Unopposed candidates set to cruise to victory

Unopposed candidates set to cruise to victory

Polls open Tuesday in this year’s UTSU election, marking the end of an uneventful and low-key campaign period. Team Renew, led by current vice-president, university affairs Munib Sajjad, is unopposed in its pursuit of all available executive positions.

The contested races are for positions on the union’s Board of Directors.

Renew has been on the campaign trail for much of the last week, making class announcements, postering, and speaking to students on both the St. George and Mississauga campuses, says Sajjad.

“It has been a clean election so far,” said Eric Luong, chief returning officer (cro).

There have been two election complaints to date, both from candidates for the board of directors who failed to meet the required number of signatures to run.

Both complaints were dismissed by the Elections and Referenda Committee (erc).


Avoiding the Question

Sajjad has remained relentlessly on-message throughout the week, declining to provide specifics on how he intends to respond to the upcoming referenda on fee diversion.

Instead, Sajjad has repeatedly called for unity amongst all factions of the student body, stressing that the union can accomplish more with its 47,000 members working together.

Both incoming and outgoing UTSU presidents have also said any referenda on the union’s membership must be voted on by the entirety of the student body, not only by those units seeking to sever financial ties.

“There is too much hesitation based on old divisions to work together for a common purpose,” said Sajjad “We must all put aside our old hatreds.”

Student leaders from St. Michael’s, Trinity, Victoria and the Engineering Society have scheduled March referenda on whether to divert fees away from the UTSU. The units feel their members will be best served by local college councils instead of a centralized union.

“Frankly, right now, the most important thing the UTSU could be doing is providing a referendum on fee diversion,” said Trinity College co-head Sam Greene. The elections are “essentially a propaganda exercise for the incumbents,” says Greene.

The UTSU has denied the college’s requests to hold unit-specific referenda, forcing the units themselves to host the votes themselves.

Sajjad has said that he intends to meet with college leaders, as well as students in colleges contemplating severing financial ties, in order to convince them of the benefits of continued UTSU membership.

During the campaign, Sajjad has studiously avoided questions about whether he would be willing to seek a change in the union’s bylaws to allow for a referendum. He has also declined to answer whether he will lead a “no” campaign that would urge students to retain financial ties with the union.

Most pressingly, Sajjad has refused to say whether he will pursue legal action if the colleges and university administrators approve fee diversion.

For Greene, this is deeply concerning. “His members have a right to know before they vote yes whether his intention is to embroil the union in a legal battle,” he says.

All-Candidates Debate


The five unopposed executive candidates from the Renew slate participated in a subdued all-candidates debate Wednesday. The candidates emphasized the common themes that have shaped Renew’s campaign, including investigating and exposing illegal ancillary fees, improving the status of international students, and involving more people with the work of the union.

Sajjad, the presidential candidate for Renew, spoke passionately about the power of a united student body: “Across the world, we have seen students at the forefront of change. From toppling governments to bringing changes that affect students as a whole, students have been starting the conversation, leading the research and sparking mobilization everywhere,” he said. “This is the strength of the student movement.”

In a heated moment, Trinity College co-head Sam Greene noisily exited the debate after Sajjad declined to state whether he would consider legal action in a hypothetical scenario in which several divisions had voted and been approved to have their fees diverted.

“If a referendum were to be held at the UTSU, it is for all members to participate in, not specifically for one college or one small group,” said Sajjad.

Outgoing president Shaun Shepherd made a similar statement at a VUSAC meeting about fee diversion.

Sajjad did not address whether he would pursue legal action, instead saying that he hoped to meet with opposition leaders to discuss their concerns. Sajjad called for continued dialogue, as did several Renew vice-presidential candidates. Sajjad also said he believes that most students do not know what the union actually does, and argued that if they did, they would likely be more supportive. He said too much time has been spent this year with “quarreling over minor and petty issues.”

The remainder of the two-hour debate was uneventful, with each vice-presidential candidate explaining their priorities for the upcoming year.

Vice-president, university affairs candidate Agnes So was unable to attend for personal reasons.

In a statement read by Sajjad on her behalf,  So said her goals include opposing illegal ancillary fees and flat fees. So also proposed instituting a drop credit policy that would let students select their lowest mark to exclude from cgpa calculations.

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the candidate for vice-president, equity, focused on combating the “misogyny and sexism” of ‘men’s issues’ groups on campus, and continued support for the embattled Transitional Year Program.

Cameron Wathey, the candidate for vice-president, internal & services, said he plans to re-design the union’s website and expand the union’s photocopying services.

Vice-president, external candidate Sana Ali said she plans to maintain good relations with Queen’s Park, while lobbying to expand the eligibility criteria for the provincial government’s 30% off tuition grant.

Similar Platforms

Renew’s platform echoes those of previous slates. Last year, Munib Sajjad and Yolen Bollo-Kamara were part of the executive team that promised to fight flat fees, negotiate discounted gta public transit for students, and lobby for expanded health coverage for  international students. Many of this year’s campaign proposals are extensions of last year’s, not all of which has yet been accomplished.

There are some new proposals, including an opt-in program for St. George students who wish to ride the utm shuttle bus to Mississauga, and ensuring U of T students are consulted in the hiring of the new U of T vice-president and provost.

Polls will be open Tuesday through Thursday.

UTSU forges ahead with plan to close St. George Street to local traffic

Despite backing from local city councillors, ambitious project not yet endorsed by university

UTSU forges ahead with plan to close St. George Street to local traffic

The UTSU’s campaign to pedestrianize St. George Street will continue into next year, with presidential candidate Munib Sajjad pledging to renew the initiative first proposed during the last campaign season, by Shaun Shepherd.

The Community Action Commission says the closure would create a safer walking culture on campus.

“Most of the vehicles driving down St. George fail to yield when one is crossing the street,” said Abigail Cudjoe, UTSU vice-president, external. “Many students will admit that when in a rush they will cross St. George at their convenience, simply because there is not enough time between classes to go from a class from east to west campus within the 10 minute gap.”

Cudjoe says the closure could also unify the west, central and east portions of the downtown campus, allowing students to “engage in an open space.”

In September 2012, St. George was closed by the UTSU Orientation Team, who won permission to host a street festival for 100 clubs, food vendors and sponsors.

The UTSU plans to release a detailed proposal for a permanent closure by April. The union has scheduled a town hall meeting for March 20 to solicit feedback from the community.

“The campaign is in motion, and has the backing and support of city councillor Adam Vaughan,” said Sajjad. Those involved with the project acknowledge that there is more work to be done in order to secure wider support for the initiative before taking a proposal to City Hall.

Vaughan was not available for comment as of press time.

The project is in line with the Toronto Walking Strategy, initiated in 2009, which seeks to “get Torontonians on their feet” in order to promote healthier and more sustainable forms of transportation.

The main impediments to the closure are likely to be traffic costs and logistical issues with traffic.

Sajjad says it is a misconception that the street closure will stop emergency vehicles. “Emergency vehicles and transport vehicles would be able to access the road,” says Sajjad. Local traffic would be prohibited while the city would ensure that any events booked on the pedestrianized space would keep a fire lane accessible at all times.

Sajjad also said he has consulted with the Ryerson Students’ Union (rsu), who successfully ran a multi-year campaign to close Gould Street, the major thoroughfare running through the Ryerson campus.

The UTSU’s proposal has not yet been endorsed by the university administration. “The St. George Campus Master Plan, approved in June 2011 by Governing Council, does not include a plan to pedestrianize St. George Street,” said a university spokesperson.

The spokesperson also added that the street underwent “a significant revitalization” several years ago. “The objective was to calm traffic, increase pedestrian and cycling amenities, and enlarge the existing open green space, and it reduced the four lane street to two, widened the sidewalks, and added greenery,” said the spokesperson.

The changes won a 1997 City of Toronto Urban Design Award.

Victoria College students vote to hold a referendum on leaving the UTSU

Narrow approval for March referendum at first-ever annual general meeting of college council

Victoria College students vote to hold a referendum on leaving the UTSU

During vusac’s first Annual General Meeting last Wednesday, Victoria College students just passed a motion to hold a referendum to redirect $200 in utsu fee charges to VUSAC. The motion passed with 23 out of 44 students voting in favour, six against, and four abstaining. The motion was non-binding motion, but one that signals that Victoria College would go forward with its scheduled referendum in late March. At the meeting Rowan DeBues, a VUSAC Member-at-Large, said, “this is not a move to defederate from the union,” but rather, a move to redirect its fees that would still have to be approved by the University Affairs Board of the Governing Council.

With such a slim margin of support, there was clear opposition from both Victoria College students and alumni on adopting the non-binding motion, citing concerns such as lack of communication and the short length of time in which students would have to make a decision.

Katrina Vogan, a second year literature and physics student, questioned the timeframe of the decision, stating that it was “very quick”, and that the report “seemed rash” and two weeks was too quick for adequate education on the issue.

Ashley Quan, the Chief Returning Officer for VUSAC elections, responded to this with a clear assertion that there would be a yes/no campaign that utilized all channels of communications to make sure Victoria College students were as “ educated as humanly possible.”

Questions also arose about the financial aspects of the fee diversion, especially about whether the almost $100,000 that would be received would account for Victoria College’s needs. While Jelena Savic, VUSAC’s Finance Chair, promised that the funds would be able to “cover all the costs for sure, 100 per cent,” many students demanded that VUSAC put up a detailed budget on how it would plan to cover UTSU services alongside VUSAC ones.

Another concern was how VUSAC would advocate on behalf of its students to players such as provincial governments and other lobbying groups. Aside from the idea of a more transparent St. George Roundtable, VUSAC’s Education and Equity Commissioner, Jade Huguenin, also talked of how the commission would be restructured to take on a bigger role of advocacy on behalf of Victoria College.

Shoaib Alli, president of VUSAC, promised that the changes to their constitution from a potential secession would be published online, and that they would also be “binding.” He was also confident that VUSAC would be able to adapt quickly to the transition from UTSU representation to VUSAC representation, stating that “as soon as reforms are in place, they are constitutionally mandated to happen, and as soon as they are constitutionally mandated to happen, they will be acted upon.”


Potential Legal Action and Changes 

Corey Scott, VP Internal at UTSU, was also at the meeting as an observer and said that the issues with VUSAC are still “not clear” and that this motion to secede “kind of popped out of nowhere.” Alli countered this, saying that VUSAC had endorsed “earlier electoral reform policy” and had been thinking about seceding early on as well. Ultimately, Alli feels that UTSU has “demonstrated a fundamental failure” to understand what Victoria College wants.

Alli also mentioned there were some changes since the time he had published his report, most notably in terms of the collaboration between the dividing colleges and faculty with the potential for joint health and dental plans between seceding units that would be implemented in the 2013-2014 year. This was part of the answer to a question raised by UTSU’s Victoria College director, Shak Gobert, about the feasibility of implementing separate health and dental plans. A stronger possibility for a joint plan would mean that previous claims regarding higher premiums for Victoria College students (in case of injury) would not necessarily apply anymore.

Finally, Alli made a statement regarding UTSU’s threat of legal action, saying, “they do not have any ground to stand on because we are not governed by UTSU by-laws, but rather U of T by-laws.” He also mentioned that in meeting with the University Affairs Board, the UAB said they would consider the results from the referendum.

Scott countered this in a way, stating that while VUSAC is governed by U of T by-laws and UTSU by its own by-laws, “there are certain procedures in place if colleges want to take from our levy.” Both UTSU execs and Alli plan to meet on Saturday March 10 to discuss the next steps.

However, if Victoria College students wanted to extend the referendum to a later date, they could potentially lobby to do so at the next AGM, depending on when it is held in the coming weeks.

UCLit postpones referendum on funding for renovation

Simcoe Hall expresses last-minute concerns after questions of legal liability raised by APUS, ASSU

A referendum scheduled by the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UCLit) to raise funds for renovations to University College has been postponed over concerns about legal liability, the Lit announced Tuesday.

In a letter posted on their website the day before polls were set to open, UCLit executives said the postponement came after Simcoe Hall “recommended changes in order to protect the Council from potential legality issues,” even while maintaining that “the current referendum question is believed to be legally appropriate.”

Two prior consultations with administrators at Simcoe Hall had approved the phrasing of the referendum question.

Several organizations on campus had raised concerns about the legality of the referendum, which was to ask students to approve a proposed increase of $12.50 per session for full-time students and $5 per session for part-time students.

The funds were to be collected over 20 years and used to finance an extensive renovation of University College’s historic building, first reported in October 2012 by The Varsity.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) claims the referendum appeared to violate provincial law. This allegation prompted a back-and-forth between APUS and UCLit, with regards to the legality of the referendum.

“Essentially, I would say that we are pleased it has been postponed. Had such improper referendum been allowed to pass, it might have set up precedent for other referenda,” said Susan Froom, vice-president, internal at APUS.

APUS says the referendum violated policies in the Ontario Operating Funds Distribution Manual, which prohibits tuition-related compulsory ancillary fees, even if approved by referendum. APUS says that much of the allocation appears to be tuition-related.

“We are glad the UCLit has taken the time to rethink the details of the referendum. I hope that the outcome of their review process will lead to them not running a referendum requesting permission to charge students a 73 per cent increase on their fees to the college over a span of 20 years,” said Katharine Ball, president of the Arts & Science Student Union or ASSU. (Ball sits on The Varsity’s Board of Directors.)

“The Arts & Science Students’ Union maintains, and has done so for more than 25 years, that students should not be required to pay for the construction and maintenance of university infrastructure. This stems from our long-standing dedication to the University of Toronto as a publicly funded, open, and inclusive institution of learning,” read a statement from the ASSU, which had led the “No” campaign urging students to vote against the fee increase.

“Should students be required to pay for their own classrooms, libraries, and reading rooms above and beyond what they are already paying in tuition and taxes? Is this referendum really just a ‘back door’ way to raise tuition fees above provincial limits? These are questions that concern not merely students at UC but all of us at U of T, and indeed throughout the province,” said Froom in an email to The Varsity.

UCLit responded to APUS’ allegations in a publicly available letter, writing that “the majority of the project reflects improvements and additions to student spaces,” and concluding that therefore, “these plans do not fall under the typical umbrella of ‘maintenance.’” The letter also cited feedback from the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, that found the referendum’s premise and question “appropriate, legal, and comparable to previous referenda.”

“There appears to be a lack of due diligence of the part of Simcoe Hall. It appears they didn’t take into account the policy but merely looked at previous referenda. This is the purpose of student unions; to act as check and balance against the administration and to catch the problem before it was improperly implemented,” said Froom.

The new levy was to be allocated for the renovation and improvement of the college building, its classrooms, and quad. Specifically, the funds were to be used for the construction of a new library and reading room in the East and West Hall, as well as the establishment of accessibility initiatives.

The project is estimated to cost $15 million. If approved, student fees would have covered approximately 13 per cent of the total. The remaining funds were set to come from alumni contributions, the university, and government funding.

Outgoing UCLit president Benjamin Dionne said that the legal concerns over the referendum would be resolved this summer, and that a newly-elected executive team will decide how best to continue in the fall.

Gertler appointed U of T president

Gertler appointed U of T president

Dr. Meric Gertler has been chosen to succeed David Naylor as president of the University of Toronto. Gertler, currently dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, was confirmed as the university’s president-designate at a special meeting of Governing Council last Monday.

“To be chosen to lead U of T during a time of great change in our sector is both challenging and exhilarating,” said Gertler. ”I am following in the footsteps of President Naylor, a leader who has combined vision, hard work and dedication to propel the University to compete with the best institutions in the world. This is a tremendous foundation upon which to build.”

“After an extensive international search, the fact we were able to find someone of Professor Gertler’s stature right here is a testament to the depth of this great university.”

 – David Wilson, presidential search committee chair

Naylor’s term was originally set to end December 31, 2013, but with his successor already nominated, it appears likely that he will step down earlier. The search process for his successor was conducted by a committee made up of administrative and teaching staff, full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and other appointees. The committee held public consultations in September.

Despite an international search that involved the services of global head-hunting firm Spencer Stuart and full-page ads in The Economist, Richard Nunn, the chair of Governing Council, said it was “no surprise” that the president was recruited from within the university’s ranks.

U of T has historically promoted senior administrators internally. Naylor served as Dean of Medicine prior to his appointment, while Robert Prichard (president 1990–2000) was dean of the Faculty of Law before taking on the top job at the university.

“I have focused on providing a strong undergraduate education,” said Gertler at a press conference Monday morning. Gertler has served as dean of the university’s largest faculty since 2008. In an interview with The Varsity, Gertler touted some of his accomplishments as dean: “more research opportunities, more international opportunities, more small group opportunities” for students.

Gertler has been a popular figure as dean, though his term has included prominent controversies over the institution of program fees —or ‘flat fees’ — and a particularly contentious academic plan aimed at restructuring and streamlining the faculty.

“The implementation of the flat fee system is an issue Arts & Science Student Union (assu) and the Dean’s Office have never seen eye-to-eye on,” said Kat Ball, assu’s two-term president and one of the student leaders with whom Gertler has worked closely during his time as dean. (Ball sits on The Varsity’s Board of Directors.)

“Dean Gertler has been enthusiastic to take on many of our joint projects with the Faculty, such as the Undergraduate Research Fund and the Exam Jam,” Ball added. “He has been appreciative and receptive of our honest input on things going on in the Faculty.” Ball says she hopes to see Dean Gertler “carry on the same amicable and constructive relationship assu has had with him with the other student unions on campus.

“There are advantages to size,” said Gertler in a press conference on Monday, praising the breadth of U of T’s research expertise and describing some of his efforts to foster smaller group learning opportunities, including the college-based One programs and First-year Learning Communities.

“Large classes are a fact of life at all Canadian universities,” Gertler acknowledges. Under his administration, the faculty has sought to place scholarly luminaries at the front of the classroom and “design more ways for undergraduates to interact directly with our research stars.”

Gertler must now confront the difficulty of preserving the university’s world-class standards as Queen’s Park continues to tighten its belt. “The challenge is to do all these great things for our students in this very challenging fiscal environment, where the support that Ontario universities receive is last out of 10 provinces on a per-student basis,” he said.

Both the incoming and outgoing presidents said that the current tuition framework, which allows for up to a five per cent annual increase in tuition fees, was “adequate” and should remain in place.

Separately, both Naylor and Gertler urged that the conversation around tuition be moved beyond the “sticker price,” noting that 48 per cent of U of T students benefit from some form of financial aid, and that the university’s $2 billion Boundless fundraising campaign has substantive allocations for new grants and scholarships.

According to the Toronto Star, newly-appointed Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities Brad Duguid is said to be eyeing a much more restrictive tuition framework that would allow for inflation and very minor increases of one or two per cent.

The Star also reported that the province this year has already instructed universities to whittle down their budgets further, resulting in a $5.2 million cut for the University of Toronto.

“That’s going to be one of the primary challenges that we’ll have to focus on,” says Gertler of the increasing scarcity of provincial money.

During September’s public consultations, there was some discussion about appointing a president from outside the world of academe. Instead, the search committee opted for Gertler, one of the most frequently-cited geographers in Canada.

With his background in urban geography, Gertler has committed to seeing the university play “an expanded role in city-building,” hoping to engage students and faculty with their city surroundings. In a meeting on Monday with student leaders, Gertler described his vision of a university that graduated well-rounded students whose experiences would be shaped by involvement in the community, and whose skills would be sought out by local employers.

“Gertler is one of the finest economic geographers and urbanists in the world,” said long-time friend and colleague Richard Florida.

“He is a long-time Torontonian who understands the challenges facing our city as it grows and what makes global cities tick. He is just the kind of person that can help Toronto achieve its next phase of growth and development as a truly great global city.”

Gertler has spoken often about this idea previously, during his time as dean. “The most important social contribution that universities make is through educating human capital,” said Gertler, in a previous interview with U of T Magazine.  “Knowledge flows from the university to the city around it in the form of embodied knowledge: well-educated graduates who make up a talented workforce.”

Gertler’s promotion comes amidst a flurry of changes in the ranks of the university’s senior administration. Provost Cheryl Misak is scheduled to depart next year, and the celebrated dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin, announced his retirement in January.

“It’s too soon to say whether these positions will be filled internally,” said Gertler, who sits on the search committee for Martin’s replacement. The university is now formally seeking input on filling the dean’s vacancy at the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Gertler, who will be the university’s 16th president, has been appointed for an initial five-year term. Naylor served two terms as president, taking over from interim president (and former Supreme Court justice) Frank Iacobucci.

Contentious anti-feminism lecture met with protest

U of T allegedly grants hosts free use of theatre, as Trinity dean warns students to stay away

Contentious anti-feminism lecture met with protest

A controversial speech critiquing feminist studies delivered by University of Ottawa professor Janice Fiamengo on Thursday evening was met by a smaller and less raucous group of protestors than the demonstrators that assembled last November at a lecture on a similar theme.

The lecture was held by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) and an associated campus club called Men’s Issues Awareness at the University of Toronto (MIAUT). Protestors at the event said they believed the lecture and related discussions of “men’s issues” constituted hate speech, and therefore had no place on campus.

A previous lecture by Warren Farrell drew over 100 protestors, who blocked the doors and clashed with police and those entering the lecture hall, sparking a debate over the acceptable limits of free speech on campus. Farrell’s lecture was also hosted by CAFE and MIAUT.

The groups hosting Fiamengo claimed the university had granted them the use of the George Ignatieff Theatre, at Trinity College, free of charge “for reasons related to the law-breaking protest that occurred at our last event.”

“CAFE offers its appreciation to the University for its strong commitment to free speech on campus,” read a statement circulated to campus media outlets.

In an email to Trinity student heads and residence dons, the college’s assistant dean Adam Hogan urged students to avoid the event. “If you are talking to any students, I would discourage them from being around the event if they don’t have to be there (if they aren’t attending, or I guess protesting) and limit their travel through that area if they can help it,” read the email.

Concerns about a full-scale clash between protestors, guests, and police were not realized, although a fire alarm was pulled just as the lecture got underway, prompting an orderly evacuation.

Fiamengo’s lecture on “‘What’s Wrong with Women’s Studies?” examined what she identified as the problems with academic feminism and women’s and gender studies programs.

In her lecture, Fiamengo claims that “the whole reason for [feminism’s] being depends on an activist orientation towards women’s position on society,” suggesting it was a “fundamental contradiction” to premise a scholarly discipline on an “ideological agenda.”

“It can’t admit when its reformed goals have been achieved, because to do so would be to  radically weaken the claimed necessity of its combined existence. So it must always find new wars to fight, new sources of deplority [sic] to decry … [feminism and women’s and gender studies] must always be advancing its ideological world view by whatever means necessary,” said Fiamengo.

Although there were no interruptions to the lecture beyond the fire alarm, several students critiqued Fiamengo’s material during a question period. Questions from audience members opposed to Fiamengo’s positions were greeted by jeering and heckling from the audience.

“I was disturbed by it,” said one student, a graduate student in the Women and Gender Studies program at U of T, who asked to remain anonymous after some protestors at the Warren Farrell event were targeted online in November.

“I really can’t get across how ridiculous this was,” she said. “Especially when she went through the course descriptions. There was no information, they may have been from different institutions or professors. She admits herself that it’s total speculation. Students should rally against this group.”

Several audience members sympathetic to Fiamengo declined interviews with The Varsity. Amber Taylor, a spokesperson for CAFE was also unavailable for comment as of The Varsity’s press time.

By the conclusion of the event, campus police had dispersed the remaining protestors.

“This talk served as a reminder,” finished the graduate student. “This talk is a reminder to anyone in any Women and Gender or Equity programs that what we’re engaging in active political discourse, and that what we’re studying has a real impact. It reminds us that what we’re doing is important.”

Kevin Page, Harper’s budget scourge, speaks at Hart House

Has Parliament been thrown under the omnibus? Debate pits Page against students

It’s not often a single sheet of paper can fluster a bureaucrat. But Kevin Page faced this very strange scenario in March 2011 when, as Parliamentary Budget Officer (pbo), he released a report claiming that the government’s proposal to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets would come in at nearly twice the projected costs.

Page spoke Wednesday at Hart House about his experiences working in the Harper government, as part of Hart House’s annual Churchill Debate.

“We went to the Feds to ask for information on costing the F-35. They told us, ‘We’ve got a really complicated model, you wouldn’t get it,’” Page said. “So we said okay, we’ll go to the Americans. No one knows more about fighter jets than the Americans!”

Meanwhile, the Department of National Defence released its estimates for the F-35 purchase in a report Page characterized as a ‘single sheet of paper’ that lacked both a model for its estimates and peer revision.

“The government had figures like $16 billion and we had $30 billion. We had members of the media ask us how our estimates were so far apart — well, I can’t reconcile what we had with one sheet of paper!”

Page’s visit to Hart House comes near the end of his tumultuous five-year term as Canada’s first pbo, appointed by Prime Minister Harper to provide independent analysis of Canada’s finances and the state of the economy.

Page was not the only person at the debate to voice displeasure at the Harper government’s secretive nature.

This year’s debate featured the resolution: “This House believes that Parliament has been thrown under the Omnibus,” in reference to the Harper government’s string of omnibus budget bills. Sean Husband and Tina Zhu spoke in favour of the resolution, with Vinny Goswami and Kristin Pew opposed.

“How can members represent their constituents in various areas when they are forced to vote in a bloc on such legislation of such concerns?” began Husband. “We can agree on some measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents, which are diverse?

“Those are, of course, the words of Stephen Harper speaking in 1994.”

Husband and Zhu vigorously attacked the omnibus format, arguing that it both forces Members of Parliament to choose between party interests and the needs of their constituents, and leads to less government transparency as smaller items in omnibus bills rarely receive attention.

Goswami and Pew offered reasoned rebuttals to the claims, suggesting both that omnibus bills offer increased legislative efficiency and bring more media attention to the proposed laws.

“The nature of certain bills necessitate an omnibus bill — look at the budget, for example,” Pew said. “You may disagree with certain allocations of funding, but it makes sense it’s put into the same area, given the finite legislative schedule.”

Following the debate, Page gave a speech about his life and career as a federal public servant. Page came out strongly against the Harper government’s policy of opacity.

While Page allowed that “Omnibus legislation can be a good way of passing bills, if you’ve got a bill on the environment for example,” he nevertheless said the omnibus format should be reserved for “a handful of acts, but hopefully not a lot.”

During a question period after his talk, Page offered words of advice to those disaffected by the current political climate.

“What would change the situation? Engagement,” Page said. “We need to get people out there engaged more.”

“If you are fed up with omnibus bills, or parliamentary decorum, make your voice heard. When do we engage? If not now, when?”

Opposition to plan for Astroturf on back field mounts

Petition bearing 3,000 signatures delivered to Governing Council as backlash grows

A campaign opposed to turning the university’s back campus field into field hockey turf for the 2015 Pan Am Games metastasized this week, as community members and national media latched on to the story.

A petition with 3,000 signatures was presented to president David Naylor at a Governing Council meeting. Opponents of the plan say that the presentation embedded the issue in the minutes of the meeting, allowing future discussion at the highest levels of university governance as ‘business arising from the minutes.’

Athletes have mixed feelings about a plan to put down artifical turf. BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Unusually, many of the Governing Council meetings over the past year regarding this project have been in camera, or confidential and closed-press, due to a requirement of Infrastructure Ontario, with whom the university has partnered for construction projects related to the Pan Am Games.

As debate over the plan unfolded in recent weeks, opponents have identified numerous areas of concern, including environmental sustainability and heritage protection.

Others have voiced concern that fewer athletes will be able to use the field after it is converted to Astroturf. Hundreds of intramural sport players, including soccer, rugby, flag football, and Frisbee players, many of whom currently use the back campus field for practices and games, would lose out once construction begins in July.

Intramural sports already face substantial difficulty finding space for practice, with anywhere from 35 to 90 field-based intramural teams of 15 or more students on campus.  “Absolutely, students need more space to play, but paving the heart of our historic back campus is not the way to achieve that,” said professor Suzanne Akbari, a leading opponent of the proposal.

Akbari says preparations are underway for a grassroots fundraising project to finance improvements for the field’s drainage and improve it as a playing space, if construction can be halted. The current grass tends to become muddied in spite of intensive maintenance from university staff. As opposition to the plan ramped up in recent weeks, the Graduate Students’ Union (gsu) issued the “#GreenWager,” a marketing campaign that calls for a university-wide referendum. The Arts & Science Students’ Union has also backed the #GreenWager.

“Give each student the opportunity to vote for or against the proposed plan,” reads a letter from the gsu to Naylor. “With the question, provide a link to a pro-plan website and a link to our anti-plan website. If students approve the plan then we will give it our full support. If they reject it, then you will help us kill it.” The issue has even attracted attention from ndp environmental critic Jonah Schein.

“We need to make sure that the 2015 Pan Am games are in fact the ‘Green Games’ they’ve been advertised as,” Schien said, “not just the ‘Green-washed Games.’

Margaret Atwood, a U of T alumna, has also voiced her opposition to the plan, signing the petition delivered to Governing Council and tweeting frequently about the issue. Administrators at the Faculty of Kinseology and Physical Education (kpe) have defended the plan. “It will allow the university to program activities for many more months of the year, which will give intramural athletes more playing time,” said Anita Comella, assistant dean of kpe. “Having the field will change field hockey in so many ways,” said Heather Haughn, a Varsity field hockey player. “It would help bring in more high-level recruits. A lot of them, otherwise impressed, shy away from the fact that we don’t have real turf.”

Haughn says that playing on a regular field turf is problematic for the team, as the bumps and inconsistencies, created by other sports playing on the field, get in the way of the game.

According to a statement released by Naylor’s office, “[U of T’s] mission is to support the province’s top athletes while giving our own students and community members a world-class sport and recreation experience.”  Construction is scheduled to begin on the project on July 1, 2013. The next Governing Council meeting is schedled for Tuesday, April 9, where the issue is expected to be discussed again.