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TTC fare to rise by 10 cents

Increase to take effect January 2017, pending city council approval

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board voted in favor of a fare increase at a board meeting on November 21, which would see the prices of tokens and adult PRESTO fares rise to $3.00 from the current $2.90; adult cash fares will remain the same at $3.25.

The proposed changes, once approved by city council, will also increase the price of passes. Adult Metropasses will sell for $146.25 from the previous $141.50 and weekly passes will stand at $43.75 from $42.25.

Rides for students and seniors are also set to increase, with fares rising to $2.10 from $2.00. In addition, the TTC will sell post-secondary Metropasses for $116.75, up from the current price of $112.00.

Next year will be the sixth in a row that transit fares have risen. The most recent increase in January 2016 saw adult fares rise by 25 cents to $3.25. TTC CEO Andy Byford wrote in a blog post that the TTC board decided there would be no fare increases in 2018.

The changes are projected to bring in an additional $27 million for the transit agency, which has an overall budget shortfall of $231 million.

Its estimated budget gap comes after the mayor’s request for all city departments to slash their budgets by 2.6 per cent, including the subsidy that partly funds the TTC.

The 10 cent fare hike is part of the transit agency’s plan to ease its financial burden, which, as the Toronto Star reports, also includes “savings from reducing projections for fuel, overtime, and employee benefit costs,” and delaying the switchover to the Presto card system.

With the additional measures, the TTC will expect a deficit of $61 million in its budget for 2017.

The proposed fare increases are pending approval from Toronto City Council.

Mayor John Tory recommends $2.00 toll on Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway

Proposed toll estimated to generate $250–200 million in revenue

In a lunchtime speech for the Toronto Region Board of Trade on November 24, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the addition of highway tolls to the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway following city staff reports recommending the switch.

In the same announcement, the mayor also discussed other tools to generate revenue, including supporting a hotel tax. Additionally, Tory confirmed that Toronto Hydro would not be sold off.

Supporting highway tolls comes as a policy shift for the mayor who, while campaigning in 2003, said tolls were “highway robbery” when his opponent David Miller suggested implementing them.

The proposed $2.00 toll is estimated to generate $150 million to $200 million in funds for infrastructure and transportation spending across the city.

Recent polling by The Forum Research survey showed Toronto residents divided on the issue with 46 per cent in favour, 45 per cent opposed, and 9 per cent without an opinion.

Approximately 40 per cent of Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway drivers come from outside the city and don’t pay Toronto property taxes.

The proposal must be approved by City Council and the city would have to ask the provincial government for permission.

The specifics of implementing the toll, including if it would apply to commercial vehicles, are still unclear.

— With files from the Toronto Star.

March against Dakota Access Pipeline held on campus

ASSU, ISSU show support for Standing Rock Sioux

March against Dakota Access Pipeline held on campus

The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) and the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) teamed up on November 22 to hold a U of T-wide march in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and other Indigenous communities who have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In addition to interested U of T students, representatives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Environmental Justice Collective, the Women and Gender Studies Student Union, and other student groups were also present at the event.

The ISSU and ASSU event began with a poster-making session in the lobby of Sidney Smith. Small flyers with facts and information about the #NoDAPL movement, the situation in Standing Rock, and other Indigenous resistance campaigns were handed out to students.

Following this, multi-disciplinary artist Jenny Blackbird sang a Water Honour Song outside of Sidney Smith Hall. Individuals that spoke at the event were author Lee Maracle, who is the Traditional Teacher at U of T’s Aboriginal Student Services, and Indigenous Studies instructor Amos Key Jr., who is the Director of First Nations Languages Program at Brantford’s Woodland Cultural Centre.

“I’m here because the water affects us all, it doesn’t just affect Indigenous people — it’s not just about our land, and our trees, and our ways: it’s about the whole of us. It’s about whether the future is going to be bright for your grandchildren,” said Maracle. “It’s about you, and it’s about your responsibility here.”

The march began after the speeches, starting outside of Sidney Smith and ending at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) building. At 6:00 pm there was a Standing Rock Syllabus Group Reading in the OISE library.

In an email to The Varsity, ISSU President and organizer of the march Jennifer Sylvester said that she was “very pleased with the outcome of the event. We had a very enthusiastic crowd and all were proud to march together to bring a voice to happenings at Standing Rock and other Indigenous issues.”

Sylvester also stressed the importance of fighting for water rights: “Everyone, including students at University of Toronto need to fight for the protection of water. Because Water is Life, and nothing can survive without it. It is our duty to protect this land so we can confidently pass it on to future generations.”

“When a student learns about the sacred nature of Indigenous knowledge, empathy will certainly follow,” she continued.

ASSU also participated in a larger Toronto-wide protest against the pipeline on November 5.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion proposed pipeline that would cross Lakota Treaty Territory. The pipeline’s detractors have expressed concerns over its proposed path under the Missouri River, which is a source of water for the Standing Rock Sioux.

The Standing Rock protests have garnered international media attention and instigated a social media campaign designed to confuse police officers looking for protesting members of Standing Rock, using the hashtag #NoDAPL.

Threshold for CFS defederation referendum petitions lowered to 15 per cent at National General Meeting

UTSU criticizes National General Meeting practices

Threshold for CFS defederation referendum petitions lowered to 15 per cent at National General Meeting

The Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) approved a motion that makes it easier for member student associations to leave the organization.

The NGM, which took place in Gatineau, Québec from November 18–21, is the meeting where delegates from all member student associations come together to elect candidates for CFS leadership positions and vote on important matters relating to the federations.

The CFS is an organization made up of college and university student unions across Canada. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), along with nine other CFS member associations, sent an open letter to the CFS in September calling the defederation process “overly burdensome.”

A motion to lower the signature threshold for petitions to trigger a defederation referendum to 15 per cent of members of a students’ union was moved by the UTSU, known as Local 98 within the CFS. Previously, a petition to trigger a referendum on defederation needed signatures from 20 per cent of members.

“This was one of 30 resolutions adopted by members following 75 hours of official meeting spaces for delegates to debate them,” CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte told The Varsity of the change. “This change in petition threshold comes from years of discussion, and members still have a right to decide on their membership through a referendum vote.”

In October, the CFS National Executive — of which Arte is a member — also approved a motion to lower the threshold to 15 per cent.

At UTSG, a campaign called You Decide UofT is currently collecting signatures to trigger a referendum. You Decide organizer Daman Singh applauded the NGM decision.

“The YouDecide campaign is very happy to hear that the motion to lower the petition threshold passed at the recent Canadian Federation of Students National General Meeting,” said Singh in an email statement to The Varsity. “We appreciate the good faith effort to reform the Federation and we are thankful that the Federation is willing to make these important structural changes.”

UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike and Vice-President Internal and Services Mathias Memmel said in a joint statement that they were “pleased that the motion to lower the threshold passed” but expressed disappointment at the outcome of their other motions; one of the motions would prohibit student associations from sending delegates to the NGM who are not fee-paying students while another would have allowed for online voting for deferderation referendums. Denike also noted that the entire 11-member delegation from the UTSU were made up of either current students or elected officials of the student union.

“We’re pleased that the motion to lower the threshold passed, but they refused to even debate most of our motions… We would’ve argued that non-students shouldn’t be speaking and voting on behalf of students, but the motion was never debated,” said Denike and Memmel. “Another motion that was incredibly important to our delegation was N13, which would have mandated the CFS implement online voting in conjunction with paper ballots.”

Memmel further criticized the structure of the NGM. “These meetings are controlled by CFS staff and the staff at other students’ unions, and they’re designed to prevent serious discussion of how the CFS operates,” he said. “Anyone who’s familiar with the structure of general meetings knows this. If you want to talk about the structure of the organization, you’re accused of ‘being negative’ and ‘distracting from the real issues.’”

Memmel continued: “We were and are being placated. In theory, our motions will be debated next year, but that’s not good enough. We engaged in this process in good faith, and we weren’t even given an opportunity to make our case.”

Arte disputed Memmel’s assertion about the role of the CFS staff at the NGM.

“Delegates are the ones around the table, making decisions, while staff of the Federation keep the lights on. The structure of the general meeting is designed to have members from different backgrounds and geographic areas debate decisions,” Arte said. “In more that 20 official meeting spaces, adding up to 75 cumulative hours, delegates debated motions and ended up adopting 30 resolutions.”

Arte also took issue to what she called “the ‘us and them’ rhetoric in statements by the UTSU executive after the meeting,” and said that she “appreciated the attendance and contributions of the UTSU delegation at committees and workshops at the national meeting and know that others feel the same.”

“I know that it can be frustrating to present a motion and not see the decision made that you want, but that is the nature of operating within a democratic structure,” Arte continued. “It is not true that motions were not debated. They were discussed by students in different meeting spaces over 12-hour days all weekend.”

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U of T engineering student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Stephanie Gaglione among 11 Canadians to study at Oxford next year

U of T engineering student wins Rhodes Scholarship

From Toronto to Geneva to Massachusetts, Stephanie Gaglione’s academic journey has spanned across multiple cities as well as disciplines. The U of T chemical engineering student has interned for the World Health Organization’s immunization program, worked in customer development at Procter and Gamble’s Toronto location, and studied biomaterials and drug delivery at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The 22-year old’s latest endeavour is set to take her to the University of Oxford next year, where she will study as a Rhodes scholar. The Rhodes is widely considered to be the one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.

Gaglione is one of 11 Canadians chosen to receive the scholarship this year, which pays for up to three years worth of postgraduate study at Oxford. Canadian finalists for the award were notified of the selection committee’s decision via phone call last weekend. She recalled spending most of her Saturday evening in suspense:

“After the interview during the day, they call all the finalists… so you wait idly by your phone from 6:00–8:00 pm for the phone call,” she laughed.

Rhodes scholars are chosen after a stringent selection process. The application requires, among other things, a personal statement, six reference letters, and an interview — which Gaglione says was one of the most difficult she’s ever been to — but the process allowed for a great deal of self-reflection.

“The Rhodes application really forces you to examine the entirety of your experience… and distill it down into one idea… and really get your motivation clear on paper and clear to yourself.”

The Rhodes award is not Gaglione’s first scholarship win; last year, she was awarded the Fulbright Canada Killam Fellowship and spent 10 months doing full-time research at a biotechnology lab at MIT.

She is also a former Varsity Blues figure skater and a former research student at The Hospital for Sick Children, and she has served on the Governing Council’s Academic Policy and Programs Committee and Academic Board as a student representative.

While Gaglione has always been interested in science, she treated the beginning of her university career as “a blank slate,” taking on a string of projects and commitments to figure out where her exact interests lay.

Working in business development at Procter and Gamble’s Toronto office, while “a phenomenal experience,” made Gaglione realize that a life in business wasn’t for her. Instead, it helped cement her resolve to be a technical engineer.

Gaglione credits her immersive work and industry experiences for giving her a clearer picture of the professional paths she wanted to pursue. She encourages new undergraduates to similarly explore different avenues during their time at university.

“Go to conferences or talks that are outside of the area that you’re familiar with,” she said. “Do not be afraid to reach out to someone to ask an interesting question over a coffee chat or a LinkedIn message.”

Is free tuition feasible?

The signature ask of the CFS campaign has been considered and debated for years

Is free tuition feasible?

Earlier this month, hundreds of students participated in the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) Day of Action and its Fight the Fees! campaign, which called for free tuition. Next year the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG) will be implemented; its announcement was criticized by some for the apparent incompleteness of its promise of free tuition for “thousands of low- and middle-income students.”

The conversation is not over, and in light of both the ongoing governmental reforms and continued activism for free post-secondary education, The Varsity asks: how feasible is free tuition?

A matter of national context

Andre Fast is one of the founders of the Free Tuition Coalition at U of T, a group that advocates for more government funding to reduce and eliminate tuition fees. He is also the Co-Chair of the U of T New Democrats and a former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executive candidate, who ran on a platform that included advocating for free tuition.

Fast pointed out that tuition is free in many European countries and goes hand-in-hand with positive social outcomes: “Countries that make significant investments in education have less inequality and more upwards social mobility. Free tuition is feasible and has been implemented in many countries including France, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Finland. We can afford to have free tuition in Canada if we make it a priority.”

Dean of OISE Glen A. Jones, speaking to The Varsity in his capacity as Professor of Higher Education and the Ontario Research Chair in Postsecondary Education Policy and Measurement, stresses the importance of understanding when and where free tuition is possible in a comparative context.

According to Jones, free tuition alone cannot surmount inequality, which is a broad social phenomenon and only really tenably exists in countries with an already narrow income gap.

“If you’re in the Nordic region, for example, then tuition is generally free, but the notion is that salary structures are relatively flat. So being a carpenter or being a doctor or being a professor, the differences in salary structure are not great, and therefore the notion of providing free tuition to encourage folks to continue on is sort of built in to the social-democratic ethos of the environment. That’s never been the case with us — we have a huge difference between the wealthy and the poor,” Jones says.

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Should tuition be free?

Jones doesn’t believe tuition should be free across the board: “I think that there is a question about what the magnitude should be. If I look at countries that have free tuition, they generally have lower participation rates than we do, or they have a different sense of social equity than our jurisdiction does.”

Jones continues, “I think that post-secondary education is extremely important. Everyone should have that right to attend and… I think it’s about citizenship, it’s about essentially having an educated population, and there are so many good things attached to having post-secondary education.”

The UTSU had been critical of the CFS National Day of Action and the Fight the Fees! campaign for being too vague and not addressing the higher tuition that professional faculty student pay and the looming expiry of tuition cap increases. Mathias Memmel, who is the union’s Vice-President Internal & Services, argues that free tuition is not necessarily a progressive policy.

“My concern with ‘free tuition’ is that it’s not as progressive as it sounds, and would primarily benefit students who are already better off,” Memmel tells The Varsity. “Any money that we spend on the tuition of high-income students is money that we don’t spend on the tuition low-income students and that, frankly, is not right and is not progressive.”

Ontario Student Grant

The 2017–2018 school year will see the rollout of the OSG. The grant is an amalgamation of a number of distinct loans, grants, and tax credits that fall under the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). It will cover the full cost of tuition — based on the average arts and science tuition — for students who come from households with an income of $50,000 or less, and over 50 per cent of families with household incomes of $83,000 or less will receive grants in excess of tuition.

Fast thinks the tuition grant is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn’t go far enough. “It re-allocates funds to better assist students from low income families. But the grant will not cover the full cost of education for many students, and it does not provide any new funding. The grant does not help students graduating this year who will have to pay back their debt plus the interest,” he said.

Jones says that the grants are good because they shift the conversation from purely one of free tuition to one of access to holistic financial aid: “Most of this conversation is about access, to arrange the system in such a way that individuals who need that financial support have access to it, and tuition is a small component of that, as you know.”

Jones thinks the grants are “going to be a huge improvement when they’re fully implemented. It’s a good policy in terms of access, because it essentially means you will know what the real price is, not just the sticker price.”

There is a caveat, however, that Jones introduces when discussing the impact of the OSG — it does not necessarily mean improved access for those who might not usually expect to attend post-secondary institutions. “I think if you get preoccupied with tuition, you lose the broader situation. And the broader situation is about the differences in family backgrounds, it’s about the reality of providing student financial assistance that helps those who need it,” he says.

Is tuition and money everything?

Fast and Jones agree that money and tuition should not be nebulous in discussions on accessibility of education.

“Tuition fees should be eliminated because they act as a significant barrier for students across Canada… A post-secondary degree is… equivalent to the value of a high school diploma a generation ago, but unaffordable tuition prevents many students from low income families from attending university,” says Fast.

“Enrolment records show that only 10% of university students are from the lowest income quartile, while 50% are from the wealthiest income quartile. Tuition fees reinforce existing social barriers and disproportionality [sic] impact Indigenous students, racialized students, students with disabilities and queer and trans students who are more likely to have lower incomes,” he continues.

Fast sees education as one of a number of critical barriers to social mobility, while Jones argues that issues of inequality and social mobility themselves are partly barriers to education reform in Canada.

“A very high percentage of individuals from strong, high-quartile family backgrounds are… attending university. Even with all these subsidies, all these arrangements, the population who attends is not representative of the population as a whole. And you’d find almost the exact same situation in countries where they do have free tuition. So free tuition does not somehow level the playing field and change the situation so everybody who is poor goes. In reality, there are other things going on,” Jones says. “To assume that money makes the playing field completely even becomes a little naïve.”

Feasibility of free tuition

The CFS’ three demands in their fight for free tuition calls for: a gradual but total elimination of tuition fees to make post-secondary education universal, student loans to be entirely replaced with student grants, and all existing student loans to be made interest-free.

Jones does not see these demands as feasible: “It is important to realize that there are great variations in these answers that vary by province… I don’t see a situation right now where the various provincial governments will come up with the billions and billions and billions of dollars necessary to move towards free tuition. And some of that is just a political reality.”

Fast remains optimistic that collective action may have an impact: “In most countries where free tuition has been achieved, students organized and advocated collectively … now is the time to reaffirm our belief that education is a public good and continue to fight for free accessible education.”

Jones admits that free tuition does remain a minute possibility. Chuckling about the failure of many to predict the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, he insists that he “will never say never.”

Pedestrian-only zone on Willcocks Street to be revitalized

U of T considering extension of zone

Pedestrian-only zone on Willcocks Street to be revitalized

The pedestrian-only zone on Willcocks Street between Huron Street and St. George Street is set to be revitalized and potentially extended.

Known as the Willcocks Common, the car-free area that is demarcated by Sidney Smith Hall on one side and Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories on the other was first launched as a pilot project in 2009, when the city of Toronto’s Public Realm Section approached the university about making a section of the street a pedestrian zone as part of the city’s “walking strategy.” The change was made permanent in 2012.

Director of Campus & Facilities Planning Christine Burke told The Varsity, “It was a really successful pilot, and I think you can probably see everyone still loves the area, and it’s really become a more open space on campus. But it was temporary for so long, and so now it’s been so successful and well used by everyone. I think we’ve been really encouraged that it’s actually now time we can actually approve and invest in it permanently.”

According to Burke, the project has just wrapped up its “design concepts” and “gathering feedback from the community” phase and is now moving into “detailed design development and construction” phase, which includes budgeting.

Concept drawings show a wider pedestrian area with lots of green space as well as seating and lounging areas. This is a change from Willcocks’ current state: scattered seating areas with basketball nets and large planters bookending the street at Huron. An article on U of T News frames the future idyllically: “Imagine shooting hoops on a court between classes, sitting under an endless tree canopy during lunch, or catching an impromptu musical performance in the heart of U of T’s downtown Toronto campus.”

Student representatives from three groups — undergraduate, graduate, and student accessibility — were selected to form a working group to consult on the project. In addition, there were two open houses where the university reached out to the student community for feedback.

At first, over 100 respondents provided feedback on the concept design via a questionnaire. The second open house was held in October in Sidney Smith, where “there was a lot of interest, steady foot traffic, and students by far made up the majority of visitors,” Burke said.

The plan is not to have full closure all the way to Spadina Avenue, especially because Willcocks west of Huron is a public street. Burke said that it would likely be a mixture of one-way traffic and traffic cones and the project will likely be phased because funding will be easier to acquire for the already-existing pedestrian zone.

The budget is “something that if I could [reveal] I would, but these are just the discussions we’re starting to have right now,” Burke said.

DTAH, the firm who won the contract through a proposal and interview process, is a Toronto-based landscape consultancy. Their other projects are well-recognized Toronto urban spaces and include the Artscape Wychwood Barns, Evergreen Brick Works, and the Distillery District.

A timeline for the project is not yet available. “It’s too early to tell, you know there’s so much excitement, we do really hope it’ll happen in the next couple of years,” Burke said. “But in terms of a timeline, I just can’t tell you… We should know in the next few months if there’s a fundraising period that’s required, and we’ll be able to tell.”

Fall reading week coming to A&S

Announcement comes one year after ASSU, UTSU referendum

Fall reading week coming to A&S

A year after the fall reading week referendum, the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) and the Faculty of Arts & Science have confirmed that Arts & Science students will enjoy a fall reading week in 2017.

“Our Executive met with the Dean and other members of the Faculty and we are happy to confirm that next year, from November 6th to 10th, there will be a Fall reading week,” reads ASSU’s Facebook post from November 19.

No other faculty at UTSG has announced plans for a week-long fall break.

In order to demonstrate to the university that there was interest from the students, the University of Toronto Students’ Union and ASSU ran a referendum asking students if they think there should be a fall reading week. Over 90 per cent of students who participated in the referendum voted in favour of a fall reading week, with 6,112 votes for the ‘yes’ side and 491 votes against.

UTM launched its first fall reading week this October, while UTSC has held a week-long break in first semester since 2013. The Faculty of Arts & Science at UTSG previously had a reading week in the fall until 2009, when it was replaced by a two-day break.

The Varsity spoke with Deborah Robinson, Faculty Registrar & Director of Undergraduate Academic Services in the Faculty of Arts & Science, to confirm the details of how the new reading week will be implemented.

“Starting with the 2017/18 academic year, Fall Reading week will take place the first full week in November—in Fall 2017 that will be November 6 through 10,” said Robinson.

The two-day break in the fall semester will be replaced by the fall reading week. Robinson explained that the faculty needed to “find three additional days in the academic term in order to maintain the appropriate number of instructional days.”

She continued, “Classes will start earlier for everyone—the Thursday following Labour Day, and colleges and student societies are adjusting their orientation plans in order to accommodate the earlier start. We have also adjusted the break between end of classes and start of exams.”

When asked about the motivation for the faculty to include a fall reading week, Robinson explained that the reading week referendum was the “prime motivator.”

Robinson continued, “Over the years, many students have argued that, given the increase in the number of half courses, there ought to be a Fall Reading Week, for the same reasons that, for many years, there has been a Winter Reading Week. The Faculty also believed that offering students a Fall Reading Week responded to some of the recommendations in the Provostial Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health Report that came out several years ago.”