to get the province to engage in a serious discussion about putting in play the funds to fix those problems.”
The university’s deferred maintenance reports suggest FRP funding has fallen, from a high of $4.7 million in 2010 (see graph 3 above). Jelena Damjanovic, a media relations assistant at the university, indicated that FRP funding fell because “the entire program was reduced by the province.  That is why the dollar share allocated to the University of Toronto fell.”

Duguid said that’s not necessarily the case. “The funding levels haven’t changed. Different institutions will get different amounts every year, based on their project submissions. So that’s a number that will fluctuate a little over time, but the Facilities Renewal Program, it fluctuates just based on projects that are submitted.”

The COU is an umbrella organization that links Ontario’s publicly funded universities and advocates on their behalf. COU president Bonnie Patterson is registered to lobby the provincial government on several subjects, including infrastructure, and the organization also retains Toronto firm Counsel Public Affairs Inc. The COU declined to make anyone available to comment for this story. Bob Lopinski, a principal at Counsel and a former senior official in the McGuinty government, said the firm does not discuss client matters publicly.

Duguid maintained that the government has shown its commitment to funding the province’s universities. “In all, since 2003, we’ve invested $3.1 billion in capital funding, and one-third of that, a billion dollars, was specifically targeted to renewal, repair, and modernization across the sector. U of T got a good share of the funding for much of that capital funding,” he said.


Can it be fixed?

The province has announced $800 million in capital funding for the next three years, though the ministry could not provide an estimate of how much of that money would be put towards new projects, and how much to maintenance spending.

Duguid said there are currently no plans for more capital spending once that money runs out. “In the near future, as we’re working to balance our books in the province over the next number of years, there is no plan at this point for additional new capital dollars,” he said. However, he emphasized that the province has already made significant improvements in funding for Ontario’s post-secondary universities.

U of T’s administration stressed that while funding pressures are a problem, the situation is under control. “While we are advocating for more funding, we are managing the situation,” said Damjanovic.

Swail acknowledged that this year’s report is likely to see a further rise in total deferred maintenance, although he emphasized that the university has made significant progress in tackling the most urgent projects. According to Swail, the total amount of “priority one” deferred maintenance items have decreased steadily for the past seven years, from approximately $76 million to just over $18 million (see graph 5 below).
With new construction projects underway on all three campuses, Evoy said the university needs to concentrate on fixing its existing structures. “It’s extremely worrying; I think that as a university we should be trying to not just build outwards and seem impressive, but maintain the structures and capacities that we have,” he said.

The next deferred maintenance report will be discussed at the Business Board meeting on January 27, 2014.

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

Outgoing U of T president discusses flat fees, fee diversion, favourite books, and his final thoughts as he says farewell

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

It has been eight years since David Naylor became president of U of T. He’s led the university in the midst of provincial funding cuts, a global recession, and seemingly endless battles with the students’ union. He will step down on October 31, and former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler will take his place. I sat down with Naylor one more time for a 45-minute interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, not counting the responses he emailed for the questions we didn’t have time to get to.


The Varsity: I know that provincial and federal funding is something that you’ve talked about for a long time, in terms of the university wanting more of it. If you could have any system you wanted right now, what would it look like?

David Naylor: We would be at the national average for student funding, at the minimum, and that alone would see probably on the order of $300 million of additional base funding; that’s how big the gap has become.


TV: And why are we below the average?

DN: This is a very challenging question to ever answer definitively. If you go back twenty years, you’ll find the province was already lagging in terms of post-secondary funding and, despite some positive steps in the early days of the Reaching Higher program the province adopted, there has been no real progress. It’s particularly puzzling because we are the national average on spending K-12 education, and the national average in terms of spending on health care. Yet we seem to have decided, somehow, that it’s okay to have a situation in which universities and colleges receive relatively less per student from other provinces. Indeed, so much less that if I were to move the University of Toronto’s operations to Edmonton or Calgary tomorrow, we would double our funding from the province, even after they’ve had their cuts.


TV: The province is considering amending the flat-fees structure, the proposal is, as of next year students taking 3.5 courses will be considered full-time, and as of 2015 students taking four courses or 80 per cent will be considered full-time. Do you think that these changes are positive? If so, why, and if not, what would be a better system?

DN: I think the changes are not evidence-based…what has not been established is that there are any ill effects from this approach, and by established I mean good strong evidence rather than the usual anecdote that carries the day in newspapers. When you look at the studies that were done by the Faculty of Arts & Science, with student representatives on those committees, we see quantitative evidence that shows the following:

We see faster times to completion, which is good for everybody. We see the funds that have been generated from the program fee approach have been redirected to improve student aid, which is also a good thing net and net no one ends up paying more as a result, when you consider both intensification and the additional student aid.

You see that extracurricular participation has not fallen one bit. You see that grade distribution, so far from going in the wrong direction, is actually showing positive changes. When you put all the evidence together, there’s really not a lot to say that program fees have had an adverse effect.

Would you advocate for the status quo? Do you think that there should be any change at the provincial level?

DN: Do I think the threshold should be four? No, I do not think that threshold is appropriate. Do I think the threshold could be 3 or 3.5? You can argue it either way, but to me if you’re going to do it, what I really would want to see from the standpoint of fairness is get the evidence as you proceed, step by step, to show that adverse effects are not occurring.


TV: U of T consistently ranks poorly on Maclean’s and other surveys that rank student life on campus. Do you think U of T has as strong a student life or sense of identity as Queen’s or Western? If so, why? If not, why not? 

DN: I take some consolation on these surveys from the reality that we have a more critically minded, and I think very smart, audience that may be more inclined to take a skeptical view than those who are happier to paint themselves purple or participate in rowdy Homecoming institutions.




TV: Can it all be attributed to that?

DN: No, of course not. I just wanted to get in that preliminary caveat before I answered your question. The surveys that I look at that give me some sense of encouragement are the NSSE [National Survey of Student Engagement] surveys. On NSSE, we’re up meaningfully over the last few years on five of the seven big domains, and stable on two others. So there’s no question that student life and student engagement are improving. The reality is that this is a major urban centre. We have a lot of students who commute and we know in all these surveys that commuting poses challenges in terms of spirit and solidarity. I do think that the continued improvement in athletics helps. I think that having a Student Commons will help.

I do think that U of T students are simply more academic and have a stronger orientation to a life of the mind than students at some other campuses. And we get accordingly a group who may be less inclined to go out and whoop it up at an athletic event or hang out at a local bar and have fun and who may be a little more likely to be hitting the books in a pretty demanding school and tending to focus on their academics a little more heavily — and I frankly get that and I admire it.


TV: Yes. Now you said the words ‘‘student commons,’’ so I have to ask: On the one hand you have Trinity, Engineering, and Victoria who want to leave. On the other hand you have the students’ union who doesn’t want them to leave. What is a potential compromise?

DN: I think that one has to ask what are some of the services that are sufficiently common across the campus that they might be provided by an umbrella entity and which are division specific to the extent that one might want to see them devolved and that thinking around functionality is one starting point. Another starting point for a compromise is to think about how good governance occurs and that means there has to be some sense that there is an umbrella body like UTSU, that it is responsive to the component divisions in a way that gives them a real sense of full participation in decisions that are made, and both those principles become a starting point for some intelligent compromises. Where this will end up is going to depend upon whether people are willing to find compromises in both directions.

It is the formal position at Victoria, Engineering, and Trinity that they feel there is no room to compromise and they want out. And a few weeks ago the St. George Round Table passed a motion endorsing the principle that if students have voted to leave in a fair referendum then they should be allowed to leave. And, as you know, the union is not responsive to these things. Online voting only got implemented in this election because Cheryl Misak basically threatened to cut off funding. How do you work with the union under these circumstances?

DN: I think it is fair to say that the administration is very unlikely to be comfortable with anything that doesn’t involve some sensible compromises on all sides and if there is no appetite for compromise then there will have to be some decision made by governance on the advice of the administration as to what a sensible and fair dispensation would be. There is no question we have heard very quickly the unhappiness of at least three major student groups on this campus. There is also no question, that we have watched years of challenges to electoral results and have had more than one student group through the years have similar concerns to those that have crystallized and been voted on now. All that is to say that no one should underestimate the resolve of the administration to see a fair resolution.

So I think you will find that we will be moderately patient, perhaps frustratingly so for those that want a fast resolution, and we are going to try and keep the conversation going and if at some juncture there is no resolution, we will act.


TV: The Varsity recently wrote a story about interest fees the university charges. U of T collects about $1.76 million dollars in interest fees from the St. George campus undergraduate students. I don’t think that’s much money for the administration, but I do think that’s a lot of money for your average student. Students get osap money twice during the year, but they have to pay their fees once during the year. So bearing in mind the different OSAP timelines and the pressure from the students’ union, do you think the current model needs to be altered, and if not, why? 

DN: First off, whatever the number is, any money in base that recurs is important to the institution. This is not a one-time amount of money, it’s a recurring amount of money, but much more important than the actual amount brought in on interest charges is the fact that if fees are not paid on a timely basis, there is a loss on the part of the institution. Like any other enterprise we have to continue to make payroll, deal with our expenses, and manage cash flow.


TV: Are there ways to do that without charging interest?

DN: Well it’s pretty hard not to charge interest because if the money isn’t in our hands we can’t put whatever money has been banked out to collect interest out from the banks. Remember that our money comes in in a couple of tranches, just like the money comes in from OSAP in a couple of tranches. We have to manage cash flow for the year. If we don’t invest the money that comes in we’re guilty of dereliction of the appropriate use of capital in our hands and that would be inappropriate and wasteful. One of the reasons interest is charged on these accounts is not some desire to gouge or to make a lot of money out of the interest per se, but rather to make sure we actually have people paying on a timely basis.


TV: Could U of T operate on a model where students pay once per semester? Other universities do.

DN: You have to look at each institution’s model to look at what works. As I see it, most institutions have some interest charges simply to ensure fees are paid on a timely basis. As I see it when a newspaper reports that this amounts to 19 per cent they are misrepresenting the reality and that no one is going to go a full year without paying their fees. When we have claims that these fees are a great burden when in fact they’re OSAP-eligible expenses, we also have some misperception.


TV: If I may though, the data does show that most people are sitting with it between OSAP disbursement periods.  

DN: So in that period they will see this as an expense and they will wait to be paid back, and I understand that that is something that rankles, I get it. It also rankles when anyone else gets a bill with an interest charge on it, which is why we pay them. I would love to see some sensible compromise that found everyone happy our fees are paid on a timely basis and students feeling as though they are also incentivized to do their share to pay.


TV: What is next?

DN: I will go back to the ranks and I will try to be helpful to the institution in any way I can. I will do some private sector work and I will do some non profit and charitable work and try to stay out of the way.


TV: Will you teach?

DN: I hope so. I love teaching, and I really enjoyed research. I would like to live that life again, but I will have to take a little time to see how feasible that is. I mean, I’ve been at it 14 years as a full-time academic administrator as dean of Medicine and president and the jury is out as to whether I can retool and be effective as a researcher again. I’d like to give that a try, but it may be too late — the neurons may have gone to sleep permanently.


TV: What is your favourite book?

DN: Mr Bumbletoes of Bimbleton… That’s a sentimental choice.  My grandparents on both sides were immigrants with limited education.  My mother was a gifted student, but neither she nor her three brothers attended university. My father was determined to be a medical researcher, and was the only one of six children in his family to attend university.  He arrived here at University College during the Depression without any family financial backing, and worked more or less full-time to support himself.  There was no student aid.  He made it as far as first-year Medicine, but couldn’t manage and dropped out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents gave their four children a house full of books and a strong sense that we should all pursue higher education as far as it would take us. Among those books, Mr Bumbletoes was my childhood favourite. I am sorry that my father did not live to see his old oak desk in the office of the dean of Medicine at U of T.


TV: Let me ask you one last question. If you came back to U of T 10 years from now, what would you hope the campus would look like?

DN: I would hope they were still amazingly diverse, with the fabulous mix of students we have here from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. I think one of the things that I feel best about is that we’ve had huge numbers of people over the last number of years work hard to promote a uniquely Canadian brand of accessible excellence here at U of T. I think it distinguishes us hugely from some of the Ivy League institutions with which we compete otherwise on the academic level, and I also think in the quality of our graduates — so I would want to see that same wonderful level of diversity. I would hope that we might on this campus have finally figured out a way to close down some of the traffic around King’s College Circle, so that this can be even more of a pedestrian space.

I’d love to see some of the new buildings that are planned up and thriving and full of terrific students and faculty and staff, and I’ll be watching all of those developments with great interest. East and West, I would be really excited to see more of a sense of research buildings that enable more graduate students and graduate studies to thrive as per the 2030 plan as well as the outworking of some of the great plans they have underway. For example, in Scarborough the development of the North campus with the remediated land around the Pan Am Centre is going to be incredibly exciting, and I think they will have made big progress a decade from now.

To the West, there’s infinite potential at the Mississauga campus and I can see any number of new programs emerging there that would again represent a change. They have an academcy of Medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Missisauga and Scarborough with academies of engineering or similar professional programs that are tied to St. George at some later date. I think the sense of a blend of all the historic architecture and all the facilities and greenspace is something that I hope will remain forever. It will always be a place I come back to with a sense of coming home.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Is free tuition possible?

An investigation of countries that vie for free tuition, and the problems they face

Last week, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) lobbied at Parliament Hill against rising student debt, which has now reached over $15 billion — the highest it has ever been in Canada. The CFS takes the formal stance that students should not have to pay any tuition. Some Western European countries demonstrate a successful system wherein free post-secondary education is available — the question remains whether such a system can be instituted in Canada.

In 2010, Higher Education Strategy Associates ranked Canada the fourth most expensive country for post-secondary education, with an average cost of US $5,974, and this sum continues to rise. As the demand for skilled workers possessing post-secondary credentials goes up, students increasingly see post-secondary education as a necessity. As a result, many are forced to take out loans or are unable to afford post-secondary education. As education is free up to the secondary level in Canada, students from across Canada have been expressing their desire for universities to lower tuition fees and reduce student debt. The argument goes that, just as primary and secondary education are free, post-secondary education should also be accessible to all.

A few countries have successfully maintained a system where post-secondary education is kept at a very low cost or in some cases, is entirely free. In Norway, state universities and post-secondary institution fees are subsidized entirely by the government, meaning students are entitled to free education for undergraduate and post-graduate programs. This free education also applies to foreign students. Universities require an administrative semester fee ranging from 300–600 NOK (approximately $52.65–$105 CAD), this fee includes membership in the local student union, health and counselling services, and reduced costs on public transportation and sporting, and cultural events. Sweden, Finland, and Austria have similar systems. While public education may be free, Norway’s high standard of living demands higher taxes and living expenses. The University of Oslo’s recommended monthly expenses for students in Norway total 10,000 NOK (approximately $1,774 CAD), which includes housing, food, books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. In contrast, U of T estimates $1,500 CAD per month for the same expenses, and health insurance.

Although Norway’s post-secondary education system can be seen as a model for Canada, the economic and demographic situations between the two differ greatly. Norway is a unitary state, with a significantly lower population, compared to Canada, a federal state. Norway’s higher GDP and higher taxes create more revenue to fund the country’s free tuition. According to the CIA World Factbook, Norway is ranked within the top 10 countries with the highest GDP per capita, while Canada is ranked 19th in the world. Even with a much higher GDP per capita, however, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — which also provides free post-secondary education — spends over 25 per cent of government expenditure on education, whereas Canada spends a little over 12 per cent. Currently, the CFS is calling on the federal government to invest more into post-secondary education, as most of the costs are currently funded by the provinces.

One concern that many have about free education is a possible decline in the quality of education. There is a concern that as education becomes more accessible, its value diminishes. While Canadian universities are internationally ranked, free European universities are not. Due to the lack of English classes, European universities are at a disadvantage in terms of international reputation. However, changes have been made to remedy this. In 2010, in order to compete internationally, Sweden began to charge international student fees, which they aim to put back into their education system. Furthermore, the European Union has introduced the Bologna Process — an internationally recognized academic system, while Norway invests heavily in vocational education, to encourage student employment after graduation. The UAE also heavily invests in the Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS) to meet the rising demand for employees in the country’s growing financial sector.

At present, Canadian tuition fees continue to rise despite the fact that, in 1976, Canada was one of the countries that signed and ratified the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — which aims for the “progressive introduction of free education,” for secondary and post-secondary institutions. However, Canada has not yet made a major move towards free post-secondary education. Based on current trends of most post-secondary institutions, including U of T, which typically raise tuition at the maximum permitted annual rate, such a move seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Following two weeks of silence, U of T answers some questions on controversial all-women’s residence

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Earlier this month, in an investigation by The Varsity, former residents at Loretto College raised concerns about the college’s policies and its residence atmosphere. Loretto is a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The Varsity spoke to former residents who were uncomfortable with the conservative policies and tone of the residence and the requirement that they formally agree to live in a “Christian academic community.” Under the University of Toronto’s residence guarantee policy, some students also faced a choice between living in Loretto and not living in residence at all. The university has now clarified its position on some of the questions raised by the investigation, although significant questions remain unanswered.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications, was asked whether women could have been placed in Loretto without requesting it in the first place. Kurts explained that there are higher demands for particular residences than can be met. When this is the case, Housing Services identifies other residences that have open spaces, and offers students a place within these alternative residences. “This means that any student may be offered a space in a residence that they did not select as their choice. This would be as true for Loretto as any other U of T residence,” he said. If a student chooses to decline this offer, they are placed on a waitlist for their first choice residence. Kurts acknowledged that the likelihood of getting a spot in one’s first choice residence after being placed on a waitlist was “very low.” A number of the girls interviewed during The Varsity’s investigation said they felt uncomfortable signing the residence agreement but were told that no other option was available. Some elected not to sign the residence agreement and found off-campus housing.

Kurts further clarified that all U of T policies are in effect at Loretto College, as it is affiliated with the university, and that while they do not have an exact number of girls who did not select Loretto as their first choice, “the number is small, and likely fewer than five.” The Varsity interviewed more than a dozen girls, who entered across multiple years, and indicated that they did not select Loretto as a first choice.

The SMC residence office said that all Arts & Science students who are a part of SMC are offered both a spot in Loretto and a spot in SMC proper, but the same does not seem to be true for professional faculty students, who are dealt with separately. Many of the engineering students interviewed during the course of the investigation claimed they were told they would be offered spots in both Loretto and SMC. However, when they were offered spots in Loretto and inquired about the alternate offer,  they were told none was available.

When asked what would happen if a student was uncomfortable with the religious aspects of living at Loretto, Kurts said that an attempt would be made to find another space. However, he warned: “Most often than ever, our residences are full to capacity and there may be no other spaces available.”

Meanwhile, Angela Convertini, dean of residence at Loretto College, said she felt that no students were forced into Loretto. When asked about why the residence agreement was not made available online, Convertini explained that as a  smaller residence, Loretto does not have access to a webmaster and therefore is unable to maintain a separate website containing its residence agreement.

Convertini claimed women have as much knowledge about Loretto as any other residence: “We have people come by and tour the residence, look over the residence agreement, and understand what they’re getting into. Many of the women quoted in the article never came to us with any problems…they were made fully aware of the nature of the residence and the environment in which they were choosing to live.”

Elizabeth May seeks to reform democracy

Green Party leader discusses education, democratic renewal, and marijuana

Elizabeth May seeks to reform democracy

Green Party leader Elizabeth May describes her vision for post-secondary education: greater financial support for universities via federal government transfers to provinces. “We need to ensure that we put an end to interest-bearing student loans, and we’ll expand bursaries and scholarships for young people,” May stated.



Speaking as a guest lecturer in an ENV100 class, May emphasized the importance of youth involvement: “We need one thing more than anything else, and it’s you. We need informed and engaged citizens who won’t shut up about the fact that a handful of economic bullies have decided their short-term profits are worth more than our collective future.”

When asked how the Green Party would combat youth apathy, May responded “I don’t think that youth are more apathetic than any other group in society.” While it is true that young people are among the least likely to vote, May attributes this to a disillusionment with the voting system and the “false conclusion” that “the entire system is rigged and there’s not much point in voting at all.”

“If you’re feeling disengaged and disillusioned, and angry at politicians, the most important thing to do is to vote… I think what you have to do is take the time to learn about the issues, be active in our democracy, and take the time to vote. So that’s a message to everyone, not just a message to young people,” May said.

In October, May held a town hall on democratic renewal as part of her “Save Democracy From Politics” nationwide tour. The tour was designed to give May a platform to discuss the issues of electoral reform, and what she calls “our democratic deficit.” May is an outspoken proponent of proportional representation, and wishes that political parties had never been established.

“We could have a better, healthier democracy in this country if [we could] eliminate all the political parties in this country and let Canadians vote for the MP they think most represents their interests,” May said. The Green Party includes implementation of proportional representation as part of its platform. Kelly Carmichael, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, one of the organizations behind the tour, said that the First Past the Post (FPTP) system that Canada currently has does not truly reflect the votes of the electorate. Carmichael used the results of the 2011 federal election to illustrate her point: “39 per cent of the voters that showed up gave one party 54 per cent of the seats, and 100 per cent of the power. Over 700 million votes didn’t elect anybody. This winner-takes-all, antiquated, FPTP system creates division among voters.”

The Green Party was the first federal political party to call for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. “It’s very clear that prohibition does not work, and it takes scarce law enforcement resources and puts them in the wrong place, criminalizing people whose activities shouldn’t be criminalized,” stated May.

Two of the Green Party’s long-term national goals are to eliminate student debt entirely, and to increase accessibility to post-secondary education. Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario (GPO), said “one shouldn’t detract from the other,” and hopes to achieve both through a multi-year tuition fee freeze.

To ensure that the lost revenue does not detract from university budgets, Schreiner promised: “We’d reverse the corporate tax cuts introduced by the Liberal Party… Having skilled young people entering the workforce is a huge benefit to businesses of all sizes, so it seems right that they should help pay for something that helps them.” Ontario is the province with the highest tuition fees, but the lowest public investment.

In addition to the tuition fee freeze, Schreiner would like to introduce grants that are more needs-based, instead of the current tax credit system.

Schreiner pointed out that Ontario is the province with the highest tuition fees, but with the lowest per capita spending on education. He believes that the province’s lack of commitment to education results from the mistaken view that youth are not politically engaged. “The more engaged young people are in politics, the more the policies would benefit them,” he said.

May does not believe that there is sufficient evidence that cannabis is any more of a health threat than cigarettes or alcohol, and supports findings that marijuana is beneficial when used for medical purposes, specifically as an aid for chronic pain, and other illnesses.