Louis Moreno drops out, endorses Team Unite

Surprise announcement comes during all candidates debate

Louis Moreno drops out, endorses Team Unite

Louis Moreno, independent candidate for VP external just dropped out of the UTSU elections and endorsed Team Unite in a surprise announcement at the all candidates debate.

Moreno cited a desire not to split the vote, and a belief in what Team Unite is running for. Live coverage of the event can be found here.

More to come.

 

 

#UTSU2014 Executive Candidate Election Forum Live

Live-blogging the debate from Bahen 1130

#UTSU2014 Executive Candidate Election Forum Live

Check back on Thursday from 5.45 pm for live alerts from the Executive Candidate Election Forum. Tweet with #utsu2014 or contribute to the conversation directly below.

UTSU elections lack substance

The Varsity calls on all candidates to address the issues

UTSU elections lack substance

With the 2014 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election campaign well underway, it is encouraging to see two full executive slates and one independent contesting the election. It is troubling, however, that none of the candidates have substantively addressed many of the most important issues affecting U of T students; rather, most have offered vague goals without viable plans for how to achieve them. At tonight’s executive forum and for the rest of the campaign, The Varsity calls on all candidates to provide substantive answers to the important questions that the new leaders of U of T’s largest student union must face.

ANN SHENG/THE VARSITY

ANN SHENG/THE VARSITY

Most obviously, the candidates must address the ongoing controversy surrounding defederation and the Student Societies Summit. The complaints and grievances of some union members, expressed last year when three divisions voted to leave the union, will not go away. After seven months of summit meetings, the union membership appears even more divided than at the beginning of the year. Now, most divisional societies support in principle the right of division to leave the union. Anyone who wants to lead the UTSU must address the urgent danger of losing thousands of members.

Unite deserves some credit for, at least, articulating a position on the subject — they oppose defederation but would allow it. Yet, this is far from a comprehensive policy. How will they try to conciliate disillusioned members and, more importantly, how would they compensate for the loss if divisions do leave? On the other hand, that U of T Voice has not addressed this controversy demonstrates a willful blindness to the political climate on campus. If they oppose defederation, what will they do to heal deep division within the union? Existing methods and rhetoric have obviously failed.

In contrast, almost all candidates have something to say on the subject of university funding, tuition, and fees. Many candidates have laudable goals, but these are often vague and few have presented concrete plans to achieve them. The university already faces a significant deficit, and has accrued more than five hundred million dollars in deferred maintenance due to underfunding. U of T Voice says it will fight to lower tuition and eliminate fees. Where do they suggest that the university find the money to balance its budget? Team Unite says it will work with the administration to develop a budget that prioritizes students. What specific budgetary changes will they recommend and what does “prioritize students” mean in practice?

All candidates should also address the details of provincial education funding. Ontario is considering a differentiated funding formula, and there are strong arguments for the outcome-based formula implemented in Tennessee. Candidates must tell voters whether they think the province should provide more funding, where that funding should come from, and how it should be distributed.

Closer to home, U of T’s campus life often leaves much to be desired. Both UTM and UTSG face an increasingly urgent shortage of student housing. The UTSU has opposed the Knightstone housing development proposals over safety and accountability concerns, while the city has blocked the Waverly development. Meanwhile, U of T is proceeding with another development proposal on Spadina Avenue. Do our candidates agree that we face a housing crisis, and what solutions or changes would they advocate to fix the problem?

More broadly, generations of students have complained that U of T lacks an overarching sense of campus community, and that many students are disengaged from campus life. Some argue that U of T’s many divisions, colleges, campuses, and clubs make it a community of communities, and that this works well for an institution of our size. Others contend that more should be done to foster and strengthen U of T’s school spirit and student engagement, with a view to building a campus-wide community. Candidates who agree with the former perspective should explain how they would adapt union services and structure to this reality. Those who take the latter view must provide specifics on how they will create a more cohesive student body and engage more students with the union.

These are only a few of the many challenges that our new union leaders will have to face. Too often, debate about the union’s future, education funding, campus life, and a host of other issues is reduced to platitudes and bullet points. UTSU election candidates are lucky to have a well-educated electorate, who deserve substantive platforms.

At the same time, we must not allow the discourse to degenerate into the petty personal and procedural disputes that often distract from the real issues in student election campaigns. All U of T students are asked to pay more in tuition and fees every year, while the university slides into deficit. Many struggle to find a safe and affordable home. Still more feel alienated from our university and lack a community where they feel welcome.

These problems are complex, and they require complex solutions. Those who want to lead our student body should have solutions to propose, and be ready to convince students that those solutions are worth voting for.

Meet the candidates

Aspiring UTSU executives discuss their platforms and qualifications

Meet the candidates

Meet the UTSU executive candidates

Presidential Candidates

 

Vice-President, Equity Candidates

 

Vice-President, External

 

 Vice-President, Internal Candidates

 

Vice-President, University Affairs Candidates

Food insecurity levels unacceptably high in Canada, says report

U of T prof reports 11.7 million Canadian households are making daily dietary compromises

Access to food is a basic human right. However, according to a recent report led by a U of T professor, food insecurity in Canada still runs unacceptably high.

According to the 1996 World Food Summit, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

University of Toronto professor Dr. Valerie Tarasuk tracks the rising levels of food insecurity in Canada. Tarasuk’s research extends from food needs of under-housed populations to Canadian food policy assessments. In the recent past, she has served as the lead researcher alongside fellow U of T professors Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner,  on the 2012 Household Food Insecurity in Canada report. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO), the four main requirements of food security are availability, access, utilization, and stability. A threat to any of these dimensions of food security is a threat to the most basic human need, one necessary for survival.

Tarasuk’s Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded report tackles different aspects of food insecurity, including the prevalence, distribution, and relative severity of the phenomenon in Canada. The document clearly summarizes the answers from approximately 60,000 Canadians to the Canadian Community Health Survey. The Household Food Security Model is used to classify participants into categories based on the severity of food insecurity: 4.1 per cent of households are marginally food insecure, six  per cent are moderately food insecure and 2.6 per cent are severely food insecure. The number of Canadian households that are making dietary compromises is much larger than in previous years; for example, food insecurity in Nunavut increased from 31 per cent in 2010 to 45.2 per cent in 2012, according to the report.

Nunavut and  the Northwestern territories have the highest levels of food insecurity, while Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia account for 84 per cent of the food insecure households in Canada. Certain populations are more susceptible to food insecurity, including low-income households, households reliant on social assistance, seniors, unemployed people, recent immigrants, and certain minority ethnic groups.

Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem. It is an economic concern, a public health concern, a social health concern, and a human rights concern. It has repercussions in both mental health and egalitarianism. The repercussions are dire for an appalling number of Canadians, who may not have the means to purchase nutritious food. Victims endure inhumane conditions, from having to choose low-cost unhealthy options to skipping meals and going hungry because of financial restrictions.

Tarasuk said to CBC: “I would say this is a very serious problem, one that isn’t being appropriately addressed right now.” The federal and provincial governments should be obliged to address this problem, as Canadians fight against food insecurity on a daily basis.

The return of popular politics and charisma

The federal Liberals could ride in to power on Trudeau’s back

The return of popular politics and charisma

In the House of Commons, Liberal Party leader and member of parliament Justin Trudeau may be third, but in public opinion polls he’s quite clearly the de facto leader of the opposition. Even Conservative insiders have acknowledged this growing reality. His charismatic presence seems to have cast a shadow over other players on Parliament Hill. What happened to the cunning strategist, Prime Minister Harper, or his once politically wounding attack ads? The New Democratic Party (NDP) now struggles to assert its presence. What happened to the late Jack Layton’s electoral victory and legacy? What happened to the formidable Thomas Mulcair, current NDP and official opposition leader?

There are many answers, but one stands out: there is a surge in popularity for Trudeau, one inextricably linked to his political strategies. For Trudeau, it is no longer politics as usual, but a new sort of politics — one that has been very successful. He has gone so far as to adopt elements of President Barack Obama’s election strategy: to go positive, to seek national unity, and focus on the economy and social issues. He challenges what he sees as the status quo. He is seeking “positive” politics, sprinkled with messages of hope.

Trudeau emphasized this strategy at the Liberal convention recently (and in daily missives to his party faithful). Present at that convention was a popular economist and former United States Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers, who was appointed by President Obama. Summers’s invitation supports the idea that Trudeau is, indeed, attempting to draw on President Obama’s reputation by associating himself with former Obama administration officials.

By virtue of his position as the new face and embodiment of a new Liberal Party image, Trudeau is in it to win it. He is not “just visiting,” as the Conservative attack machine once charged against his predecessor, Michael Ignatieff.

Public opinion polls suggest Trudeau is no visitor, nor is he “in over his head,” as another Conservative Party ad campaign would have you believe. Canadian voters are warming up to him, even in provinces where he once had great political mountains to climb in order to win voter confidence.

Image is another key area of Trudeau’s strategy. We know that Trudeau is trying to present a rejuvenated Liberal Party to Canada, with newer and younger faces. At the convention, Trudeau and his team focused attention on their grassroots outreach approach — a strategy aimed at bringing formerly untapped voters into the party’s fold.  Similar strategies have been adopted to great effect in the past, particularly in President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008.

Furthermore, the Liberals’ positive turnaround in fundraising suggests their grassroots strategy is working. If this fundraising increase continues, Trudeau’s Liberals will be hard to beat at the polls, especially while they are being led by such a charismatic figure.

Before Trudeau introduced his party and its vision at the convention last week, many were asking if the new kid on the block could pull through. In the end, the audience consensus was clear; the convention was a success: There is a new and better organized Liberal party waiting in the wings.

Conservative strategists are now conceding, even publicly, that their once-successful attack ad strategies, deployed against Trudeau’s predecessors, are no longer effective. Such attacks are now being perceived by some within the public as too negative, and as a result drive support in the direction of Trudeau’s “positive politics” strategy. This explains why Trudeau has maintained a positive posture, preaching hope and unity in the face of the opposition’s negativity. As he mentioned in his address at the convention: “Let [the Conservatives] focus on me. We’ll stay focused on Canadians.”

It’s important to take this wave of popularity with a grain of salt, and an understanding that political support is a fickle thing, often difficult to maintain over sustained periods. To understand the dynamics of political popularity, we need only to look back to recent history, a time when the NDP’s orange wave, driven by the late Jack Layton, blew the Liberals right out of official party status. Despite the support for Trudeau, it would be naive of the Liberals to count others out just yet.

So far, Trudeau is winning outside of the House of Commons, where the real votes are. The charisma gap left in Canadian politics after the death of Jack Layton is waiting to be filled, and Trudeau is by far the most attractive candidate. Popular politics are back in this country, and with a new, “positive” strategy. 

Tshweu Moleme is an analyst with the BRICS Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Visual Studies Student Exhibition

Showcasing work from Lena Binnington, David Hostetter, and Maximilian Suillerot

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Visual Studies Student Exhibition

Last weekend, the second exhibition hosted by the University of Toronto’s Visual Studies Student Exhibition Program (VSSEP), “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” opened in the EEL Gallery housed in the South Borden building.

'Release the Kraken,' an etching collaboration by all three student-artists. EMMA KIKULIS/THE VARSITY

‘Release the Kraken,’ an etching collaboration by all three student-artists. EMMA KIKULIS/THE VARSITY

The exhibition showcased the work of three U of T undergraduate students: Lena Binnington, David Hostetter, and Maximilian Suillerot. The exhibition was a demonstration of the artists’ devotion to process, balance and control in their individual artistic pursuits. Although distinguishable, all three pieces are unexpectedly harmonious.

Binnington’s “Symmetry Study”, a watercolour piece on rice paper, reveals the irregularity and mystery of printmaking. It goes well with Hostetter’s “Abandoned Portraits” which explores surrealism and identity. “Release the Kraken,” an etching collaboration by all three students, is a daring union of presence and absence.

According to “I’ll be Your Mirror” curator and VSSEP co-founder Blair Swann, there is a high demand for artistic intervention on campus. “The goal of VSSEP is to encourage an art-based community within our campus, something that we found UTSG was lacking.” has held monthly galleries like “I’ll be Your Mirror” in order to provide visual arts students with the opportunity to showcase their projects outside of academia. “Not all of the works are class projects,” details Swann, “we want to encourage students to showcase their personal works, or create something exclusively for the exhibition.”

The opportunity to receive feedback from other students outside the classroom context is also a major facet of the student-run organization, which thrives on the integrity and creativity of students. “Our exhibitions are geared especially towards the St. George campus, which is usually dominated by engineering, or overshadowed by OCAD,” explains Swann. “I’ll be Your Mirror, and our exhibitions, create opportunities for students to create art outside the restrictions of class assignments, and help foster a stronger art community on campus.”

I’ll be Your Mirror runs until March 7 in the South Borden Building’s EEL Gallery.

'Abandoned Portraits' by David Hostetter CLARE SCOTT/THE VARSITY

‘Abandoned Portraits’ by David Hostetter CLARE SCOTT/THE VARSITY

 

New big-box grocery chain to open in Kensington Market

Gentrification poses a serious threat to the thriving cultural hub

A new Loblaws will be opening next to Kensington Market on College and Spadina. The project was first proposed in 2011, and was accepted last January. A petition to counter the project has been created by Friends of Kensington Market, an organization whose goal is to protect the neighbourhood.

On one side, you have Loblaw Companies Limited, which owns Loblaws, the biggest Canadian food retailer owned by the Weston family — the second-wealthiest family in Canada. Galen Weston, whose fortune amounted to $US 10.4 billion in 2014, is CEO of the company. On the other side of the conflict is Kensington Market, which is represented by small, independent family businesses who do not possess great economic power compared to the gigantic corporation. The introduction of a Loblaws in Kensington Market represents a significant economic threat that could lead many businesses to bankruptcy, and spell the slow destruction of Kensington Market.

It is unfortunate to see corporate greed win out over a longstanding cultural hotspot in the city. Loblaws will do anything to drive out its direct competition for its own monetary benefit. The security of the businesses in Kensington Market that offer similar products and services is the least of Loblaw’s concern. The extent to which the new Loblaws would affect Kensington Market is unknown, but in any case, there will be permanent damage.

The dilemma about a big corporation opening next to Kensington is not only the risk of small businesses disappearing, but also about the culture, the character, and the history that they bring to the city that could end up fading away. A corporation like Loblaws has no way to replace the culture the market brings to Toronto. By virtue of being a chain, it is a bland, big-box store already found on many of the city’s street corners. It would not bring anything new or original to the neighbourhood. Loblaws’ products would also be a copy-paste of other supermarket chains, while Kensington offers unique and diverse products. As a chain, it offers a cold atmosphere in comparison to the warmth of the shops currently located in the neighbourhood. Overall, Loblaws is dull compared to Kensington shops.

If the citizens and the city let these kinds of projects establish themselves around neighbourhoods like Kensington Market without saying anything, slowly but surely, small businesses will close. The city would slowly change until these shops disappear completely, to be replaced by a bunch of condos, and corporate chains.

This might seem like an over-dramatization of the issue, but it is entirely possible if we do nothing. In Kensington’s case, if Loblaws establishes itself in the neighbourhood, small businesses simply will not have the economic security and power to be able to survive in the long run. Nothing makes Toronto immune to the threat of severe gentrification. We have seen it recently with the closure of the World’s Biggest Bookstore, Honest Ed’s, and the Princess of Wales Theatre, and this could only be the beginning. Why should we risk the chance of losing more cultural landmarks in the hands of those who most likely only care about their own profits?

Alexandre Darveau-Morin is a second-year student at Woodsworth College studying anthropology, East Asian studies, and Spanish.