Welcome to The Forum, a Comment column in which two or more contributors present their points of view on a chosen topic. The goal of this column is to showcase the diversity of opinion within U of T’s student body and to provide a more complete picture of the debates going on within the U of T community.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently called for a snap federal election, which means Canadians will be going out to vote on September 20. With Elections Canada cancelling the Vote on Campus program — which will make it more difficult for students to vote — it is even more important for students to feel energized and motivated to cast their ballots. Below, two contributors discuss important issues that U of T students should consider before going out to vote.
Defending our postsecondary interests
One of the most important issues university students should be surveilling is each party’s postsecondary policies and the level of collaboration between the federal parties and their provincial counterparts on postsecondary issues. This is, without doubt, the most important and pressing issue for those in the university system — especially with the ongoing targeting of postsecondary institutions’ autonomy by conservatives. Another postsecondary issue that comes to mind is tuition affordability and student debt: which parties are promising short-term, realistic solutions to this crisis, and which parties are providing long-term solutions?
The Green Party, in 2019, promised to “make college and university tuition free for all Canadian students.” The New Democratic Party (NDP) has made a similar commitment in its 2021 platform, saying that it will build “towards making postsecondary education part of [the] public education system.” This stance, combined with the party’s promise to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt and the Ontario NDP’s outspoken opposition to the Student Choice Initiative, makes the NDP one of the biggest — if not the biggest — contenders for student votes.
The Liberals are the wild card in these elections in terms of policy, especially since they have no policy book or platform that’s out yet, but I’m taking an educated guess based on their 2019 platform that they will not commit to free education. However, it is worth noting that in 2019, the Liberals committed to giving full-time and part-time students up to $1,200 in Canada Student Grants and allowing new graduates to delay repaying their loans until they reach a salary above $35,000.
It seems that the federal Conservatives will toe the same line as their provincial counterparts, stressing the need for “free speech” on campus.
Yet, in my opinion, the most important issues to monitor this election are the parties’ responses to provincial encroachments on academic autonomy and postsecondary funding. The Student Choice Initiative — an Ontario government policy led by Doug Ford that was struck down for the second time on August 4 — had the potential to be extremely destructive.
Critical institutions for the defence of student rights — such as student unions and student press — are being attacked by conservative movements. Ontario’s premier wrote in a Progressive Conservative funding email that some student union initiatives were “crazy Marxist nonsense” and that he has addressed the “nonsense” by making student union fees optional. This lines up with other postsecondary cuts by the Ford administration, such as the attempted cancellation of the building of the Université de l’Ontario français in 2018.
All in all, for U of T students, staff, and faculty, postsecondary policy is the most important issue this election. The increasing tension between universities, student unions, and Canadian conservatives — along with a provincial government that seems very keen on cuts to education — necessitates a strong counterbalance in the federal government. For those with student debt, policies around student debt forgiveness or repayment may be a strong deciding factor.
Bundled with the unexpected insolvency of Laurentian University, it’s clear that it is a critical time right now for postsecondary policy in Ontario and across Canada. On September 20, Canadians and U of T students, staff, and faculty will go to the polls to decide the future of our university, all postsecondary institutions, and our nation. Here’s to hoping we make the right choice for our university and for us.
Logan Liut is a first-year social sciences student at University College.
Fighting COVID-19 at home and abroad
With over 70 per cent of Canadians over 12 years old fully vaccinated, many are ready to leave the worst of the pandemic in the past. However, with the Delta variant spearheading yet another wave of infections, government policy for fighting COVID-19 might be just as pressing a matter as it was last year.
Canada took longer to reach vaccination benchmarks compared to other developed countries, leaving people under COVID-19 restrictions and at risk for months longer. The Conservative Party of Canada, for instance, critical of the rate at which the government introduced relevant technologies, included in its platform that it would accelerate the approval of COVID-19 rapid tests that are already being successfully used for COVID-19 abroad.
Having relied hitherto on purchases from Europe and the US, most major political parties now recognize the need for developing Canada’s domestic vaccine production capabilities.
Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne declared the goal of achieving a monthly production of two million vaccines by 2022, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to work with both foreign and Canadian companies to achieve an annual production of 240 million vaccine doses. The Conservative Party emphasizes the importance of encouraging vaccine production by Canadian-based companies rather than by multinational corporations, whereas the New Democratic Party (NDP) advocates for the establishment of a Crown corporation to produce vaccines as an alternative to the private sector.
Although being mindful of successes around the world in stopping COVID-19 is vital to implement effective policies more rapidly, fighting COVID-19 is ultimately not a race between countries. Governments that are only concerned with stopping the pandemic within their own borders might achieve temporary stability, but only by enforcing a ‘fortress New Zealand’ isolation for years to come. Looking at how things went for New Zealand, such a strategy is unlikely to bode well. As a leading member of the global economy, Canada — and particularly an international hub like Toronto — can only truly regain a sense of normalcy once COVID-19 is brought under control around the world and borders are open once again.
Alongside traditional factors such as economic stability, societal propriety, and openness to interactions with the outside world, a country’s capability and commitment to create an environment safe from COVID-19 domestically and abroad will likely play a role in determining its success in the 21st century. Back in June, the prime minister made a commitment to donate vaccines to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, and Canada’s contribution to the facility has reached 40 million doses.
In July, the Minister of International Development Karina Gould and the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand announced the “Give A Vax” campaign to raise international aid. The NDP’s manifesto similarly promised to campaign for waiving intellectual property rights to life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, and pledged 0.7 per cent of the party’s gross national income to international aid.
How the incoming government responds to the pandemic will determine the global perception of Canada in the future. It’s important that the world retains confidence in Canada as a safe place for conducting commerce and travel, as well as assisting others in fighting the pandemic abroad, and that confidence will directly impact the favourability of future international agreements. This current generation of students will either benefit from the opportunities that the new government creates by addressing COVID-19 effectively — or suffer from the lack thereof.
Daniel Yihan Mao is a first-year economics student at Victoria College.