The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

Endowment to be distributed to five organizations to advance gender equality

Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

The federal government will be donating a $2.4 million endowment to support five women’s organizations in the Davenport neighbourhood, as a part of the Department for Women and Gender Equality’s Capacity-building Fund.

Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz, who presented the investment on May 3 on behalf of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, said that its aims are to “help [women’s] organizations attract and retain talented leaders, to digitize critical data, to improve fundraising, and to ultimately support long-term planning through the availability of sustainable and predictable financial support.”

The press conference was hosted at Sistering, a drop-in centre for homeless or precariously housed women, which is set to receive $203,270 over five years as a part of the endowment.

Other organizations that will receive funding include the Dandelion Initiative, a project run by survivors of sexual assault and violence to tackle gender-based violence; South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC), which aims to assist South Asian women in increasing their economic, social, and political status; Working Women Community Centre (WWCC), which provides recently immigrated women with employment counselling; and COSTI Immigrant Services, an agency which assists immigrant communities with employment, settlement, educational, and social services. They will respectively receive $740,960, $230,457, $247,598, and $980,000.

Creating “a level playing field”

Speaking on the reasoning for the investment, Dzerowicz said that it aimed to create “long-term, systemic change to ensure progress continues and women advance.”

The particular organizations were chosen for their commitment to assisting women with diverse challenges and for furthering a “strong, viable, and inclusive women’s movement.” Ultimately, Dzerowicz says that the government hopes to help create a “level playing field for everyone.”

The Dandelion Initiative will use the funds it receives to develop its “Safer Spaces Ontario: Strengthening Survivor Centric Work” project. Viktoria Belle, the Executive Director and Founder of the initiative, said at the press conference that the investment “comes at a time when we have a great need to expand and strengthen our network of support for survivors.”

Sistering’s project is expected to help address the unique challenges that homeless and transient women in Toronto face by supporting the hiring of new staff and expanding its support network and services.

The SAWC’s project aims to strengthen its long-term structure and sustainability through strategic planning and communication strategies. Kripa Sekhar, the Executive Director of the centre, said that the funding will “definitely improve the lives of women because more people will know about what we do, and enhance our ability to envision what the future’s going to look like.” This is the first time the centre has received federal funding.

The WWCC’s grant will help expand its support network for newcomer women from Portugal, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The funding will help further the WWCC’s work in helping women with language instruction, housing, and job training. Marcie Ponte, the Executive Director, expects the investment to “make a difference in the lives of many women throughout the Greater Toronto Area.”

The largest investment, nearing $1 million, goes to COSTI’s project. With the funding, Executive Director Mario Calla hopes to enhance their ability to identify and fill service gaps for diverse women who are experiencing gender-based violence.

UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Censure resulted from alleged violation of equity statement

UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Tensions flared regarding mental health services and infringements of decorum during a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council meeting on March 26. What began as a discussion on the UTGSU’s Health and Dental Plan resulted in the official censure of a student union representative.

Debate on mental health occurs during discussion on approval of Health and Dental Plan

As the UTGSU began proceedings to approve their new Health and Dental Plan, Ben Hjorth, a proxy representative for the Comparative Literature Student Union, moved to delay the confirmation. He hoped that delaying the plan’s approval would give the union more time to lobby for the expansion of mental health services coverage.

The current UTGSU insurance plan provides $500 per year of coverage for mental health services administered by psychologists, licensed psychotherapists, or counselors with a master’s degree in social work.

Hjorth said that the provided coverage for mental health services was inadequate, so he recommended that the union delay the approval of the insurance plan. He believed this would be an effective way to leverage U of T administration and thus allow the union to expand mental health coverage in the plan.

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto spoke strongly against delaying the plan’s approval, saying that he did not believe that tabling the motion would be “the most efficient way to put pressure on the university.”

Rizzuto also said that a delay may put the insurance plan at risk, since it could result in prolonged negotiations with the U of T administration. This could ultimately lead to the insurance plan failing to be passed by the end of U of T’s governing cycle.

“What you’re asking for is basically to restart what we’ve done this year,” said Rizzuto.

In an email to The Varsity, the Executive Committee, which includes Rizzuto, wrote that it has seen increased claims through the Health and Dental Plan over the last three years, resulting in increased premiums. The Committee went on to write that the “burden of [expanding] mental health resources for students lies with University of Toronto administration and should not be met by increasing out of pocket costs for our members.”

“We agree that current access to mental health resources for U of T graduate students is inadequate, but [we] do not believe that the solution to this problem is to increase the Health and Dental Plan premiums and subsequently force larger fees on already financially impoverished graduate students.”

The Committee declined to comment in response to a request by The Varsity for justification for the claim that delaying approval of the plan would endanger the following year’s coverage.

The General Council ultimately voted to approve the Health and Dental plan, voting down Hjorth’s motion to table the plan’s approval.

UTGSU General Council member later censured for alleged equity statement violation

During the discussion on delaying the approval of the insurance plan, Hjorth spoke out of turn multiple times. These incidents violated Bourinot’s Rules of Order, which govern UTGSU General Council meetings.

Hjorth specifically interrupted Rizzuto with an out-of-order objection while Rizzuto was explaining his belief that delaying the approval of the insurance plan would risk the plan entirely.

Later, Hjorth requested to make a “point of order.” The Chair did not immediately address Hjorth’s point. In response, Hjorth sharply asked whether the Chair was purposefully ignoring him. The Chair then requested Hjorth to respect decorum.

Hjorth’s responses prompted an executive to request Hjorth to be conscious of his tone of voice when addressing the UTGSU’s staff. Hjorth said loudly that this was “not a point of order.” The executive agreed that this was a point of privilege, then repeated her request for Hjorth to settle down.

At the end of the meeting, after Hjorth had left, Internal Commissioner-elect Adam Hill moved to officially censure Hjorth, noting Hjorth’s alleged misconduct in the minutes.

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal added that she believed Hjorth’s actions were in violation of the meeting’s equity statement, since they were out of decorum and infringed on members’ abilities to speak in an inclusive environment.

The UTGSU Executive Committee, which includes Jaimungal, declined to comment on a question by The Varsity on what specific parts of the equity statement Hjorth violated.

Jaimungal recommended to the Chair that should future violations occur, Hjorth should be “asked to leave immediately.”

Addressing his censure, Hjorth wrote to The Varsity, “I will admit that these discussions got heated at times, but tone-policing should always raise at least an eyebrow, particularly when it is lead by those who have been called out.”

He further wrote that he believed discussion on his censure acted as a distraction from addressing the union’s limited mental health coverage in its insurance plan.

Hjorth added that the intention behind his actions was to hold UTGSU representatives accountable “for what they do as much as for what they fail to do.” He continued, “I’ll try to do it a little more politely, so that we can stop having these kinds of petty discussions and move on to debating what’s really important.”

Mowat Centre to close following cancellation of funding by Ontario government

The Munk School-based public policy think-tank part of widespread budget cuts

Mowat Centre to close following cancellation of funding by Ontario government

The Mowat Centre, a non-partisan think tank located at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, will be closing by June 30, as announced by Director Andrew Parkin on April 29. The closure comes in light of the provincial government’s cancellation of the Centre’s funding agreement.

Established in 2009, the Mowat Centre reported on public policy topics related to Ontario and Canada. Previous research covered nonprofits, immigration, income and employment trends, the digital revolution in the health sector, and education. It ultimately aimed to “suggest new but practical ways of looking at long-standing public policy challenges, free from the constraints of short-term political pressures or policy choices of the past.”

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Christine Wood, Press Secretary for Economic Development Minister Todd Smith, wrote that “the government cancelled funding to all think tanks” as part of an effort to balance the 2019 Ontario Budget.  

While the budget does not explicitly mention the cut, it does cite research from the Mowat Centre in a section on regional economic development.

Two projects, the Mowat NFP and the Research Initiative on Education + Skills, are expected to be relocated within other agencies, according to Reuven Shlozberg, the Centre’s Knowledge & Outreach Coordinator. These projects focus respectively on research and analysis of issues within the nonprofit sector; and education, skills, and labour markets in Canada.

There are still no details on how and where the initiatives will be relocated.

The Centre’s most recent budget showed that much of its $2.8 million budget was covered by a $1 million grant from the Ontario government. Close to $1.9 million of the expenses went toward salaries and benefits for the Centre’s staff. Eleven staff stand to be directly affected by the closing of the Centre.

In his letter, Parkin wrote that the Centre’s closure is happening at a time when the “challenges of transforming government and strengthening the federation are perhaps more acute than ever.”

He hopes that “the work that the Mowat Centre has conducted since its inception will continue to be a useful resource for all of us working to address these issues.”