Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

Meet your candidates for UTSC’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSC’s riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park.

Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Party MP candidate

Gary Anandasangaree is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for  the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Outside of federal politics, Anandasangaree is a human rights lawyer and community activist.

In an interview with The Varsity, Anandasangaree discussed the importance of students in this election. “I feel that that U of T and [postsecondary education] is probably our most important stakeholder in the riding,” he said. He went on to point to rising postsecondary education costs as the top issue for students, emphasizing the party’s commitment to affordable education.

In particular, Anandasangaree pointed out the Ford government’s cuts to universities and colleges as “two steps forward, two steps back.” He referred to the burden that a reduction in provincial funding had on federal scholarships.

On pictures showing Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface, and the message it may send to racialized students, Anandasangaree said: “Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine. He is someone I deeply respect. He… made several mistakes on this front and I think he’s taken full ownership of it.”

Bobby Singh, Conservative MP candidate

Bobby Singh is the Conservative MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Singh is an entrepreneur with degrees from York University and U of T. At a federal candidates debate hosted by UTSC, Singh said his top policy priority if elected would be “reducing taxes and expenditures.”

Singh noted that certain areas of his riding are living at or below the poverty line and stated tax cuts would help address this challenge. With regard to the climate crisis, Singh acknowledged that “immediate… action is required.” However, he disagrees with carbon tax measures on the basis that they “unfairly penalize [local] companies.” Singh would rather see carbon absorption policy to address the climate crisis.

The Conservative candidate also called for greater inter-party cooperation. Singh has been involved in a number of organizations working to address issues such as accessibility and inclusivity in relation to education.

According to Toronto.com, at an event in Malvern, Singh criticized Trudeau’s wearing of brownface and blackface and said that he would “support a (national) anti-racism strategy, but not the one tabled by the Liberals.” The official Conservative Party platform does not feature the words “race” or “racism.”

The Varsity has reached out to Singh for comment.

Kingsley Kwok, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Kingsley Kwok is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Kwok is a registered respiratory therapist at Scarborough General Hospital and president of his union for health workers in his region.

At a candidate debate organized by UTSC, Kwok stated that his top policy priority upon election would be to “fight the climate crisis like we want to win.” Kwok criticized the Liberal government at a past debate for responding too slowly to the climate crisis. Kwok stated that his party’s approach to the climate crisis would include a carbon tax, while simultaneously creating new jobs.

Kwok also recognized the contributions students make to protesting political issues, citing specifically an 18-year-old student who was in critical condition after being shot by police at a protest in Hong Kong.

Kwok supports raising taxes for higher-income individuals and corporations so that government programs can remain intact. In order to advocate against funding cuts, Kwok was one of the creators of the Scarborough Health Coalition. Kwok claimed that “nothing is more important than health care,” and endorsed the NDP plan to implement a universal pharma care program.

The Varsity has reached out to Kwok for comment.

Jessica Hamilton, Green Party MP candidate

Jessica Hamilton is the Green Party MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Hamilton works as a therapist for children diagnosed with autism.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hamilton said she decided to run for parliament after a disheartening experience with her local MP, which made her realize that “there was nobody actually looking out for us, there was nobody who could actually speak on behalf of us, and the status quo wasn’t working anymore.”

On student debt among postsecondary students, Hamilton referenced the Green Party’s plan to forgive federal debt for individuals who currently have student debt, and to move toward free tuition for postsecondary education.

On the issue of mental health, specifically within the UTSC campus, Hamilton expressed her intention of interacting with the Scarborough–Rouge Park community on a more personal level.

Hamilton also mentioned the Green Party’s plan to establish a mental health minister who would oversee how mental health solutions and preventative measures could be put into place at the provincial and municipal levels.

On the climate crisis, Hamilton mentioned the Green Party’s goal of moving into a clean economy through the elimination of fossil fuels and the investment in a clean energy grid.

With files from Kate Reeve and Kathryn Mannie.

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

Meet your candidates for UTM’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTM’s riding of Mississauga–Erin Mills.

Iqra Khalid, Liberal Party MP candidate

Iqra Khalid is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located.

After her election in 2015, Khalid came to national attention in December 2016 for tabling Motion 103, which called for a condemnation of  “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” The motion was opposed by some Conservative MPs, who called it an attack on free speech and freedom of expression. Although the motion passed, it stirred debate online and caused protests and demonstrations throughout the country.

In August 2018, Khalid made national news again after giving a community service award to Amin El-Maoued, the public relations chief of Palestine House, who was accused of anti-Semitism. Though Khalid later apologized and rescinded the award, she was criticized again this September for meeting with El-Maoued at his home in Mississauga, prompting the Conservative Party to call on Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau to “fire” Khalid.

Most recently, Khalid spoke out in support of Trudeau after several photos and a video emerged of him wearing blackface and brownface. Khalid emphasized that the prime minister’s actions do not detract from his term in office. “I’ve seen him put his money where his mouth is. I’ve seen him really go above and beyond to make sure that he’s standing with vulnerable communities to really speak out against racism,” she said.

Hani Tawfilis, Conservative Party MP candidate

Hani Tawfilis is the Conservative candidate for Mississauga–Erin Mills, where the UTM campus is located. Tawfilis declined to attend a candidate debate at UTM, instead opting for a meet-and-greet with the UTM Campus Conservatives, according to Mississauga.com.

Tawfilis is a pharmacy store owner, licensed pharmacist, and according to the Conservative Party website, a spokesperson for the Coptic Orthodox Community.

The Varsity has reached out to Tawfilis for comment.

Salman Tariq, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Salman Tariq is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located. Outside of politics, Tariq connects international students to academic opportunities through his work as a consultant.

Tariq’s top priorities include lowering student debt, implementing universal pharma care, and creating more affordable housing and internet services.

At a federal candidates debate held at UTM on October 2, Tariq elaborated on his promises related to student debt. According to Mississauga.com, Tariq pledged that the NDP would get rid of interest on student loans and criticized the Liberals for not having done this already. In addition, Tariq promised that the NDP would create more grants for postsecondary students.

The Conservative candidate for the same riding, Hani Tawfilis, was absent from the debate, opting instead to attend a meet-and-greet organized by the UTM Campus Conservatives. Tariq responded to Tawfilis’ absence at the debate, writing to Mississauga.com, “all people who put their name on the ballot should be available to speak to the constituents.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tariq for comment.

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano, Green Party MP candidate

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano is the Green Party MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills, riding, where the UTM campus is located. Currently an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Boscarino-Gaetano identified the two most important issues facing students as being the climate crisis and the rising cost of living.

“I chose to run for the Green Party not only for its clear commitments on climate change, but also for its socially progressive values,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano in an email to The Varsity.

The Green Party plans to make all postsecondary education free and forgive all student debt owed to the federal government. It also plans to remove the two per cent cap on increases in funding for Indigenous students. On the topic of student mental health, Boscarino-Gaetano wrote that he agrees that the federal government needs to do more.

Regarding the environment, Boscarino-Gaetano firmly believes that “universities should absolutely divest from fossil fuels,” and “[invest] in clean technology, as that is the clear path that the rest of the world is travelling and we cannot afford to get left behind.”

“I’m disgusted by the Ford government’s attacks on students,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano, calling the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) “an affront to our rights as students.” He hopes that the SCI will be overturned in the ongoing court case.

 

Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

Meet your candidates for UTSG’s MP

Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSG’s riding of University–Rosedale.

Chrystia Freeland, Liberal MP candidate 

Chrystia Freeland is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She is the current minister of foreign affairs and is the former minister of international trade. Following a career in journalism, Freeland began pursuing politics in 2013.

“We are seeing in too many countries — where you have a group of people in the country who are left behind — that that creates an opportunity for irresponsible politicians to whip up a sort of angry nativist sentiment,” Freeland said in a recent interview with the CBC.

In recent years, students and young people have emerged as a significant force in advocating for the environment. U of T students have been critical of the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.

In response to such criticism, Freeland said, “We need to be a combination of ambitious about our goals, [and] pragmatic about how we’re going to get there.” She further noted that “unless a person is prepared to say we can stop using fossil fuel tomorrow, there is absolutely no reason to say we should not be using fossil fuels that come from Canada.”

The Varsity has reached out to Freeland for comment.

Helen-Claire Tingling, Conservative Party MP candidate

Helen-Claire Tingling is the Conservative MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She has experience in both the private and public sectors, including as a consultant for the Ontario government. Tingling was slated to attend an all-candidates debate for the riding, but cancelled due to an illness.

In a self-published article, Tingling wrote, “I chose the [Conservative Party] because it recognizes that if we work hard, we should be able to buy a home, save for retirement, and care for our children and parents as they age.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tingling for comment.

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where  the UTSG campus is located. Her background is in law, and she currently works at a legal clinic focusing on housing and worker’s rights.

At a debate earlier this month, Vajda said that her motivation for running in the election derives, in part, from her work at a legal clinic dealing with housing issues.

“The housing crisis is really affecting our community. Young people are having a hard time starting out and it’s not getting any better. We’re spending less and less on a national housing strategy.” To combat the housing crisis, the NDP’s plan involves building 500,000 rental units across Canada.

Vajda wrote to The Varsity, speaking on mental health at U of T: “I support students organizing for mental health support in recognition of the university-wide mental health crisis, and especially in light of the recent tragic death at the U of T campus. I support the call for accessible 24-hour counseling and a commitment to include students in all potential reforms around these issues.”

Repeating her party’s stance on cuts to postsecondary education, Vajda wrote, “[The NDP is] committed to working with our partners at the provincial level to expand access to grants and stabilize funding for internal college and university clubs and media.”

Tim Grant, Green Party MP candidate

Tim Grant is the Green Party MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. Grant also ran as an MPP candidate in the 2018 provincial election for the same riding. The former chair of the Harbord Village Residents Association (HVRA) runs his campaign out of his office tucked away in the Korean Senior Citizens Society on Grace Street.

Grant’s priority for students is addressing housing affordability. “The students face the same problem that everyone faces, which is the lack of affordable housing anywhere in the city,” he said. He cited his time on the HVRA, where he regularly interacted with students.

In an interview with The Varsity, Grant also expressed concern about landlords taking advantage of student renters.

He also talked at length about his party’s universal basic income plan, as well its intention to make postsecondary education free.

“Providing universities with the support that compensates them for the loss of tuition income [from free tuition] also helps them become more independent institutions and not dependant on corporate dollars,” said Grant, who also condemned the Ford government’s postsecondary education reforms.

On the Green Party’s postsecondary education platform, Grant described the plan to incentivize universities and colleges to increase professor-student ratios, and reduce contract positions in favour of tenure positions.

 

U of T students, city advocates call on federal parties to invest in Toronto’s mental health

Advocates call for $300 million yearly investment in Toronto’s mental health services

U of T students, city advocates call on federal parties to invest in Toronto’s mental health

Content warning: Discussions of suicide.

Advocates from across Toronto, including executives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), called on the federal parties to commit to expanding the city’s funding for mental health and addiction services.

At an October 10 press conference at City Hall, they specifically asked for $300 million per year in mental health service investments in Toronto. The community members included city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, as well as representatives of Gerstein’s Crisis Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto.

“We know that 20 per cent of Canadians experience mental health and addiction issues,” said Wong-Tam at the conference. She remarked that the city needs the federal government’s support to expand its mental health services in order to better care for its growing population.

Joshua Bowman, UTSU President, further underscored the impact of the mental health crisis at U of T. He noted that 46 per cent of postsecondary students have reported feeling too depressed to function, and 65 per cent reporting persisting overwhelming anxiety.

“These aren’t just statistics — these are friends, these are family members. These are our classmates,” he said. “This is a reality that students at the University of Toronto have grown all too accustomed to.”

In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman recalled that Wong-Tam invited UTSU representatives to speak at the conference, as part of her call was for expanded mental health funding specifically at postsecondary institutions.

Mayor John Tory endorsed the advocacy efforts later that day, writing that he joins them in “calling on the federal parties to commit to meaningful investments… to address [the] growing mental health and addictions crises.”

Responses from federal parties

A Green Party spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that the Greens would commit $1 billion annually to community treatment programs for mental health, addiction, and autism in Canada.

The Greens would also mark $100 million for suicide prevention, and $100 million to address the opioid crisis, according to the spokesperson. It is further committed to providing pharma care.

A Liberal Party spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that it will “begin negotiations with the provinces and territories to establish clear national standards for access to mental health services.”

The New Democratic Party and the Conservatives did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

The Breakdown: LGBTOUT’s 50th anniversary

The history of Canada’s oldest LGBTQ+ student organization

The Breakdown: LGBTOUT’s 50th anniversary

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) celebrated its 50th anniversary on October 24. Since its inception in 1969, the organization has undergone several major transformations, and is continuously evolving.

Yet another major transformation may be underway as the club contends with the effects of the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

History of LGBTOUT

Fifty years ago, in mid-October, an ad was put out in The Varsity seeking “anyone interested in discussing the establishment of a student homophile association.” By October 24, a small group of students had congregated and founded what was then called the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA). Of the students present at the UTHA’s first meeting, only one was a woman. The majority of the other attendees were white, cisgender men.

During this time, it was still common for people to be fired from the workplace because of their sexual orientation. Many were also targeted on campus for their sexuality. In accordance with this context, the UTHA primarily worked toward promoting equality in professional spaces.

By 1984, the UTHA had renamed itself as the Gays and Lesbians at U of T. Although the club’s new name fostered a more inclusive environment, students in the LGBTQ+ community still faced many of the same challenges. During the club’s Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, St. Michael’s College refused to play Michael, a Gay Son, a movie that follows a young man’s decision to come out to his parents and his experiences participating in an LGBTQ+ peer support group.

In 1998, the organization finally settled on its current name: LGBTOUT.

LGBTOUT’s current role

LGBTOUT has since expanded its reach at the University of Toronto. Today, it holds drop-in sessions on a daily basis where students can find community or confide in volunteers for peer support. The organization also holds a number of events throughout the year, including open mic nights, arts and crafts socials, and drag shows. LGBTOUT further works alongside the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office to bring Queer Orientation to the U of T community.

LGBTOUT’s current mission aims to promote awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, as well as advocate for the fair treatment of LGBTQ+ students. The incumbent executive team has also extended LGBTOUT’s goals to support other equity-seeking organizations. Administrative Director Cheryl Quan wrote to The Varsity, “LGBTOUT is an inherently political organization and as such we should not shy away from affirming our support for other marginalized communities and their causes.” 

In the wake of the SCI

Since being elected to office in 2018, Premier Doug Ford has introduced several reforms that affect postsecondary education. A cornerstone policy is the SCI, which allows students to opt out of paying incidental fees for student groups that are considered “non-essential” under the government’s framework.

For the fall 2019 term, 25 per cent of students opted out of LGBTOUT’s $0.50 levy. This means that the club will receive significantly less funding than in past years.

Quan recounted, “After 17 years of fighting and four failed referenda, 2016 was the year things finally changed, and the 2016-2017 academic year was the first time we actually had sufficient funds with which to run events and programming.”

The SCI has been enacted just three years after LGBTOUT first raised their levy. “Now, with the introduction of the SCI and, of course, the rise of right-wing hate groups at UofT and in Toronto, our work and safety are in jeopardy now more than ever,” wrote Quan.

Although LGBTOUT may be in a more financially vulnerable position, it is still confident that it will be able to continue offering great programming for the U of T community.

Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

Motion result of advocacy by the University of Toronto Students’ Union

Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

Students may soon be seeing lower TTC fares as Toronto City Council passed a motion at the start of this month for the TTC’s governance board to explore options for further discounted fares for postsecondary students.

The Toronto City Council consideration stemmed from the Ontario government’s decisions to implement the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which enables university students to opt out of non-essential incidental fees, and to reduce postsecondary financial aid from the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

In a 22–1 vote, the council passed a consideration titled, “Exploring Options for Affordable Toronto Transit Commission Fares for Post-Secondary Students.” The motion was introduced by Councillor Mike Layton and was seconded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. It passed without amendments.

Motion motivated to address affordability crisis

By passing the proposal, City Council has requested the TTC Commission Board — the City of Toronto agency that oversees the TTC’s policy matters — to review options for lower fares for postsecondary students.

Potential options include a lower single fare and a further discounted monthly transit pass for postsecondary students. The council has also further requested the board to take the Ontario government’s changes to the universities’ fee systems into account, and to “report back in the 2020 Budget process.”

“The costs of commuting [are] one of the most pressing affordability issues facing those attending post-secondary institutions,” wrote Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão in an email to The Varsity. Bailão voted to pass the motion.

“I supported this motion at Toronto City Council because I believe we need to review options about how we can assist students in our City.”

Motion opposed by Councillor Stephen Holyday

Councillor Stephen Holyday was the sole council member who opposed the motion. In an interview with The Varsity, he explained his belief that the motion may ultimately result in increased costs for non-postsecondary students.

To fund further discounts for postsecondary students, Holyday said that fares for other groups, such as adults, may increase. He also contended that it could result in a heavier burden on taxpayers.

Holyday sees the motion as a “swipe at the provincial government’s policies,” as he is unsupportive of disunity between the council and other orders of government.

Layton disputed the justification for Holyday’s position. He said that while it is possible that fares for non-postsecondary students may increase, it was not a certainty. He also maintained that the TTC has other sources of revenue to fund the discount.

Layton further noted that there are different ways for the board to balance the TTC’s budget. He said that it would be atypical for the board to fund the discount by adjusting fare prices for other users. Instead, it may be funded by the tax revenue provided by the city to the TTC.

He further emphasized that the motion is a continuation of a standing position of the City Council.

“We had a program to provide subsidies to postsecondary students, and then the provincial government changed their fare system for postsecondary students,” Layton said. “Now we have to adjust our program in order to meet the reality of this new opt-out policy.”

Origins from U of T student advocacy

The consideration was prompted by an open letter sent to the council by multiple Ontario student unions, including the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union.

Lucas Granger, UTSU Vice-President, External Affairs, explained to The Varsity that the efforts originated with the failure of the UTSU to fund U-Pass in the 2018 referendum, which Granger said would have lowered fees for commuters. Due to the SCI, the Ontario government has mandated that “only those transit pass programs with fully executed agreements” prior to January 17 can be considered compulsory.

In September, Granger spoke at a community liaison meeting between student unions and city representatives. He later explained the circumstances in a meeting with Layton, who introduced a relevant motion to the council. Granger then drafted an open letter to the council in favour of the motion, ahead of its vote.

According to him, he also emailed student unions across Toronto to support the letter.

As the TTC’s governance board explores options, Granger plans to continue to advocate for and pursue lower transit fares for postsecondary students.

“You have power that students don’t”: protests continue as students demand better mental health support

Calls for repeal of university-mandated leave policy, majority representation in policy consultations at Business Board

“You have power that students don’t”: protests continue as students demand better mental health support

As part of a continuing effort by the U of T Mental Health Policy Council (UTMH), an advocacy group created in the wake of a student death in September, students protested outside of Simcoe Hall during a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on October 7. Speakers included student representatives from the Black Students’ Association, Leap UofT, independent student activists, and local elected officials.

Bhutilla Karpoche, MPP Parkdale–High Park, spoke at the rally in support of greater access to mental health care: “In the past year, I have listened to young people, listened to families, listened to frontline workers, and the state of our mental health care system in this province is shameful.”

Even with the resources that are available, mental health support “is virtually non-existent for young people. It is a group that has been completely ignored,” said Karpoche. “We have to continue to organize so that we don’t just leave today’s rally and come back next time when there is another crisis.”

Chris Glover, MPP Spadina–Fort York, agreed with Karpoche, saying, “Absolutely, the university must do more to support mental wellness on this campus.”

He additionally criticized the provincial government’s cuts to education as being a factor in the rise of mental health issues. “Cost and access to education is an incredible stress on students,” said Glover.

Inside the Business Board meeting, four students were given speaking rights, though comments were heard from other students who attended the meeting.

One of the four students, Sarah Colbourn, appealed to the Business Board and its financial power at the university: “You have power that students don’t.”

She criticized the Boundless fundraising campaign, which raised $2.6 billion, while the university has only allocated $3 million in additional funding for mental health in the past three years.

“We are here because we are asking you to use your power and your position to enact the changes that we can’t,” said Colbourn. “It is clear from your public posturing and media stance that you have the money.”

She pointed out that between 2014 and 2019, the number of students registered with accessibility services with a mental illness as their primary impairment doubled. “But we have not seen the staff and funding capacities of those bodies double.”

A U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that the money has gone in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.

“We are equally as concerned about the issues that you raised. We do need to do better when it comes to issues around anti-Black racism, when it comes to issues around mental health,” responded Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice President, Human Resources and Equity.

In an interview with The Varsity, Mercer Palmer, an organizer with UTMH and recent U of T graduate, explained what the protestors are demanding from the administration.

Their first demand is that the university accepts “students with the intention of having them graduate,” meaning that the university needs to provide better services for students’ mental and physical health. Secondly, they demand “serious policy change,” such as the repeal of the university-mandated leave of absence policy.

“The third demand is nothing about us without us,” he said, referencing the eponymous report put out by U of T students last April, where they demand majority representation in all mental health policy creation.

“We cannot allow the university to continue to make decisions on our behalf without consulting us.”

Editor’s note (November 3, 4:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that the university allocated $3 million in additional funding, not standalone funding, to mental health services. U of T says that the money was spent in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.

UTGSU General Council meeting discusses SCI, onsite mental health counselor

Outgoing finance commissioner on incidental fees: “not necessarily what you thought you were paying for”

UTGSU General Council meeting discusses SCI, onsite mental health counselor

In a recent Board of Directors meeting, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) addressed holdover items from its September board meeting.

Branden Rizzuto the outgoing UTGSU finance commissioner whose resignation will take effect on November 1 gave a report on how many students opted out of the UTGSU’s fees, in accordance with the province’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The SCI allows students to opt out of incidental fees deemed “non-essential.”

The UTGSU’s mean fall 2019 opt-out rate for full-time students, across all optional fee categories, was 17.48 per cent and 25.95 per cent for part-time students.

“We’re actually in pretty decent shape,” said Rizzuto. He noted that he had planned for a “variety of revenue loss scenarios,” even considering opt-out rates of 70 per cent. “What is actually more of a threat to us, is not the overall revenue loss… but it’s that the University of Toronto has used the SCI to limit our financial autonomy.”

The UTGSU’s fees are separated into a number of optional fees categories which constrains the way the union can spend its money. Funds raised in one area, like “academic support,” cannot be used for any other purpose. Rizzutto explained that the university has determined where “80 per cent” of the UTGSU’s funding will go because of this categorization of fees.

Before the UTGSU was aware of how many students opted out of its fees, it proposed changes to its funding structure in anticipation of a significant drop in its budget. The first of the motions would have introduced a linear model for department head grants. This would have jeopardized the funding of small departments, and so another motion was proposed that would have evened out the distribution of funds to small departments.

After some debate, both motions failed. Members expressed that because the opt-out rates were manageable, they preferred to revert back to the original funding model.

When asked why the proposed linear model had two different sources of funding, Rizzuto responded, “The University of Toronto misled everyone and put hidden fees in all of the fee categories.” For graduate students paying their incidental fees, Rizzuto described the fee structure as being “not necessarily what you thought you were paying for.”

He explained that one of the UTGSU’s essential fees, “academic support,” contained within it a $4.87 fee that had to be used for department head grants. This is despite the fact that there is a department head grant fee within the UTGSU’s levies that was deemed non-essential. For this specific section of the budget, part of the funding was deemed essential, while the remainder was subject to student choice.

The UTGSU also passed a motion to increase mental health services for its members. “This is a little bit prompted by recent events, but this actually is a conversation that’s been ongoing between myself and the finance commissioner,” said Sophie McGibbon-Gardner. Due to Rizzuto’s resignation, McGibbon-Gardner was appointed Vice Chair Finance Committee at the meeting.

“We kind of have a vision of providing a service that is impossible to implement by administration, and that would be having an onsite mental health support system that is integrated into the GSU,” continued McGibbon-Gardner. She added that a lengthy consultation process to identify the needs of the GSU membership would be the first step in this process.

Rizzuto spoke in favour of the motion, saying that the UTGSU had enough funding for the proposal. Last year, the UTGSU added five dollars to their Health and Dental Administration fee. “We have the funds, I estimate that we might have upward of $100,000 to put toward these types of initiatives.”

Rizzuto was also appointed head of the UTGSU legal ad hoc committee.