Should you rake your leaves?

Fallen foliage is actually beneficial for home gardens

Should you rake your leaves?

Ontario’s first snowfall of the season has come and gone, but in some corners, a carpet of leaves still remains. While roads and sidewalks should be free of leaf litter, experts say otherwise for backyards, lawns, and gardens.

Removing leaves not only removes nutrients from the ground, but it also prevents the formation of a natural litter layer. According to Department of Forestry professor Sean Thomas, “The litter layer… is the main source of organic matter to the soil, which is critically important to retain nutrients in the system.”

As leaf litter decomposes, it releases nutrients and reduces soil erosion. Without this main source of organic matter, organisms that inhabit this layer would be without a home. Litter also reduces soil temperature, which in turn helps seed germination.

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Chair Donald Jackson said that he retrieves leaves from the sidewalk to put in his garden. “Many gardeners pay to have compost or fertilizers added to their soil, yet leaves can provide a ready (and free) source of both organic matter and nutrients that would be found in compost or fertilizers… By the time early May rolls around, most leaves have decomposed or been eaten by invertebrates.”

But homeowners should still take caution, since leaves provide an ideal surface for mould growth. This is especially true for maple leaves, owing to their large, flat surface. This can be a problem during winters when leaves are buried beneath snow, which can give way to snow mould — a disease that affects grasses.

Fallen leaves can also create a blanket that intercepts rain and sunlight, leading to brown spots on lawns.

To reap the benefits of leaf litter and avoid the dangers of mould growth, leaves should be mulched — broken into smaller parts — and spread onto the floor of the garden. This decreases the probability of fungal growth due to reduction in leaf surface area. Earthworms typically consume and convert this mulch into nitrogen while adding valuable microbes to the soil.

Without leaf litter, homeowners can turn to other forms of nutrients to fertilize their garden. However, Thomas explained that leaf litter is still a better fertilizer than store-bought, inorganic fertilizer. “A major difference between inorganic fertilizers and leaf litter is that the nutrients in inorganic fertilizers are quickly released in soluble form, while leaf litter would only gradually release soluble nutrients as it decomposes.”

Typically, soils cannot efficiently absorb the large release of nutrients in store-bought fertilizers. Instead, these nutrients are washed away into sewer systems and eventually waterways. This creates favourable conditions for algal blooms and eutrophication. For this reason, leaf litter is preferable.

“Over a period of several years, [not raking your leaves] results in much better soil condition… This is effectively the nutrient recycling that takes place in nature, so why not take advantage of it in cities, too?” said Jackson.

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

Re: “College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation”

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have introduced numerous measures to improve workplace environments and raise wages in Ontario, their most recent use of back-to-work legislation to call an end to the college faculty strike is an affront to the collective bargaining process and a reflection of their true attitude toward unionized workers.

The use of similar measures has been deemed unconstitutional in the past — in 2016, similar action taken against postal workers during the Harper era was ruled to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In addition, the move also makes it incredibly difficult for unions to leverage fair contracts for the workers they represent. Instead of a prolonged strike motivating employers to put forward genuine contracts that unions could support, the use of this kind of legislation allows employers to run out the clock, proposing no contracts any responsible union could support in the process.

The Premier and Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews appeared together as supposed ‘gods of reason’ against the deadlock between college administrators and faculty. For her part, the Premier managed to sidestep any criticism the Liberal government deserved for its role in the deterioration of labour relations. In reality, the government’s own austerity has reduced college funding to national lows, increased tuition, and forced educators to work multiple part-time contracts to make ends meet, which ultimately culminated in faculty being pushed to the picket lines.

For unions, last Sunday’s events indicate the substantial challenges the Wynne Liberals have created for unions. For all Ontarians, however, these events should ensure that respect for unions is an election issue.


James Chapman is a third-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.

Do students need an ice rink or a landfill?

Re: “Ice rink at Robert Street Field used as storage for garbage cans”

Do students need an ice rink or a landfill?

The first time I heard about the Robert Street Field and its adjoining ice rink was just the other day, when I read about it in The Varsity’s News section. I have walked around our huge university campus for three years — from St. Joseph Street to Harbord Street and all the way to Spadina Avenue — and not once have I come across this space. I even visited the Faculty of Kinesiology web page to try and find at least some information on it, but I came up short. So I ventured out and took a look for myself.

What I saw was a scene very much out of character for the area. On one side of the Bloor Street there was a beautiful lineup of Victorian-style houses, and on the other there lay a decrepit old ice rink, filled with abandoned Toronto street garbage cans — essentially a landfill. Frankly, I felt sorry for the neighbourhood, being forced to see that view every day for years.

This got me thinking about the situation St. Michael’s College had to deal with in 2004, when they were forced to sell green space for condo development due to a lack of funds. In an article published early this year, it was reported that the University of Toronto’s building maintenance totaled $552 million, which was $34 million higher than the previous year. If this grand cost increases once again in 2017, it should be the main factor in deciding what will become of the disrepaired Robert Street Field.

If the university’s plans to improve the space fall through, will Robert Street Field and its ice rink be closed down and bought by a condo developer in the way other abandoned Toronto spaces have fallen victim? Or will the Faculty of Kinesiology receive hopeful cries from U of T students and the neighbourhood folk alike? In light of the current circumstances, I think it would be wise for the city government to have complete control of the space, thus allowing for the people of the neighbourhood to do what they please with land that is an unfortunate eyesore in their community.


Areej Rodrigo is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying English and Theatre and Performance Studies.

Governing Council’s delay on leave policy vote is a success for the student voice

Re: “Governing Council delays mandatory leave of absence policy vote for two months”

Governing Council’s delay on leave policy vote is a success for the student voice

Governing Council’s decision to delay the vote on the mandatory leave of absence policy is a small success for the student voice’s influence on administrative policy decisions. Still, the reconsideration on the part of Governing Council comes only after the passionately negative response from the university community.

The policy outlines a procedure of a mandatory leave of absence at the discretion of division heads and the Vice-Provost Students, which can be applied to students who, due to mental health issues, may put themselves or others at physical risk or cause detriment to their academics.

Though this policy is only meant to be enforced as a last resort, students and community members have been highly critical of its connotations. Critics have held that the policy is targeting sufferers of mental illness, that it may make it more difficult for students to conduct their studies, and that the policy does not explicitly include the involvement of medical professionals in any stage of the process.

The outlined policy exclusively affects students, and yet by the influx of outrage, including a petition against the policy, it is clear that the student populous was not adequately consulted before the policy’s conception. Consultations provide a wider scope of insight and influence policies that reflect the sentiments of students, in turn yielding well-rounded results. As this instance makes obvious, non-governing students have strong opinions on the university’s policies, and our administration needs to make greater efforts to reach voices beyond student governments in the future. This instance should serve as a lesson for the administration to strive for better community outreach.


Maia Harris is a first-year student at St. Michael’s College studying English and Political Science.

Behind the OPIRG referendum

Petition initiated by UTSU Engineering Director

Behind the OPIRG referendum

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has released the identity of the student leading the advocating committee for the Ontario Public Research Group (OPIRG) referendum, who until recently had remained anonymous. Christopher Dryden is the sole member of the advocating committee to vote ‘Yes’ to removing the OPIRG levy.

Dryden is a second-year Computer Engineering student who currently serves as the the Engineering Director on the UTSU Board of Directors. Over the past few months, he has led other students to bring forward the petition for a referendum on OPIRG’s levy.

According to Dryden, he is the only member of the committee because “there’s been a history of [individuals] personally going after people in campaigns and referendum of these sorts. The other people involved in the campaign weren’t comfortable with that.”

Dryden clarified that there have been 15–20 people who have been dedicated to the petition.

Dryden explained that the petition began approximately two months ago. “It was a really weird timeline in terms of [submitting a petition for referendum]; you could submit the petition question, but it had to be approved by the ERC [Elections and Referenda Committee] before I could start collecting signatures,” said Dryden. “But, the problem was, with the timeline that was set out, [there] was a large gap between when I could submit the petition and when the ERC got it. And by the time the ERC approved it, it was pretty much the last day that you can collect [signatures].”

Dryden said that the ‘Yes’ campaign collected the 250 required signatures from members of the UTSU over the course of just 12 hours. “It was a really crazy effort… but with overwhelming support we got it done really fast.”

Dryden did not contact OPIRG during the time he was creating the petition, saying that “the majority of the members [creating the petition] were aware of the activities that OPIRG runs… We best believed that it wouldn’t be of the best of interest if… we essentially notified them [of the petition].”

However, Dryden stated, “I think in retrospect, there’s a lot of things that you can’t really determine without asking them directly; certain aspects of their funding and budget aren’t publicly known… What would have been a better approach would have been to find a way to confront them about their budget… in an earlier meeting earlier in the year. But, with the timeline of the petition process, that really was not viable.”

Dryden explained his platform for the ‘Yes’ campaign in a recent op-ed for The Varsity.

Iris Robin, a former board member of OPIRG-Toronto, and U of T alumnus, expressed some of their opinions regarding the referendum.

“I think it’s important to note that it’s a part of OPIRG’s mandate to help specifically marginalized communities,” said Robin, dismissing the notion that OPIRG does not affect a wide range of undergraduates at the St. George campus.  

Robin clarified this point in a tweet that said, “As a student at U of T, I was happy to pay into services that I didn’t use. I supported Bike Chain, even though I don’t own a bike. I supported the Blue Sky Solar Racing team, even though I’m not an engineer. I believe that these are good things to fund.”

They further suggested on Twitter that, consequently, “This leap straight to the defunding movement suggests that this campaign isn’t about serving the interests of students or helping OPIRG run more effectively; it’s a move to kick a left-wing group that connects marginalised people to resources at U of T, off campus.”

Voting period for the referendum began on November 20 and will end on November 22. Of over 39,000 students who pay the UTSU’s OPIRG levy, a quorum of 7.5 per cent, or roughly over 2,900 students, must be met for the results to be binding.

OPIRG deferred to their previous statements to The Varsity and an op-ed to explain their platform.

Disclosure: Iris Robin was The Varsity’s News Editor from May 2015 to April 2016.

Blues volleyball fall to Rams

Women lose first regular season match since 2015, men beaten in straight sets

Blues volleyball fall to Rams

The Varsity Blues volleyball program suffered successive defeats against the Ryerson Rams on Friday evening. While the Blues women and men may have salivated at the prospect of triumph against their local rivals, the efficient Rams stomped out their ambitions.

Women’s momentum horned by powerful Rams

As outside temperatures dropped and darkness crept over the city, the Goldring Centre’s 6:00 pm matchup brought together two of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) women’s volleyball’s brightest teams. The Rams strode onto the court flaunting a perfect five-match regular season winning streak, including four consecutive sweeps. Not ones to be easily outshone, the Blues came out with their own perfect three-match regular season streak, having previously dispatched the Lakehead Thunderwolves, Trent Excalibur, and the Nipissing Lakers. Going into the tough matchup, the Blues women’s overall regular season record actually spanned an astounding 41 consecutive victories, having last tasted defeat on February 7, 2015.

Both teams started the first set strongly, and the score soared early on to 6–5 for Ryerson. Blues fourth-year Anna Feore served what would start an incredible 47-hit rally between the two teams. The Blues displayed strong coordination and awareness throughout the rally, with third-year star Alina Dormann, second-year Emma Armstrong, and first-year Jenna Woock all attempting spikes. Ryerson’s libero Julie Longman also displayed good awareness to keep the Rams in the rally, but Dormann eventually smashed the ball over the net to tie the set.

Both teams continued in an extremely strong vein, keeping the set tight until the Blues wrapped up the score at 25–21 with an 8–1 closing run. Woock delivered a number of strong serves, Dorman contributed to four kills, Armstrong two, and third-year Anna Licht one. Dorman and Licht each earned a block assist.

The Blues didn’t carry the same ruthlessness into the start of the second set. The Rams won the set ended 26–24, with three straight points from Ryerson. The third set followed much of the same pattern, but with Toronto trailing 11-9, Dormann was substituted. She would not return for the rest of the match, possibly due to an injury.

Despite the squad’s talent, they fell apart without Dormann’s élan, losing the third set 25–20 and the fourth set 25–16. Although she missed half of the third set and the entire fourth set, Dormann still led the Blues with 14 kills. The women will undoubtedly be disappointed with their defeat but can still take positives from the match.

Service errors aplenty for Blues men

The men took to the court a half-hour after the slated 8:00 pm start time and were similarly slow to get into their groove. The opening moments of the set were characterized mostly by service errors from both sides, a recurring problem throughout the match. By the end of the three sets, service errors had resulted in the Rams dropping eight points and the Blues dropping 14, their most in a match all regular season.

Peppered into the slow first set were a few bright moments from the Blues’ second-year contingent: a powerful smash from Nicholas Trewern to equal the score at 2–2, a highly impressive block assist by Alex Barnes and Ian Burns to level the set at 5–5, and a smooth dig by Jordan Figueira to recover the ball. Unfortunately for the Blues, Rams outside hitter Simon Davis-Powers produced a strong showing, and the set ended 25–20 for the Rams.

Although the Blues again showed moments of good play in the second set, the Rams’ Brendan Kewin soon took control of the set, producing moments of defensive and offensive brilliance, including three straight points. Such was Kewin’s magisterial effect that the Blues called a time-out to slow the Rams’ momentum. With renewed focus, they restarted with a point but were soon brushed to the wayside again by Kewin and the Rams, who won the second set 25–22.

The Blues produced their strongest performance in the third set, having grown into the competition’s rhythm. However, service errors remained an issue, wreaking havoc on their progress. As the Blues faced a 23–22 deficit, Burns again displayed his impressiveness on the block, combining first with third-year Ken Dobson, and then, seconds later, with Barnes to equal the score. This proved to be the Blues’ last point, an the Rams claimed the set 25–23. The loss dropped the men to a 1–2 record and second consecutive sweep.

Canadian universities take a step toward inclusion

Re: “Canadian universities pledge to release demographic data”

Canadian universities take a step toward inclusion

The recent move by Canadian universities towards releasing demographic data is an encouraging sign and will hopefully promote inclusion on campuses.  

When walking around the University of Toronto, one of the first things a person might notice is the level of diversity. I originally come from Ottawa and I moved to London for my undergraduate degree at Western University. Although my personal experiences in both cities have allowed me to interact with a wide diversity of people and groups, U of T stands apart due to an even more visible, rich multiculturalism.

Diversity sets U of T apart, and it is a quality that most students and staff are likely proud of. Accordingly, it is encouraging that the promise of demographic data being released over the next five years gives us the opportunity to quantify that strength.

The release of this information will also help us identify whether there are certain demographics in particular that are not getting the same level of postgraduate opportunities. This will give us the knowledge needed to determine whether university admissions are claiming diversity for diversity’s sake, or whether the university community accurately represent an inclusive cross-section of Canadian society. Administrations and campus organizations can then adjust their recruitment strategies accordingly.

The fact that this step has been taken by universities across Canada is additionally encouraging. Minority populations in less diverse areas than Toronto will now be empowered with the information needed to point out any inequality they perceive or experience in admission and hiring practices.


Vidhant Pal is a graduate student at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering.