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The sociability of socialism

Evaluating the permissibility and popularity of an inchoate ideology on campus

The sociability of socialism

The University of Toronto has three registered socialist-affiliated student organizations: International Socialists, Socialist Action, and the NDP Socialist Caucus. Their professed political programs are to be expected. Undergirded by a desire to construct a social movement and inculcate a revolutionary spirit, these groups’ enunciated goals include the abolition of capitalism, an emphasis on socioeconomic class inequities, the centrality of labour’s role in their endeavors, and international solidarity with the oppressed.

According to Oxford University’s Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, “The fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society.” Infused with notions of global solidarity and cooperation, the essence of socialist thought is a critique of capitalism, privilege, ownership of capital, and the concentration of power among the wealthy. Since its modern inception in the early 19th century, socialism has appeared in many different incarnations. While Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism is in vogue, Cuban Castroism, Chinese Maoism, Soviet Stalinism, Venezuelan Chavismo, and Cambodian Communism each represent unique strands within a family of ideas under the umbrella of socialism.

What is unsettling, then, among the platforms of the university’s socialist student groups is their alacrity in disavowing themselves from socialism’s worst offenders, whilst simultaneously reflecting the intellectual foundations of these specific cases. Despite couching their rhetoric upon the analogous tenets of class consciousness, worker solidarity, social engineering, and, most importantly, a centralized economy, the ideology carries a great degree of appeal within university circles.

This, I believe, stems from two possible scenarios: either a lack of awareness about the history of twentieth century socialism, or a disingenuous attempt to obscure any accurate manifestations of the ideology’s ills. Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.

The consolidation of socialism within Russia, following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution — under Lenin, who was subsequently succeeded by Stalin — provides a telling example of the implementation of such ideas. Stalin’s initiatives included simultaneously collectivizing agricultural landholdings while eliminating class distinctions among the propertied, relatively affluent peasantry, or kulaks. This ‘classicide’ resulted in the deaths of over 3 million kulaks.

[pullquote-default]Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.[/pullquote-default]

Moreover, according to the eminent historian Timothy Snyder, instituting grain requisitioning and sealing the borders of Ukraine produced the artificial “silent genocide” — known as the Holodomor — that claimed roughly 3.3 million lives. To compound the Soviets’ reputation, from 1931 to 1957, two million prisoners from the USSR passed through the Gulag system in Vorkuta alone — nearly three million died in gulags. The Communist Party purged its three million member party in ‘The Great Purge’ of the 1930s, and approximately one third were killed.

As per The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terrorism, and Repression complied by European scholars in 1997 and translated to English in 1999, as well as The Gulag Archipelago, the sum total casualty rate of the Soviet experiment was 20 million lives.

Under Mao, China was even deadlier. As Niall Ferguson reiterated in Kissinger: The Idealist, “Mao alone, as Frank Dikötter has shown, accounted for tens of millions [of deaths]: 2 million between 1949 and 1951, another 3 million by the end of the 1950s, a staggering 45 million in the man-made famine known as the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ yet more in the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution.” The Hong Kong-based historian, Dikötter, describes Mao as overseeing “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known.”

Maoism blended the distrust of urban industrialization — a potential source of bourgeois elitism — and the conviction that revolution should gestate among the rural peasantry, “who would later join with their proletariat comrades in the cities to form classless paradises.”

There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy. In North Korea, the Kim dynasty adopted collectivization and implemented other socialist policies that have resulted in the starvation deaths of up to three million people. In Cambodia, between 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge, a communist paramilitary group, perpetrated a genocide killing up to two million.

[pullquote-default]There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy.[/pullquote-default]

More geographically proximate cases include Chavez’s Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba. In Venezuela, ‘chavismo’ exemplified “other revolutionary authoritarian Marxist ideologies”, repackaging the concepts of socialism, revolution, and the global left. Under the auspices of Chavez, Venezuela experienced mass food shortages, rolling electrical blackouts, skyrocketing inflation — exceeding 700 per cent — a shrinking economy, and nationalization that spelled national disaster.

In the Cuban context, Castro’s recent death — which inspired much equivocation on the part of socialists — masked his troublesome reign. Purging political opponents from the government, silencing media outlets, expropriation of all private property, launching political crackdowns, and perpetuating Cuba’s one-party political system all illustrate the severity of such shortcomings.

A comparative analysis between East and West Germany provides perhaps the best example of the vicissitudes of socialist policy. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, GDP per capita in West Germany was more than double that of East Germany; their life satisfaction was higher, and unemployment was lower. More than 10 per cent of East Germans emigrated following the unification of Germany.

Our study could extend to India, Chile, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and some countries in Africa. Yet, what should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings. Both campus groups and the historical experiments that have so tragically failed are grounded in revolutionary change, collectivization, classless societies, and centralized economies, which represent undercurrents beneath the unifying wave of socialism.

One caveat is in order. The West, loosely defined by varying degrees of market-oriented economies, was embroiled in many acrimonious chapters throughout the Cold War. Under the leadership of the US, coup attempts in Cuba, Chile, Iran and foreign intervention in Grenada, Vietnam, and Cambodia, among others, represent the darker side of the Western Bloc’s involvement throughout the Cold War. Complicating such matters include the legacy of race relations, the Red Scare, and the growing bifurcation of society along socioeconomic lines.

[pullquote-default]What should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings.[/pullquote-default]

Nonetheless, the absence of gulags, mass starvation, one-party states, cults-of-personality, and large-scale expropriation of private property — and in turn, the erosion of freedom of mobility and freedom of expression,  to name a few civil rights — reaffirm the superiority of market-based economic policies and their efficacy in distilling prosperity to broader society, beyond any socialist ideological incarnation.

Only democratic socialism — which neither Toronto’s International Socialist or Socialist Action groups subscribe to — acknowledges the advantages of a market-oriented framework, and advocates for greater government intervention in easing society’s ills.

Mindful of such considerations, it is essential to review the development of many of these case studies following their transition away from socialism. China, which under Deng Xiaoping began a reformist agenda in the late 1970s, which included the decollectivization of agriculture, foreign direct investment (FDI), an increase in entrepreneurship, and the removal of price controls. These policies have helped lift 800 million people out of poverty.

Following independence in 1947, India, under the tutelage of Nehru, initially embraced socialist-inspired economic models. Declining growth rates and per capita income, food shortages, and the devaluation of currency are few of the problems wrought by such policies. India’s economy liberalized in the 1990s, espousing more market-oriented strategies. Between 1994 and 2012, according to the World Bank, 133 million Indians were lifted from abject poverty.

Similar success stories include East Germany, which eventually converged with West Germany’s standard of living, along with Estonia, Chile, and South Korea. Cases like these, which highlight global trends of decreasing poverty, and a rising standard of living all substantiate positions held by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Economic Forum — that free trade, economic liberalization, and reducing trade barriers “is a great enabler for reducing poverty, curtailing hunger, improving health, and restoring the environment.”

Apologists like Noam Chomsky and others will never be convinced. This reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the shortcomings of socialism, and embodies the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy, where their reasoning is unfalsifiable due to the lack of purity of criticisms. As U of T’s student groups attest, Stalinism, Maoism, or socialism’s other failed experiments neither represent nor reflect ‘true’ socialism.

The popularity of such groups on campus shows an alarming trend. Apart from iterations of socialism claiming more lives than fascism, it would be ostensibly inappropriate for universities to offer corresponding student groups. There would be outrage, protests, and wholesale condemnation — justifiably so. We are left, then, with an unsatisfying question: why has such a historically invalidated philosophy flourished and accrued social capital?

Ari Blaff is a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

U of T students among those impacted by US travel ban

Executive order turns pervasive form of prejudice into policy

U of T students among those impacted by US travel ban

U of T students are reeling from the effects of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. The order — signed last Friday at 4:42 pm — suspends entry for Syrian refugees indefinitely, bans all refugees for 120 days, and bars citizens of the following six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

The executive order echoes the Islamophobic proclamations made by Trump during the recent election campaign that he would ban Muslims from entering the United States — and begins to put them into action.

The order came in the wake of increased reports of violence against Muslims in the US and around the world, including Canada. On Sunday at approximately 8:00 pm, a little over 48 hours after the executive order was signed, at least two gunmen opened fired in a Québec City mosque, leading to the deaths of at least five people.

Members of the U of T community and their families are among those who have been affected by the order.



Trinity College Female Head of Non-Resident Affairs Joudy Sarraj would have been affected by the ban were it not for the exemption given to Canadian citizens. Sarraj has dual citizenship in Syria — where she was born — and Canada.

Additionally, Sarraj says that a majority of her family members “are refugees, displaced in various parts of the world.”

Sarraj said that “the few hours of immense sadness and disbelief experienced by dual Citizens, told that their right to mobility would be violated in a way they had never before imagined, is something we ought not forget.”

Sarraj also noted that potential summer employment opportunities “would have been derailed” if she were affected.

“I see no reason why I can be sure that my rights will be absolutely protected, why every opportunity will be afforded to me, and why I am not considered a security threat,” Sarraj continued. “This is truly a life-long restriction for those in protracted displacement, and yet, little differentiates us.”

A Brooklyn federal judge blocked part of the executive order on Saturday night, effectively preventing the deportation of some refugees and immigrants who were affected by the ban and trapped inside airports. Since then, federal judges from Washington, Virginia, and Massachusetts have also issued rulings to block the order.

Also on Saturday night, a top Trump advisor informed the Canadian government that Canadian citizens who hold a dual citizenship with one of the seven affected countries and permanent residents will still be permitted to enter the United States. On Sunday afternoon, Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen confirmed this.

On Sunday morning, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reversed a portion of the order: green card holders from the affected seven countries would in fact be able to return to the United States. Previously, green card holders would have been barred.

Amin Sharifi is a fourth-year Commerce student pursuing a second undergraduate degree. Sharifi immigrated to Canada about a decade ago and has dual citizenship in Canada and Iran.

Sharifi says he and his family are “sort of in limbo” — unsure of whether or not they would be allowed to enter into the United States.

“It creates a distrust in the US for me,” Sharifi said. “Do these people have it out for me? Are they profiling me or putting me on some watchlist because I’m from this country? Yes, that’s what they’re doing.”

Sharifi also mentioned that he was in the United States last December for a hackathon and has been to the country many times.



“[The executive order is] a very hostile action, in every way, shape, and form. It’s an attack on your nationality, it’s an attack on your religion — it’s discrimination,” Sharifi said.

Sharifi lived for two years in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood in Québec, where Sunday’s shooting took place.

He told The Varsity, “Shock and disgust were my immediate reactions, especially having lived in exactly the same spot in Quebec when I was 10 to 12.”

“I wouldn’t say I feel less safe in Canada, per se, but I definitely am more cautious about being optimistic about Canada not having the same prejudices and racist overtones that are existent in the US,” he continued. “I definitely perceive Canada as more racist than I thought it to be, if such a thing happens here as well — a shooting at a mosque during prayer time.”

Second-year Physics and Math student Nikki Rahnamaei also feared the implications for her and her family. Rahnamaei has Irani-Canadian dual nationality and has grown up in Canada.

When asked how the travel ban affects her perception of the United States she said, “It definitely has affected my willingness to ever go to the States, even to visit.”

Rahnamaei also mentioned potential jobs and internships but said that she didn’t “want to go somewhere where there’s going to be a hostile environment towards [her] and [her] individuality.”

“Although I’m born and raised in Canada, I’d still like to maintain my cultural heritage,” she explained.

With regards to the Canadian government’s response, Rahnamaei is pleased that the Trudeau administration has ensured that the ban does not affect Canadian citizens and that the country is still accepting refugees.

Nazanin Zarepour, second-year student studying Political Science and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, is also an Iranian-Canadian dual citizen born in Canada. Zarepour said the United States “generally feels like somewhere unsafe.”

When asked how the ban has affected her, Zarepour said that, “Emotionally, it’s really sad. You kind of feel like the ‘other.’”

Zarepour mentioned that she has both friends and family in the US and visits frequently.

Commenting on the executive order in particular, Zarepour said that “it made it more legitimate — how much they hate my background. Before it was more indirect, but this is very direct, and it’s legal, so it makes it completely different. It makes everything set in stone.”

Zarepour continued, “Before Trump, the sentiment was there, and now it’s legitimized.”

With files from Jacob Lorinc

Four Canadian universities cut advertising ties with Breitbart

Boycott campaign targets far-right media outlet

Following pressure from social media, several universities across Canada have announced they will no longer advertise on Breitbart News.

Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist of SumOfUs, a global consumer watchdog “committed to curbing the growing power of corporations,” discovered an advert for the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Aquatic Centre on the “alt-right” website. She tweeted to the university’s Twitter account “pls stop advertising w/ Breitbart. Join dozens of academic institutions and @ubcforestry now [sic].”

UBC replied, “We’ve adjusted this campaign — our ads should no longer appear on this site.”

Breitbart is an American far-right online media outlet that gained notoriety during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. The Anti-Defamation League has described Breitbart as “the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.” Steve Bannon, Breitbart‘s former executive chairman now serves as White House chief strategist and senior advisor under President Donald Trump.

“It is not surprising that Canada’s colleges and universities do not want to be associated with Breitbart’s promotion of white supremacy and hate,” Pullman said via a press release. “Simply put — Breitbart’s bigoted, racist, sexist and often violent political rhetoric is bad for business.”

SumOfUs applauded UBC’s decision. The group is currently running campaigns to have tech companies Amazon and Ottawa-based Shopify to also end their relationship with Breitbart.

On Friday, McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Université Laval were also criticized by SumOfUs when they found adverts from the universities in the website. Following pressure from Twitter, the universities announced that they will also stop advertising on Breitbart.

The four Canadian universities joined 15 universities and other academic institutions around the world that have ended their advertising ties with Breitbart in the past few months, including Loughborough University, University of Chicago and Harvard Business School Online.

According to Media Relations Director Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T as a whole advertisements running on Breitbart, although she stated that faculty and divisions operate their ad campaigns independently.

Following the U.S. elections, over 750 companies and institutions have stopped advertising on the website. The notable example is Kellogg’s, to which Breitbart retaliated with the #DumpKelloggs campaign, telling its readers to boycott the company’s products.

“We applaud the University of British Columbia and over 750 corporations, universities and organizations that have broken ties with Breitbart,” Pullman said. “SumOfUs will continue to urge businesses and educational institutions to sever ties with Breitbart.”

Breitbart could not be reached for comment.

UC Follies run $12,000 deficit

Deficit attributed to low ticket sales for Dogfight show

UC Follies run $12,000 deficit

The UC Follies — University College’s student theatre troupe — experienced a $12,000 deficit caused by lower than expected revenue from Dogfight, a musical production that ran from November 25 to December 3.

Ramsey Andary, President of the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit), told The Varsity, “The Follies were expecting to make $10,000 in ticket sales in order to cover a $13,000 Hart House invoice amongst many other expenses.”

Due to lower-than-expected sales, “there is a deficit between the cost of the theater rental and the money made from ticket sales,” Andary said.

In addition, Andary pointed out that the Follies did not receive a grant this year, which they had received in years past, and that this added to the loss of expected revenue.

“Our funding from the UC Lit remained the same, however, our UTSU funding was reduced substantially, and we did not receive a U of T grant that we had received in previous years,“ confirmed Marie Trotter, Executive Producer of the UC Follies.

The Follies are an ancillary of the UC Lit, funded in part by a fee levy on students. As an ancillary, their budget is tied to the UC Lit’s. The UC Lit has not provided any more funding to the group since the initial club funding in November. Andary reassured students that “as of now, this has had no impact on the Lit’s operating budget or any services or events offered by the Lit.”

The impact of the deficit on both the operations of the Follies and the Lit was minimized “through a combination of budget cuts and planned funding applications from external sources,” Andary said.

In addition, the UC Water Dragons dragon boating team also contributed $2,000 towards covering the deficit, according to Andary.

Two weeks ago, The Varsity reported that UC Orientation ran a $10,000 deficit, which lead to the depletion of the UC Lit’s contingency fund. This prompted the UC Lit to cut funding for some events and services to make up for the lost contingency.

The UC Follies date back to 1885, when the group would perform musical sketch comedy revues at the Hart House Theatre.

They have run three shows in the 2016–2017 season so far, including Dogfight, a story set during a night in 1963 in anticipation of three US Marines deploying to Southeast Asia. The Follies will perform Touch and Just the Fax, Ma’am, Just the Fax at the U of T Drama Festival in February while Myrmidons, a Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, is scheduled for this March.

Meric Gertler appointed to Waterfront Toronto Board

U of T president brings expertise in urban theory

Meric Gertler appointed to Waterfront Toronto Board

U of T President Meric Gertler has been appointed to the Board of Waterfront Toronto, the  public agency tasked with administering revitalization projects along the city’s waterfront.

As a new member of the Board, Gertler brings years of expertise in urban planning and development. He holds a Master’s degree in City Planning from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a PhD from Harvard University. Gertler has served as an advisor to regional and national governments in Canada.

Speaking to The Varsity about his new appointment, Gertler stated, “I will, hopefully, bring my knowledge and expertise on cities to bear on decisions that Waterfront Toronto will be making, and to help ensure that it adheres to its vision of making the waterfront a more liveable place.”

He said that his main goals while serving on the board would include focusing on the residential challenges that Toronto faces, particularly, developing affordable and accessible housing.

“So many people want to live here and the supply of housing is really [a] constraint, and in particular affordable housing. I would like to make sure that future development of the waterfront caters to a mix of different income levels, in order for lower and middle income people to live in a place like [Toronto],” he explained.

Gertler also spoke about seeing the city’s vibrant multiculturalism and diversity reflected in the waterfront area. “I am a firm believer that cultural and creative activities really animate a city and animate a neighbourhood, and I would love to see more of that kind of activity being accommodated on the waterfront in the future,” he commented.

When asked how his three years of experience as President of the university will shape the way he will think about the waterfront, he said, “It will make sure that I am always keeping the needs of students and faculty and staff in mind when I’m thinking about decisions that are being made to the waterfront, and thinking about ways that a successful redevelopment of the waterfront can help educational institutions in the city.”

Gertler is also interested in getting U of T students involved with the waterfront. “If there were opportunities for us to partner with other organizations in that part of the city, then it would be interesting,” he said.

“One idea that comes up from time to time is that as you build new communities, you can apply the latest thinking about liveable and sustainable cities,” he continued, “I would love to see U of T students and faculty involved in helping to shape those kinds of future communities.”

Waterfront Toronto was created as a joint effort between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments in 1999. The organization’s website states that, in 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Premier Mike Harris, and Mayor Mel Lastman announced the formation of a task force to develop a business plan and make recommendations for developing Toronto’s waterfront.

UTMSU President Nour Alideeb elected as CFS-Ontario Chairperson

SCSU VP Campus Life Trina James elected as Treasurer

UTMSU President Nour Alideeb elected as CFS-Ontario Chairperson

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President Nour Alideeb has been elected as the Chairperson for the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) for the upcoming 2017­–2018 year.

Alideeb was elected during CFS-Ontario’s four-day long semi-annual general meeting, which took place in Toronto from January 19–22. She replaces Rajean Hoilett, who is a former President of the Ryerson Students’ Union.

According to CFS-Ontario bylaws, the Chairperson’s roles and responsibilities include working with government officials, being a provincial representative for the Federation, overseeing campaigns, supervising staff, and chairing Executive Committee Meetings.

“I’m very excited to take my passion, skills and experiences to a provincial level,” said Alideeb. “I look forward to working with students across the province and specifically at the St. George campus because it’s so close to home,” said Alideeb.

Also elected at the meeting was Trina James, currently Vice-President of Campus Life for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. James was elected as Treasurer for the 2017–2018 year.

“The UTMSU has had many great victories because of the support we’ve received from the Federation and other member student unions,” Alideeb continued. “I also look forward to having real and important conversations about where we want to take this Federation because of the political climate here in the country, and around the world.”

A few days after Alideeb and James’ election, the University of Toronto Students’ Union released a statement outlining their support for decertifying from the CFS.

Eleven UTSU slate domains owned by APUS Executive Director

Domain for incumbent UTSU slate owned by another former student

Eleven UTSU slate domains owned by APUS Executive Director

A reverse Whois search reveals that Danielle Sandhu, the Executive Director of the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), owns at least 11 domains names that appear to be for prospective names for University of Toronto Students’ Union election slates.

Most of the domains were registered between January 29, 2015 and February 15, 2015. Among the domains owned by Sandhu are and, which was the name of a slate that ran in last year’s UTSU elections.

The ownership for was later transferred to Madina Siddiqui, who was 1UofT’s presidential hopeful.

Siddiqui told The Varsity that she purchased the domain from Sandhu after unsuccessfully attempting to register

“When I went to buy the 1uoft domain, I noticed it was owned by Danielle and contacted her to buy it. Thankfully, she agreed to sell it to me and I bought it,” Siddiqui said.

Sandhu also owned and until they expired. Change UofT was the name of a slate that ran in the 2015 elections. Other domains that Sandhu owns include,, and

Sandhu, a graduate student, was not a member of the UTSU at the time of the elections. She served as UTSU President for the 2011–2012 academic year and was also the Women’s Commissioner for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario during that time.

At press time, Sandhu did not respond to requests for comment about her involvement.

In addition, a Whois lookup on — the domain for the winning slate for last year’s UTSU elections — shows that this domain is registered to Vip Vingeswaran.

Vigneswaran was the campaign manager for Team Unite and Brighter UofT for the 2014 and 2015 UTSU elections, respectively. Though Vingeswaran had already graduated by the time of the election, he purchased the domain in December 2015.

Vigneswaran cites his GoDaddy discount as the reason for his purchase.

“I have a discount with GoDaddy, so I bought and with the intention of transferring them to Jonathan Webb, who managed the Hello campaign. I transferred .ca, but transferring .com was more complicated (for technical reasons), so I just set it to redirect to .ca. The website that the campaign actually used was, and I transferred that months before the campaign began,” Vingeswaran wrote in an email to The Varsity.

When asked about his role in campaigning for Hello UofT, Vingeswaran noted that he’s “familiar with the current campaigning rules” and is “very supportive of them.”

They ban non-members from soliciting votes, which isn’t what I did,” he stated. “I assisted some members of Hello UofT with general advice as they needed it.”

According to the UTSU’s Election’s Procedure Code (EPC), only UTSU members may be involved in campaigning. Students who are recently graduated or in a graduate studies program would no longer be associated with the UTSU.

Ownership of the domains themselves would not breach the EPC according to Ryan Gomes, who is the union’s Vice-President Professional Faculties and also the Chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee.

“The ban on non-UTSU members extends to campaigning, which requires the active solicitation of votes,” he wrote in an email. “Ownership of a domain would not be considered active solicitation unless the owners were the ones actively posting content to these websites.”

UTSU hosts meet and greet with nine Toronto MPs

Student activists push proportional representation agenda

UTSU hosts meet and greet with nine Toronto MPs

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) organized an event called Meet Your MP’s! at the Hart House Music Room on January 23. The informal meet and greet session was attended by nine Members of Parliament from electoral districts in Toronto.

The MPs spoke with students about topical issues being discussed in parliament, as well as their experience getting started in politics and working in Ottawa.

The event stemmed from a trip Jasmine Wong Denike, President of the UTSU, made to Ottawa as part of ongoing efforts from ADVOCAN to lobby the federal government. ADVOCAN, founded in 2015, is a coalition of student unions from across Canada that are part of the U15, a group of Canadian research universities.

Unlike the Canadian Federation of Students, it has no membership fee or memorandum of agreement. ADVOCAN is pushing for increased funding for undergraduate research, data collection, and removing the cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program.

“I served as VP External last year and President this year. I have this incredible advantage insomuch as I represent students at U of T,” Denike told The Varsity. “I’m able to access these people because of who I am, but a typical student is not, and that’s something that I wanted to try and bridge the gap between,” Denike said about the motivations for the event.

She continued: “It’s important that students get involved especially while they’re still young because the government is listening to youth and they want to know what’s going on. So they might as well take advantage of it, right?”

Shea Sinnott, a graduate student from OISE, publicly spoke out about her concerns regarding the progress towards electoral reform after Denike made her opening remarks: “If nothing else, I hope that you’ll go back to Justin Trudeau and tell him that the time for [electoral reform] is now. And Canadians, I believe… want electoral reform. In other words, please make every vote count or we will vote you out,” she told the MPs present at the event.

Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina–Fort York, spoke in response to Sinnott’s frustrations, explaining that there are technical aspects of carrying out a referendum that must be considered. “Currently in this country, referendums can only be held on constitutional matters. There is a question now before us, courtesy of the parliamentary committee, to consider how we validate this decision with a referendum.” Vaughan explained. This process “will require opening up more than just constitutional questions to be judged by referenda,” he said.

Vaughan added that there were also questions on what constitutes a majority, voting thresholds, referendum questions, and funding that need to be answered before setting the ballot date.

Members of Votes That Count, a group of students and young people from the GTA that have organized around the issue of electoral reform, later spoke with each of the MPs about electoral reform. They took photos with each MP, holding a sign indicating whether the MP supported electoral reform or did not.

First-year student and member of Votes That Count Julia DaSilva explained the group’s concerns to The Varsity. “Basically, the issue is that [first-past-the-post] creates fake majorities that give undue amounts of power to the largest parties that is not proportional to the amount of public support they actually have,” DaSilva said.

“So the goal of this activity was to bring awareness to [proportional representation] in this setting, because we have so many MPs in the place. And just make sure they get the message to Justin Trudeau that he made a promise and we’re not going to let him break it,” said DaSilva.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, MP for Beaches–East York, was one of the MPs who was receptive to proportional representation. He also believes that it’s important to engage youth in politics, noting that students make up a huge part of their volunteer base.

“We’re part of constituency office programs with Ryerson, we have U of T students volunteering of course as well. Then we have the constituency youth council in our riding… so we have students come out every month to meet, to talk politics, and to volunteer in the community with us as well,” Erskine-Smith said.

Denike shared the sentiment: “It’s incredibly important that students remain involved because we are the future leaders of this country, as corny as that sounds, and if we don’t engage, no one’s going to listen.”