Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

If the Liberals are true allies to LGBTQ people, they must provide assistance to persecuted groups in Chechnya

Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

Reports of extreme government-sanctioned violence against gay men in Chechnya have quickly spread around the world. Over 100 men have reportedly been detained in concentration camp-style prisons and subjected to brutal torture methods. Three men have reportedly been killed.

Although some gay men have successfully escaped Chechnya thanks to help from the Russian LGBT Network, gay men continue to find themselves in a position of danger within the country. And despite seeing itself as a compassionate country that takes its moral obligations to its LGBTQ people seriously, Canada has done nothing to assist Chechens in crisis.

This is hypocritical and concerning on a number of fronts. While LGBTQ people face danger and violence all over the world, gay men in Chechnya are facing authorities who have urged families to kill their own gay children, and a leader who has set out to kill the entire LGBTQ community before the start of Ramadan. This crisis is time-sensitive and could result in further tragedy, making it all the more prudent that the Canadian government prioritize its cases.

Canada has developed a rather noteworthy reputation for stepping in during humanitarian crises like this one. Yet if we as a country truly believe ourselves to be a beacon of tolerance and acceptance, why aren’t we doing the tolerant thing, like offering refuge?

It’s not impossible to imagine speeding up the resettlement process via the creation of special visas, or a program similar to the one used to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Such proposals should be given serious consideration in light of the situation’s urgency.

Still, the Canadian government doesn’t show any sign of doing so. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said that these men do not qualify for refugee status, and did not mention the possibility of giving them special visas to allow them to come here. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen also did not promise any specific action to help them.

As individuals facing extreme violence and persecution, it might seem like gay men in Chechnya are in a position analogous to some refugee cases. Yet the Canadian government has labeled them as unqualified for resettlement, because — given that Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic of Russia — they have not left their country of origin, making them internally displaced people (IDPs), not refugees.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that IDPs are not necessarily in any less danger than refugees. As explained on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ website, IDPs “have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home.” This means that “IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. As a result, these people are among the most vulnerable in the world.”

In this particular case, Chechen individuals certainly face danger in Russia, which is known for its hostile attitude toward LGBTQ people. A 2013 Pew Research Centre study found that 84 per cent of Russians do not believe that society should accept homosexuality.

In the past, the Liberals have posted highly publicized photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudea marching in the Toronto Pride Parade and raising the rainbow flag on Parliament Hill in June 2016. On the latter occasion, Trudeau stated that “Canada is united in its defence of rights and in standing up for LGBTQ rights.” Knowing this, it’s surprising that the Liberal government is ignoring the crisis that gay Chechens face when the party has made such a show of their support for the LGBTQ community.

Canadians should be wary of politicians who present themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community yet fail to take action that would actually help the LGBTQ community.

In this case, action means accepting Chechen gay men who need to leave Russia as refugees, and doing so quickly. Students can put pressure on the federal government to take action by getting involved with political organizing and lobbying Members of Parliament. In turn, how the government chooses to navigate those regulatory waters is up to its discretion — but something needs to be done, and soon.

 

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

Growing up with The Tragically Hip

A personal reflection on Canada’s iconic band

Growing up with The Tragically Hip

Unlike most music I listen to, I couldn’t possibly say where or when I first heard The Tragically Hip. Which is odd, because I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Arcade Fire (my backyard; the eighth grade; trying to skateboard even though I have notoriously poor balance), The Arkells (an overnight summer camp; the ninth grade; eating a very culturally appropriated Chinese stir fry), and pretty much any other musical ensemble that I would eventually label a favourite.

Most Canadians appear to share this problem. Many of us grew up with The Tragically Hip, but few can point to a time when we first acknowledged the band’s presence. The Hip were always around, whether we intended to hear them or not — on CBC radio, in our parents’ CD collection, or in local concert venues. They recorded prolifically and toured regularly. Whenever they performed in Toronto, I would always think, ‘I can go next year, when they inevitably return.’

The winter was peak Hip season for me. As a teenager I spent the colder days in Toronto playing pick-up hockey at the local rinks in my neighbourhood, and I would often listen to the band on the way to and from the makeshift arenas. Skates and stick in hand, I would first listen to “New Orleans Is Sinking” and “Three Pistols”—two songs expertly crafted to act as pre-game pump-ups—and then “50 Mission Cap.” It’s The Hip’s hockey song—a song about Bill Barilko, a former defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who died on a fishing trip shortly after winning the Stanley Cup.

It was no coincidence that my interest in Canadian history peaked around this age, either. The Hip were meticulous chronicler’s of Canadian history. Early education failed to instill in me the excitement of our home-and-native-land’s vibrant past, but a rock band whose eccentric lead singer sang about the Group of Seven and Quebec separatism certainly did.

Playing in a few bands throughout high school, Downie quickly became an inspiration to me and to many of my fellow bandmates. His poetry was far better than ours, but inspired us to see the value in our immediate surroundings as potential musical subjects. We didn’t have to sing about California; Orillia would work just fine.

He found value in the crevices of Canadian lore where others failed to look. Few may have known the small town of Bobcaygeon before Downie deemed it worthy of a song, and few may have remembered the wrongful rape and murder conviction of David Milgaard before the story was archived in “Wheat Kings.” But Downie did, and we’re better for it.

During The Hip’s early years, Downie developed a cult following of sorts. Prairie kids and ‘hockey bros’ would flock to Hip shows donning their team jerseys as coats of arms. Something about Downie, perhaps his upbringing in Kingston or his fondness for the pseudo-national sport, must have struck a chord amongst them. He never seemed anything like these people, though. Nothing about his lyrics appeared to purposely tap into their culture, and rarely would he address the youthful masses that attended the shows. Instead, he would lose himself in the songs —twitching, dad dancing, and spewing stream-of-consciousness nonsense like the victim of an exorcism gone wrong.

For many Canadians, Downie is a familiar — if not comforting — presence. When it appeared as though all Canadian rockstars were the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen or a wannabe Tom Petty, Downie was unabashedly himself, ranting about Killer Whale tanks and double suicides in the shadow of a hit-churning mega-industry down south. He and the band gave Canadians something to be proud of — something to point to when the calibre of our artistic product came into question.

That’s why the late-May announcement of Downie’s diagnosis and the subsequent implication of The Hip’s numbered days felt like an irremediable stab wound in the collective solar plexus. Downie has brain cancer —glioblastoma, to be exact — and there’s no known cure. Ninety per cent of victims live for less than five years upon diagnosis and, in the meantime, are subject to early onset dementia and countless other side-effects.

For the band, it’s an end when there shouldn’t have been an end in sight. For Downie, we can only hope that modern medicine prevails, and that he’ll have the good fortune of surviving despite the odds. It’s a daunting assignment, but as we’ve seen throughout the past few months, it’s one that he’ll undoubtedly approach with will and determination.

And grace, too.

The polite Canadian and other myths

Deconstructing common Canadian stereotypes

The polite Canadian and other myths

Having been colonized by the British and the French and rubbing shoulders with arguably the most ridiculed country in the world, Canada has always been at risk of picking up some of the worst stereotypes. Yet, our country has managed to garner its own outlandish stereotypes about living in igloos, putting maple syrup on everything, and pronouncing it ‘aboot.’

For the most part, these stereotypes paint nothing more than a harmless caricature of your typical Canadian. In fact, many of the stereotypes associated with Canadians might be ‘good stereotypes,’ as they tend to be positive beliefs about Canadians that result in a fantastic reputation when travelling.

However, several of these stereotypes prove to be far more insidious than they first seem, as they conceal some of the less pleasant aspects of life in Canada.

‘Canadians have free healthcare’

This is not necessarily a generalization, but rather a misinterpretation of facts. While Canadians are fortunate enough to enjoy coverage for basic medical services, such as doctor’s visits, hospital stays, diagnostic tests, etc., Canada’s healthcare plan does not cover prescription medication, physiotherapy, ambulance services, mobility devices, and more. These are all covered by additional health insurance plans, which come up to about $12,000 a year for the average Canadian family.

So, while your hospital stay is free under the Canadian healthcare plan, the ambulance ride there, any prescribed medication, and any post-injury physiotherapy are all paid out-of-pocket, unless you can afford an additional insurance plan.

This is very generous compared to other government healthcare plans around the world, but it is not the standard to which we want to hold ourselves. The Canadian healthcare plan puts those without coverage – recent graduates in internships often among them – at a severe disadvantage compared to other Canadians or those living in countries with better coverage.

In fact, Canada ranked second last in the Commonwealth Fund Report on healthcare, receiving the lowest score for efficiency and ranking very high in re-hospitalization after treatment. This same report placed UK and Sweden ranked quite high in comparison. Ireland typically caps pharmacy prescriptions at €144 a month under their Drugs Payment Scheme, and Sweden has a limit to how much patients pay for healthcare in a year, after which everything is free.

These countries are making an active effort to prevent marginalization based on economic status in their healthcare systems, while Canada’s healthcare system reproduces this marginalization and simultaneously benefits off the stereotype of having completely free healthcare.

‘Canadians are nice and polite’

This stereotype was likely created in juxtaposition of our neighbours down south, who bear the unfortunate burden of being known as a country with a rather rude population. Canada, on the other hand, is known for being a polite, welcoming country and is often portrayed as being an ‘escape’ from the United States. However, it is worth taking a look at what exactly we label ‘nice and polite.’

Canadian politeness is often associated with another stereotype: the tendency to over-apologize. There is no real evidence proving that Canadians apologize more than other people, and it’s not necessarily used in a polite manner.

For example, Canadians commonly apologize when someone else bumps into them. However, sometimes the ‘sorry’ that slips out after being jostled is more of a panicked exclamation or even a subtle way to get the offender to apologize for their wrongdoing. In this sense, Canadian politeness can often be perceived as underhanded snark and not polite at all.

On a larger scale, the idea of Canadian ‘niceness’ has resulted in a stellar record for human rights on an international level. The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument erected near the Parliamentary precinct in Ottawa acts as a testament to this record; “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” is emblazoned in English and French on its surface.

However, one look at both current and historical affairs in Canada serves as evidence to disprove this notion of our country’s commitment to human rights. Canada’s loaded history of colonization, residential school systems, Japanese internment camps, and the many injustices committed against Indigenous peoples, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community by the Canadian government provide more than enough proof for the country’s lack of respect for basic human rights.

And for those who dismiss these injustices as a thing of the past, current policies in Canada are proving to be chips off the old block. The practice of carding, for example, has created much debate in Canada, with strong advocates both for and against it. Regardless of one’s beliefs about carding, it is indisputable that conducting random police checks and entering the information of passersby in certain neighbourhoods based on their physical appearance into a massive database is an act of discrimination.

This is especially disturbing considering the fact that these encounters are very often made against black Canadians and rarely result in arrests or charges, which connotes a lack of just cause. While steps have been taken to ban the practice in Ontario, it is still in effect in several other provinces and territories in Canada.

The embarrassing irony of having a monument commemorating a continued commitment to human rights while simultaneously employing discriminatory policies is lost on no one, and the existing stereotype of a ‘nice and polite’ Canada only furthers this irony.

‘Canadians are extremely progressive’

It is a commonly held belief that Canada is one of the most progressive societies in the world, especially in comparison to other countries. To any Canadian who has not been living under a rock for the last ten years, this stereotype will already have revealed itself to be false.

The Canadian Conservative-turned-Progressive-Conservative party has had a profound influence on Canadian politics for the last 150 years. In fact, Canada had been under the leadership of a conservative Prime Minister for eight years before Justin Trudeau was sworn in last fall, and even the Liberal Party tends to lean right at times, especially in relation to the economy and foreign affairs.

In terms of social progressiveness, this stereotype has only proven itself to be somewhat true in Canadian cities. Rural parts of Canada are notorious for rampant bigotry, especially toward Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even in a city like Toronto, there is substantial resistance to change, including protests against the new Ontario sex-ed curriculum, opposition to employing gender-neutral language in the national anthem (a change which has recently been made despite vehement conservative opposition), and support for Bill C-24, which sought to create a ‘second class’ of citizens who could have their citizenship revoked.

Therefore, while Canada may seem very progressive compared to the United States – especially considering the way the US elections have been going – it is not nearly as progressive as the stereotype holds.

Stereotypes regarding Canadian social conduct often seem to have been created to counter American stereotypes. While conceptions of Canada have often been positive, we should be making an effort to break away from the United States. Constant comparison to our neighbours down south not only makes us less independent, but it also lowers the expectations we have of our country; being “better than the US” is not the standard to which we should be holding ourselves. Rather than settling for things as they are because it could be worse or is worse elsewhere, we should strive to improve life in Canada for the sole purpose of making our country a better place.

Saambavi Mano is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice studies.

When past becomes present

Acknowledging long-term and systemic injustice against Indigenous communities

When past becomes present

For hundreds of years colonial settlers violently targeted Indigenous peoples through systematic processes of exploitation and forced assimilation. In addition to producing widespread conflict and disease, this resulted in the fragmentation of Indigenous communities. Many have rightly criticized secondary schools across Canada for failing to tell this story without trivializing the brutality. One would think, however, that exposure to different narratives in a university setting would eventually put things into perspective.

Yet, there remains a disturbing lack of awareness of the long-term effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities, which are too often resigned to a place in the past, detached from what continues to occur in the present. 

At the university and beyond, the connection between historical injustices and pervasive problems in Indigenous communities is often downplayed or ignored altogether. The result is a disheartening ignorance to even the most pressing Indigenous issues — which are undoubtedly linked to policies and strategies in Canada that sought to destroy Indigenous peoples altogether.

One of the gravest examples of such policy was the residential school system: it forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families and subjected them to assimilation at Christian institutions, which often led to maltreatment, physical, and sexual abuse. Residential schools were endorsed and pursued by the Canadian government for over a century; the last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996.     

It has been stressed repeatedly that the trauma and violence that children faced within these institutions accelerated the effect of past colonial processes. We have seen the consequences manifest themselves in the form of pervasive poverty, substance abuse, family disintegration, violence, and crime. 

The violence that Indigenous peoples continue to face is exemplified by the pattern of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation found that, from 1980 to 2012, nearly 1,200 Indigenous women in Canada went missing or were victims of homicide.

Some suggest that the number of victims is probably much more but that accurate data has been lost or is obscured by the criminal justice system. Possible reasons for this include deliberate decisions made by police to ignore cases of Indigenous women going missing, as well as a long-standing fear and mistrust of police from indigenous women due to historical mistreatment, racism, and abuse.

On top of this, the living conditions on many Indigenous reservations are deplorable. A 2015 CBC News investigation revealed that two-thirds of all First Nations communities in Canada have received at least one drinking water advisory in the past decade. The longest of these advisories is still in effect at the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years. Housing is also often run-down and in grave need of repair, often due to overcrowding. 

It must also be noted that Indigenous people are grossly overrepresented within the criminal justice system, a phenomenon attributable both to socioeconomic problems within these communities, and to criminal justice practices that have targeted them disproportionately. Indigenous people make up about 3.8 per cent of the Canadian population, but represent over 23 per cent of the total inmate population. Overrepresentation has increased significantly since the turn of the century, particularly for Indigenous women, who experienced a 109 per cent increase in incarceration from 2001 to 2012. 

Clearly, we are still witnessing the effects of past regimes, yet the university has not sufficiently accounted for this. Although courses on Indigenous history and development exist — and indeed, the Aboriginal Studies program at U of T is dedicated to this type of scholarship — other courses are often less than satisfactory. 

I can name classes where Indigenous oppression — if mentioned at all — is framed solely as a past wrong, presumably confined to darker times in Canadian history. It is absolutely ignorant to relegate these injustices solely to the historical record while these communities are still in crisis.

Unsurprisingly, these overly simplistic narratives are also pervasive within the media and government. Despite their urgency, problems on reservations receive little media exposure and are rarely connected to past and present government action, except from Indigenous groups themselves. 

Although the current Liberal government has pledged to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women over the summer, Indigenous activists first had to fight an arduous battle with past Conservative administrations. 

Looking back, it is alarming to see how little the Conservatives understood the long-term nature of oppression. The Harper government repeatedly brushed off the victimization of Indigenous women, attributing it to ‘risky lifestyles’ such as substance abuse or sex work and refusing to see it as a systemic problem. On the other hand, the former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs,Bernard Valcourt, blamed the apparent disrespect for women in Indigenous communities on the men on the reserve, advising that the communities take ownership of the issue themselves.

Without awareness of how the past projects and perpetuates systemic injustice into the future, the prospect of resolving these problems is bleak.  A push for increasing the visibility of Indigenous issues is imperative both at the university and beyond. One way this can be achieved is through educational collaborations with Indigenous community groups, which prioritizes the voices, narratives, and needs of Indigenous people instead of erasing them from the equation.

Furthermore, as individuals living in Canada, we are responsible for taking conscious steps to self-education. We must commit to doing as much listening and learning as we can, in order to challenge the watered-down conceptions of history that continue to define our surroundings. 

Above all, if we are to work towards meaningful change, we must vehemently defy the perception that Indigenous oppression is all in the past. 

Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying criminology and ethics, society and law. She is The Varsity’s associate comment editor. Her column appears every three weeks.

Tuition fees continue to rise

U of T releases fee increase schedule for 2016–2017

Tuition fees continue to rise

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are set to rise again. Following the release of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework report, U of T has announced an increase in tuition fees for the 2016–2017 academic year.

The increases amount to an average of three per cent for domestic programs.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework for 2013–2017 reduced a previous five per cent overall cap on tuition fee increases to an overall three per cent cap, which resulted in smaller tuition increases in comparison to the years between 2006–2013. 

An overall three per cent cap means that individual tuition fees may be more or less than three per cent, so long as the university’s total tuition increases averages out to three per cent. These tuition increase restrictions do not apply to international student tuition fees. U of T is able to raise international student tuition without having those increases factor into a calculation of overall tuition increases.

The 2016–2017 tuition fee schedule for international students entering any of U of T’s three campuses will see a nine per cent rise for arts and science programs and an eight per cent rise for applied science and engineering programs. 

Most international students will experience tuition fee increases of five per cent.

Overall, the average increase for international students will be at 5.9 per cent, which is close to the five per cent increase for domestic students’ professional programs.

For a comparative example, the 2016–2017 planned increase for the undergraduate dentistry program is $1,780 for domestic students and $3,440 for international students; both figures represent a five per cent increase for their respective tuition fee rates.

The new war on drugs

Students advocate for drug reform in Canada

The new war on drugs

From April 19–20, the United Nations will be holding a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy for the first time since 1998. U of T students from the Canadian chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) hope to be in attendance.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)

The Canadian chapter of the CSSDP focuses on harm reduction and a scientific approach to drug policy, say Daniel Grieg, a leader within the organization, and Kyle Lumsden, a dedicated member.

In an email exchange with The Varsity, Greig emphasized that restrictions of scientific inquiry into psychedelics hinder medicinal development.

“Drugs are inappropriately classified in present policy.  For example, psychedelics are currently being explored… for their therapeutic properties and are also contributing to research in how we think about consciousness and the brain.  If it does turn out that psychedelics are useful and safe medicines, then we will be effectively withholding treatment from people suffering from mental illness,” he said.   

Greig emphasized the importance of lifting barriers to research. “Ultimately, we need to not only minimize the negative impacts of drug policy, we also need to maximize the possible benefits. Harms are things such as the disproportionate criminalization of the poor and people of colour, as well as the unnecessary deaths caused by lack of available knowledge. The benefits are such things as useful research tools, the development of more effective mental health treatments and tax revenue.”

Lumsden outlined the focus of his interest in drug policy reform: “The widespread harm of alcohol and violence associated with black markets for illegal drugs pose the greatest threat to society and can be improved with evidence based public policy. Multiple studies show that when police have a successful takedown of a drug network, there is a spike in violence afterwards due to a vacuum of power; other criminal groups compete for their share of the market indefinitely.” 

Nazlee Maghsoudi is the strategic advisor for the CSSDP, the knowledge translation manager for the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and a U of T graduate. She said that the reality is that “prohibition has endangered young people” despite the war on drugs rhetoric, which claims to be aimed at “keeping children safe.” 

Maghsoudi believes that UNGASS is “drug policy’s moment in the sun, in terms of approach.” According to Maghsoudi, the UN’s drug policy approach has grown outside of the UN because “the global drug policy regime is divorced from human rights” even though non-progressive countries execute their inhabitants for possession or consumption. 

She also believes that there are many barriers to reaching the consensus needed for the construction of an international framework through the UN.

Canada’s opioid problem

According to an article in the Globe and Mail article, “Canada is the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of opioids and the fallout is being felt across the country. The article indicates that between 2009 to 2014, at least 655 Canadians died as a result of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is available by prescription and is also manufactured in clandestine labs and sold on the street.” 

Tara Gomes, a scientist working for the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) describes pain as “difficult to manage” and that there “isn’t a lot of training for it in medical school.”

It’s not that opioids should not be used, but once someone shows addictive tendencies doctors should be able to refer patients to a case-dependent addiction treatment. Tara Gomes emphasized “there is a place for these drugs in clinical practice,” Gomes said.

Prescriptions

The Triplicate Prescription Program (TPP) and Prescription Review Program (PRP) were created in part to address the opioid prescription problem facing Canada. 

Wende Wood, a pharmacist and a graduate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, recently moved to Alberta, where the TPP is currently in effect. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ website, “TPP collects prescribing and dispensing data for listed drugs. When the data meet certain criteria, physicians and others involved in the care of the patient are alerted, provided with information and directed to resources to support them in providing safe care.” 

Saskatchewan has a PRP that performs a similar function. 

Wood said that these prescription monitoring programs have not caught on because providing three copies of the same prescription is tedious for doctors to fill out. 

Marijuana and Toronto’s dispensaries

Under the current framework, marijuana is legal as a prescribed medication. To obtain this prescription, one must register for a mail order from a licensed producer, or obtain a doctor’s prescription for a health-related issue, whioch must be taken to a local dispensary. 

The dispensaries are not authorized by Health Canada.

Back to the drawing board

The New Democratic Party is in need of leadership reform

Back to the drawing board

Students following the ongoing US presidential election have surely been counting themselves lucky lucky to be in Canada — our system of government can seem downright regal in comparison. 

A fundamental difference between our systems is the number of viable parties Canadian voters can choose to support, and the consequent lack of polarization. With so much attention being paid to improving Canada’s electoral system, it’s easy to lose sight of the representative purpose of the parties themselves. The benefit of having more than two major parties is that voters can choose a candidate who represents their opinion more closely. It can be damaging to the entire system when ideologoical diversity is lost. 

If Canada only had two major parties, voters would be made to settle for candidates who barely represent their beliefs. Currently, Canada has three nationally viable parties: the right-wing Conservatives, centrist Liberals, and left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). This should, theoretically, provide voters with options that are roughly reflective of their political opinions. 

Unfortunately, the NDP’s drift — or arguably, lurch — to the centre, evident in the last election, threatens the crucial distinction separating them from the Liberal Party. For the health of Canada’s political climate, the NDP needs to reassert itself as a distinct, principled, progressive party. This challenge cannot be confronted by their current leader, Tom Mulcair.

During last fall’s election period, during which August polls projected that the NDP were poised to win, Mulcair — who had previously considered jobs with both the Liberals and Conservatives — announced that his party would advocate for austerity measures. Given that this stance is generally considered a conservative policy, many considered it a ploy to widen the party’s support among moderate voters.

This strategy backfired. The Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left, and the rest is history. Since then, there have been countless editorials asking why, if the NDP suddenly wants to be centrist, the party even exists as a separate entity from the Liberals. When a party is facing an existential crisis of this magnitude, something is clearly wrong with their strategy.

Because of Mulcair’s austerity gamble, Canadians are left with the misperception that the Liberal Party offers a truly progressive platform. Yet, the NDP remains to the left of the Liberals on almost all major issues — issues many U of T students hold dearly— such as raising corporate tax rates and programs aimed at reducing climate change. 

Tom Mulcair has lost his ability to articulate these positions because of his reputation as a political opportunist. The NDP needs a leader who can energize the left, has true progressive credentials, and will be able to provide a credible alternative to Prime Minister Trudeau. 

There are plenty of candidates who understand the needs of students more than either the Liberal Party or Mulcair currently do. Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie would be an ideal choice: alongside her popularity in Ottawa, she also served as the deputy leader of the party and received widespread acclaim as the opposition’s environmental critic. MPs Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton are similarly qualified, and will likely compete for the leadership position in Edmonton if it becomes available.

The NDP platform is centred on issues that affect students disprportionately across the country, like economic inequality and climate change, and yet many responded to the sunny ways and anti-austerity of Justin Trudeau. It is unlikely that Tom Mulcair can make a credible case to represent them in 2019.

If the NDP wants to remain relevant, it will have to differentiate itself from the Liberals and demonstrate to Canadians the value of a principled, truly progressive party. The first step in that difficult process is the selection of a leader prepared to confront that challenge. 

If the NDP becomes too similar to the Liberals, it will hurt not only progressives, but the health of our political system. Drifting towards a two-party system harms everyone; we should be invested in the way the NDP grapples with their leadership issue in months to come.

Jack Fraser is a third-year student at Innis College studying international relations.