Back to the drawing board

Board proposal defeated, UTSU has one year to draw up a new board structure

Back to the drawing board

After a heated debate, the controversial proposed changes to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors structure were narrowly defeated at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) after having been externalized. Several other bylaw amendments were passed in omnibus.

If passed, the amendments would have granted representation to colleges and professional faculties through a committee and replaced the current board structure with constituency directors with purview over specific equity-based issues.

Mixed reactions

Following the failure of the amendment, many students present at the meeting erupted into loud cheers, while others appeared disappointed.

Many members of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) voted against the proposal and encouraged fellow students to come and do the same. “I’m feeling relieved, but also saddened, in the sense that knowing this is going to carry on for another year,” said Teresa Nguyen, president of the Engineering Society.

“I am pleased with the vote. There was a clear divide in the room and it is important that everyone can agree on a new structure,” said Pierre Harfouche, UTSU vice-president, university affairs.

“Obviously, I’m thrilled with the result of the Board of Directors vote,” said Ryan Lamers, president of the Innis College Student Society. 

AGM-Sarah Niedoba-2014-06-25 23.29.26

However, Lamers said that the vote highlighted the gaping divide between campuses at the University of Toronto. Lamers believes that the vote stressed the need for a St. George campus–focused students’ union.

Najiba Ali Sardar, UTSU vice-president, equity, did not vote in favour of the proposal. “I do feel like this proposal was flawed in many ways,” she said, adding, “If there is a proposal that is seeing this much backlash from our students, are we really representing our students on campus?”

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president, said that she was disappointed with the result of the vote given that the majority of students voted in favour of it.

The amendments would have passed had they required a simple majority.

Safe spaces and security

Ashkon Hashemi, the chair of the meeting, called for order and decorum repeatedly throughout the meeting as the students present applauded, chanted, and became increasingly unruly. Several complaints were heard over the course of the evening, including displeasure with some of the language used.

“I don’t believe that the space at the AGM was safe. People were constantly being asked to stop heckling, stop hooting, stop shouting/laughing at others. It continued from the very beginning right until the end,” said Ali Sardar.

Ali Sardar also condemned the exchanges she saw online. “A large portion [of students] used Twitter to attack and make fun of their peers. I am disgusted by the things I’ve read online,” Ali Sardar said, adding, “If I were a first-year student and this was my first experience, I can guarantee I would never go back.” Ali Sardar said that there is no excuse for the behaviour that took place at the AGM and that she expected better from U of T students.

Angelo Mateo, a student in attendance, noted that he saw members of the UTM Blind Duck Pub security team at the meeting.

Mateo said it was inappropriate for security to be standing inside the room during the meeting and alleged that their presence was an intimidation tactic. “If the UTSU was actually concerned, they should have asked Campus Police to attend — not the security detail of UTM’s Blind Duck pub,” Mateo said.

“The Blind Duck Pub staff have assisted with entry for the past few years, after an AGM where inebriated students created some difficulties,” said Bollo-Kamara, who said that their assistance facilitated smooth entry and minimized delays to the meeting.

Meeting adjourned

Following the end of the voting on the proposed board structure, Vip Vigneswaran, former campaign manager of the Unite slate, motioned to adjourn the meeting before a motion mobilizing an anti-war coalition and a motion regarding the Student Commons Management Committee, among others, could be addressed.

“I felt that tensions were high, people were tired, and all the contentious issues that required membership approval had been dealt with,” said Vigneswaran of his motion.



However, Victoria College UTSU director Zach Morgenstern, who moved many of the final motions, was dismayed at the lack of recognition paid to the projects. “As someone who thinks that the union needs to radically improve its involvement levels, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the AGM audience,” Morgenstern said.

Understanding that many of the students who voted to adjourn the meeting had long distances to commute, Harfouche regretted the lack of discussion on the Student Commons motion. “Not being able to discuss that motion may stall the Student Commons project. It’s unfortunate that leaders from UTMSU [University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union] could not communicate this to their members — who were welcome to leave, but did not have to force the meeting to end,” said Harfouche.

For her part, Bollo-Kamara was saddened that much of the evening’s conversation revolved around the board structure proposal and that the meeting adjourned early. “We didn’t get to talk about any of the other motions that students put forward,” she said.

Moving forward

Ryan Gomes, UTSU engineering director, said that his plan moving forward is to work with the board to craft a new motion that has representation for equity issues and for colleges, as well as pushing forward his original alternative proposal to the membership if the former fails.

Patrick Andison, UTSU Trinity College director, expressed the need for an open and collaborative discussion, including open access to UTSU’s legal counsel for all interested parties — regardless of their political affiliation. “This means consultations and meetings with college and faculty representatives before any further proposals are drafted or submitted,” Andison said.

Bollo-Kamara hinted at more consultations and discussion to come. “I am glad that we’ve been able to start this conversation about how best the UTSU can represent its members and I’m looking forward to continuing that over the next 12 months,” she added.

Harfouche said that he will be working with the UTSU Executive Committee and members of the Board of Directors to draft a new proposal.

Harfouche also said that he hopes to host another AGM in the spring. The UTSU has one year to put forward and submit a new structure for the Board of Directors.

Note: This is an updated and expanded version of our article published hours after the AGM.

Divest petition launch disrupted

Host organization demands response from university following intrusion from off-campus group

Divest petition launch disrupted

On October 27, the Graduate Students’ Union’s (GSU) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) ad hoc committee hosted U of T Divest, a launch event for their Divestment Campaign. The campaign protests the university’s investment in certain military and weapons manufacturing companies.

The event, which was held at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) building, was almost cut short due to an unforeseen disruption by the Jewish Defence League (JDL), an off-campus group with no official affiliation on campus.

The Divestment Campaign petitions U of T to stop investing money in companies they believe to be complicit in international war crimes, specifically in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

According to the campaign, the university invests $3,777,326 in three allegedly complicit companies: Hewlett Packard, Northrup Grumman, and Lockheed Martin. 

In December 2012, the GSU voted to endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, which included these three companies.

Protesting the petition

Midway through the event, protestors began to rebel against the panel, cutting speakers off and refusing to peacefully vacate the premises.  

Campus police were called, and the event was recessed while they attempted to settle the disruption.

After much negotiation, the event coordinators managed to secure a new room at OISE — albeit a smaller one.

When the disruptors refused to leave, campus police officially cancelled the event, citing orders from the Office of the Vice-Provost.  

This sparked a major outcry from students and faculty alike. 

“This is really shameful… This is a block of freedom of speech,” said Rand Askalan, assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics, at the event.

Meir Weinstein, a spokesperson for the JDL, said there is an ongoing campaign to challenge the administration of many campuses to stop the BDS movement, a campaign that attempts to place economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with certain goals, including the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

“The BDS movement is one of the most vile, anti-semitic movements around today. The JDL and the Jewish community, I may say, is very concerned of their presence on campus. It leads to hostility against Jews, and that’s the reason we were there,” said Weinstein.


The event last Monday marked the launch of the Divest petition, and was focused on creating financial pressures to curb the allegedly immoral activities of certain companies. 

Sam Spady, a PhD student at OISE, spoke on behalf of U of T Divest. 

“We want to talk about how our tuition dollars are complicit in war crimes that we think are not ethical or just. These are war crimes by international standards. We’re trying to pressure [the companies] financially to encourage them to not participate in these crimes,” said Spady. 

The event featured academic speakers who encouraged the audience to help push the movement forward.

Shourideh Molavi, a PhD candidate at York University; Hazem Jamjoum, a doctoral student at New York University; and Dr Nahida Gordon, professor emeritus at Case Western Reserve University, all spoke at the event.  

Haider Eid, an associate professor at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, sent a video of his presentation as he receives only intermittent power in Gaza. The video was not shown due to the disruption by protestors.

In her address to the audience via Skype, Molavi said that it is important for this movement to take root in universities. This is especially true of U of T, she said, as it is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country and, in many ways, the face of Canada.

Throughout the panel, disruptors in the audience continued to shout over speakers.  Halfway through the second presentation by Jamjoum, the audience became unruly and a crowd of protestors loudly interrupted the event.

Around 8:00 pm, attendees were asked to wait outside while the event co-ordinators tried to work with campus police to remove the disruptors.  

It was around 9:00 pm before the event was able to continue. Although officially cancelled, the event continued after moving upstairs. 

Representatives of Israel on Campus, a student group dedicated to celebrating Israeli culture and history, were also present at the event. Members stated that the JDL is largely shunned within the greater Jewish community.  

Questions asked in aftermath of disruption

Over the last week, the main focus of many within the U of T community has been addressing U of T policy with regards to how the disruption was handled.

Around 30 faculty and staff have signed a letter sent to Angela Hildyard, vice-president, human resources & equity, demanding answers and accountability for how Monday’s disruption was handled.

The letter requested that the JDL  be officially banned from campus.

As of press time, the vice-president’s office has not responded to the letter.

In a press release sent out on Friday, U of T Divest condemned the acts of the JDL and demanded an immediate response from the university.  

Monday’s event was not the first time such a problem has arisen.  

Jens Hanssen, associate professor of history and near and Middle Eastern civilizations, said that this sort of activity has been a recurring pattern in her career at U of T since 2002. “I have witnessed a growing depoliticization of campus,” he said. 

Hanssen also said that faculty were upset by the presence of campus police and by the fact that some students were denied the opportunity to speak.

“All these tactics are contrary to the spirit of what our university should encourage,”  Hanssen added.

Weinstein said that the event was a one-sided conversation. “These people are not interested in free conversation. Their starting point is to make an accusation against Jews and Israel that is abominable, and to assume that anyone there — or everyone — should agree with their definition, and they can’t move beyond that,” he said.

U of T Divest has said it will continue its campaign while it awaits an official response from the university.

International students “frustrated” with early adjournment of AGM

Motion to support international students’ issues went undiscussed

Several international students were unhappy with the early adjournment of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) last Wednesday.

A motion to support international students went unconsidered as a result of the adjournment. The motion was among the last items on the meeting’s Order of Business.

The motion was moved by Cameron Wathey, UTSU vice-president, internal and services.

The motion recognized that, while international students at the University of Toronto pay the highest tuition fees in Canada, they remain without representation on the Governing Council and do not have access to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Domestic tuition fees are regulated under the Ontario Tuition Framework, whereas international tuition fees are set at the university’s discretion.

If approved, the motion would have given the UTSU a mandate to support campaigns for the regulation of international student tuition fees, the extension of OHIP to international students, and representation on the university’s Governing Council.

Mary Githumbi, co-president and founder of the International Students Association (iNSA), was present at the AGM. She was disheartened that the motion did not get the chance to be read. 

Githumbi said that her and other iNSA executives went to the AGM especially to support the motion.

“It was very, very frustrating,” Githumbi said, adding: “We waited for five hours and we waited patiently… and we didn’t get to vote on our motion.”

Githumbi said that the early adjournment was unfair. “If people wanted to leave, they could’ve left. But calling an early adjournment was completely disrespectful [to] the other motions that were meant to be discussed at the meeting,” she said.

Many people began to leave after the defeat of the motion to approve Bylaw V, which contained a contentious proposal to restructure the UTSU Board of Directors. Githumbi herself was in support of the bylaw amendment, as it would have given international students a designated representative on the board.

Currently, international students do not have any dedicated representative on the UTSU Board of Directors or Executive Committee, though they are allowed to run for any of the positions.

Last year, The Varsity reported that international students’ tuition fees could rise about 50 per cent over the next five years.

Githumbi noted that proof of adequate financial support is one of the requirements for a study permit in Canada. The unregulated fees, therefore, make it difficult for international students to plan ahead financially.

According to Githumbi, the motion will be brought forth to a future UTSU Board of Directors meeting.

But this is far from the platform that she had hoped to raise the issue. “U of T has good public relations in terms of getting international students to the university. But, when it comes to student representation in the university, it is very poor,” she said.

University’s research income rises seven per cent

$1.1 billion in research income top among Canadian universities

University’s research income rises seven per cent

This year, scientists finished unraveling and sequencing the human genome, a complex system of an estimated 19,000 genes. 

In the context of this breakthrough, some members of the scientific community are concerned that government research grants will not provide adequate support to sustain these kinds of discoveries. 

To harness more knowledge from the genome and develop the next generation of scientific breakthroughs — like treating patients based on their genetic makeup — more research is required into each specific gene. 

According to George Fantus, associate dean, research at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, learning more and researching each gene requires anywhere from three to five dedicated laboratories — a costly endeavor. 

This month, Research Infosource, a research and development data sourcing organization, released its annual top 50 research income ranking for Canadian universities

As expected, U of T maintained its number one position, drawing $1.1 billion in research income — nearly double the income of second-place University of British Columbia.

Peter Lewis, interim vice-president, research and innovation, said that “most research is awarded through competition, [as it’s] the optimal method of ensuring excellence.” 

The university saw a seven per cent rise in research income this year — more than the average hike of 1.1 per cent, but less than its 13 per cent hike the previous year.  

Much of this funding goes to the Faculty of Medicine. At its nine affiliate hospitals, including Mount Sinai, St. Michael’s, and Princess Margaret, the faculty has conducted more than $974 million in research.

Basic Versus Applied Research

The issue facing scientific researchers today is not how much funding, but for what purpose funds are being allocated. “[O]ur society is looking for ways to create immediate solutions to complex problems,” said Alison Buchan, vice-dean, research and international relations at the Faculty of Medicine.

In other words, Canada’s national research agenda is driven to create jobs by pumping funds into applied rather than basic research. 

This is “a direct opposition to the trajectory of medical innovation,” said Buchan. 

Basic research projects like human genome sequencing, which started in 1988, usually have longer timelines. 

These projects, in turn, breed applied research — a key driver of growth, productivity, and jobs. 

Fantus estimated that the currently available pipeline of basic research is available to streamline applied research for the next five to ten years. After that point, innovation could be severely curtailed. 

Last year, government sources funded 69 per cent of universities’ research, with the lion’s share going to applied research. 

“[W]hile the [focus on job creation] is fair and important, it should not be detrimental to basic research,” Fantus said.

CIHR alters application process

Moreover, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is instituting a system-wide change to its method of funding via two programs, Project Scheme and Foundation Scheme.  

Project Scheme targets short-term programs based on “great ideas,” while Foundation Scheme focuses on long term research projects. 

The program splits applicants into junior and experienced researchers, receiving funding for up to five years and more than seven years, respectively.

The system attempts to simplify the process of applying for research funds by requiring applicants to submit only one application. While the intent is to reduce program complexity and improve quality, fairness, and transparency, it limits the researcher’s flexibility. 

Buchan said the system change is “producing uncertainty and funding dislocation across Canada. This combination will, at the least, impact our ability to train the brightest and best students, and at the worst cause entire research areas to be abandoned due to funding loss.”

In response, CIHR media specialist David Coulombe emphasized that the new system is intended to relieve burden on researchers. 

“Researchers volunteer their time to review applications and it would increase their workload significantly if the same (or similar) applications were being reviewed in more than one competition,” said Coulombe.

Operating costs stagnate

Once researchers win approvals, they must continue to seek funding to cover operating costs. Fantus said that new equipment supplied by the Canada Foundation of Innovation (CFI) was left idle until the university raised additional funds to hire the technicians to run the machines. 

CFI has since changed its policy, incorporating 30 per cent of its funding towards operating costs, but last for five years only.

Conversely, funds for operating costs through CIHR have stagnated, curtailing the agency’s ability to attract the best scientists in the field.

Coulombe said operating costs are “eligible through the indirect costs program.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Dr. George Fantus. The Varsity regrets the error.

Cost of Ramsay Wright upgrades “greatly increased”

Changes call for new equipment and open lab space at the teaching laboratories

Cost of Ramsay Wright upgrades “greatly increased”

The cost of the project to upgrade the Ramsay Wright teaching laboratories has “greatly increased,” according to Planning & Budget Committee documents. 

Details about the cost will not be made public until the project goes to tender.

The project was discussed at a Planning & Budget Committee meeting on October 29. 

Almost one-third of all first-year students registered in the Faculty of Arts & Science are enrolled in courses in Ramsay Wright Laboratories. 

Jay Pratt, vice-dean, research & infrastructure for the Faculty of Arts and Science, said that U of T’s science programs are among the best in the world, but students do not get an experience that corresponds to the university’s quality.

Many teaching laboratories used by the Departments of Cell & Systems Biology (CSB) and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) — both of which have very high undergraduate enrolments — are located in Ramsay Wright. 

Currently, CSB and EEB share the Earth Sciences Centre for labs that require fume hoods, which require equipment to be moved between buildings after each semester. 

The renovation will address this issue by relocating most of the teaching lab activity to Ramsay Wright. 

There also will be design changes for the teaching labs at Ramsay Wright in a bid  to increase undergraduate teaching space — some of which include benches that are reconfigurable and movable, and eliminating solid walls to create an open lab layout.

The project further calls for accommodation of requested changes, building code requirements, Environmental Health & Safety requirements, and IT requirements by including air conditioning, emergency power, fire alarms, additional showers and sinks, and new network rooms.

Open lab layouts have been successful in other science buildings at the University of Toronto. 

Amy Mullin, professor of philosophy and vice principal and dean at UTM, added that the changes in the lab design will also accommodate students with disabilities.

Christine Burke, the university’s director of Campus and Facilities Planning, pointed out that the labs have not been upgraded since they were built in the 1960s.

Scott Mabury, vice-president, university operations, echoed Burke: “Over the last ten years, all three campuses had major renovations in their teaching labs.”

In order to avoid disrupting teaching activities at Ramsay Wright, the timeline of the renovation adheres to semester start and end dates. 

The project will be undertaken in three phases over two-and-a-half years. The first phase is scheduled for completion in January 2015, while the second phase is scheduled for completion in August 2016 and the final phase in April 2017.

Minding our minds

Day-long conference addresses mental health on campus

Minding our minds

Mental health is a crisis taking over Canadian universities. According to one estimate, 89 per cent of university students claim to feel overwhelmed.  

In a bid to address the mental health crisis on campuses, students, faculty, and administrators from across Ontario gathered at Victoria College on October 30 for the Minding our Minds conference.

Accordingly to University of Toronto provost Cheryl Regehr, the conference’s keynote speaker, university students are at the highest risk for mental health issues.

Seventy-five per cent of mental illnesses emerge before the age of 25, and suicide is the leading cause of death for Canadians aged 15–24.

A major factor in mental health development for university students — first-year students in particular — is that they are in a transitional phase. 

Many first-year students are experiencing independence for the first time, which brings about new challenges and stress to school life.

Achieving balance

Although stress levels play a key role in mental health, Regehr asserted that stress is also an important factor in challenging oneself. Regehr said that people who perform best in society tend to fall in the middle of the stress spectrum — too much stress is bad, just as too little stress is bad.

“If stress wasn’t a good thing, who would ever run for government?” Regehr joked.

According to Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy, balance is the most important thing for students to achieve.

“Think about what you want to get out of being here in the first place, and everything follows back on that,” Kingwell said. “Do I want to work this hard for an A? Or am I okay with a B if that means I can get involved with extra-curriculars?”

During the conference’s student session, students addressed things that both help and hinder students in university.

Andrew Echevarria, a student panelist, said that prescription drugs are in high use in populations of stressed students.

Echevarria also said that there is still a stigma surrounding mental health

To that end, Kaleem Hawa, a student panelist and member of the Provostial Mental Health Committee, suggested support mechanisms that universities should adopt in order to create a more welcoming and safe environment for students with mental illnesses.  

Noting that the first person someone suffering from a mental illness will often talk to is a friend or a campus leader, Hawa suggested the adoption of “mandatory training session for all teaching assistants to educate themselves on how to respond to a student who is stressed, anxious or depressed.” He also suggested that the university “prioritize those candidates who have shown a commitment to learning about mental health.”

He also noted that there is no clear policy outlining the steps to take when a student  cannot complete an assignment due to mental illness.  

Hawa suggested, “[The] University of Toronto needs to have clear policy on what exemptions are given to students with mental illness, and how accessibility services factor into that.”

High-stress environment

Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology, took an opposing stance, saying that the university environment is not toxic at all.  

Every field involves competition, Peterson said, and that is simply replicated in university. 

Peterson said that U of T should instead implement a mandatory time management class where students plan out their year, adding that implementing a mental health policy would prove too difficult because “relaxed guidelines are difficult to interpret and work with.”

Peterson referenced one client who was accommodated for a mental health illness during his undergraduate career, leading him to take eight years to complete his degree.  

“[It] might be better to fail out in the first place and find something you are better at,” Peterson said, adding that such a scenario may work out better than being stuck in the competitive university system.  

Nonetheless, both Peterson and Kingwell said that U of T is overworking students, which in turn contributes to high levels of stress.  

Both cited the need for a re-evaluation of each class’ workload, as well as an assessment of whether the university gives students the skills needed to survive in the competitive academic environment.

CFS, Council of Canadians issue charter challenge to Fair Elections Act

Challenge claims act prevents certain demographics from voting

CFS, Council of Canadians issue charter challenge to Fair Elections Act

Even before the Fair Elections Act received Royal Assent last June, it faced considerable criticism

Although Pierre Poilievre, Canada’s minister of state for democratic reform and the lawmaker behind the bill, claimed that the act would ensure everyday citizens are in charge of democracy, some Canadians are calling foul on the legitimacy of his assertion. 

After amendments were made to the act last spring, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) immediately drew attention to what it deemed were problematic aspects of the act. 

The CFS and the Council of Canadians, a left-leaning advocacy group, jointly filed a charter challenge to the act with the Ontario Superior Court in early October.

“The Federation and the Council of Canadians felt that it was necessary to continue challenging these changes because the changes will undoubtedly create further barriers to voting in the next federal election,” said Jessica McCormick, national chairperson of the CFS. 

“The challenge includes statements from other individuals who attest to the barriers that make it more difficult for Canadians to vote,” she added.

Act provisions

The act eliminated the use of vouching and Voter Information Cards to prove residency, and rejigged Election Canada’s mandate such that it focuses on “the basics of voting: where, when, and what ID to bring.” 

“Eliminating the use of Voter Information Cards to prove residency will disenfranchise many students,” McCormick said. “For students, it can be challenging to present a piece of ID at the polls that includes the address of the riding they wish to vote in because students move frequently and may choose to vote in the riding where they’re studying rather than their home riding.”

According to McCormick, Elections Canada ran a pilot project on some university campuses where Voter Information Cards were distributed to students living on campus and those students could use the cards to prove residence.

McCormick pointed out that students will not be able to do this in the next election.

Both students and other specific demographics suffer under the act, McCormick argued. 

Over 100,000 Canadians signed petitions opposing the act’s provisions during CFS’ Let People Vote campaign, which included demonstrations at Conservative MPs’ offices nationwide.

Last April, Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau vowed to repeal the Fair Elections Act if elected prime minister.

“These restrictions will make it more difficult to encourage youth, Indigenous people, new immigrants, and many others to exercise their right to vote,” McCormick said. 

Seniors and lower-income earners will also be negatively impacted, McCormick said in an October 9 news release. “The restrictions will also make it harder for the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians about election fraud,” McCormick said.

“Mass irregularities”

According to Poilievre, the act targets election fraud.

As stated in a news release on the Canadian government’s Democratic Reform website, the act “cracks down on voter fraud by prohibiting the use of vouching and Voter Information Cards as replacements for acceptable ID. Studies commissioned by Elections Canada demonstrate mass irregularities in the use of vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on Voter Information Cards.”    

“The Fair Elections Act will make our rules tough, predictable and easy to follow. It will be harder for election law breakers and easier for honest citizens taking part in democracy,” Poilievre told reporters last February.

Despite these claims, Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians, said in a CFS news release that “the government has legislated rules that will make it impossible for certain citizens to exercise their right to vote and next to impossible for citizens to challenge election results that may have been fraudulently obtained.”

The CFS and the Council of Canadians are asking the Ontario Superior Court to overturn sections of the act that they believe will unfairly suppress certain demographics in the upcoming 2015 federal election.

“We are still only in the early stages of the proceedings,” McCormick said, adding: “The application was filed earlier this month so now the federal government will have an opportunity to respond. The goal is to have the Court make a decision in advance of the next federal election.”

“The Federation filed this challenge along with the Council of Canadians because we felt it was important to continue our efforts to stop these unfair changes to Canada’s election laws from being implemented… The federal government should be finding ways to make it easier for Canadians to vote, not more difficult,” McCormick said.

Poilievre’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Does post-secondary education fail low-income earners?

Canada Post-Secondary Education Act proposes conditional cash transfers to higher learning institutions to address issues of accessibility and accountability

Does post-secondary education fail low-income earners?

In the developing world, Conditional Cash Transfers — programs that make welfare programs conditional upon the recipients’ actions — are used to alleviate poverty for those struggling to make ends meet. 

Rathika Sitsabaiesan, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Scarborough–Rouge River, is now looking to implement this model for the benefit of low-income university students. 

Sitsabaiesan’s private member’s bill, the Canada Post-Secondary Education Act (Bill C-265), seeks to “establish criteria and conditions that must be satisfied before a full cash contribution may be made to a province in respect of post-secondary education programs.”

The bill mimics the Canada Health Transfer, Canada’s primary health care funding program provided to the provinces from the federal government. 

Provinces must meet specific criteria, as outlined in the Canada Health Act, in order to qualify for the full cash contributions. The funds are distributed on a per-capita basis. 

The proposed criteria in the Canada Post-Secondary Education Act focus on accountability, quality, public administration, and accessibility. The act gives power to the Minister of Finance to distribute funds or to withhold them from the provinces depending on how well they comply with the standards outlined in Bill C-265.

Accessibility and Quality

In the 1990s, the federal Liberal government cut funding to provincial programs by approximately $7 billion. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, this prompted post-secondary institutions to hike up tuition prices, thereby restricting university access for low-income earners in the provinces.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is supportive of the new private member’s bill as a way to combat accessibility issues. 

“The [CFS] has, for many years, been calling for the implementation of a post-secondary education act that would establish conditions on the provinces for receiving post-secondary education transfer payments,” said Jessica McCormick, CFS national chairperson. 

Section 5(a) of the Canada Post-Secondary Education Act sets terms and conditions that post-secondary institutions must “ensure reasonable access to all qualified persons in the province, regardless of socio-economic status or membership in a group or class.”

McCormick added that setting stringent conditions on the cash transfers is also a virtue. 

“Basing cash contributions on a set of criteria established in consultation with provinces and post-secondary education stakeholders ensures that both quality and access to post-secondary education are prioritized,” she said. 

With regards to quality, Section 3 of the act cites student-to-teacher ratios, the protection of academic freedom, and independent academic inquiry as standards that province should meet. 

The act does not detail what the student-to-teacher ratio is or should be, nor does it define academic freedom or inquiry.


In an article published in Maclean’s Magazine last January, Alex Usher, an associate at Higher Education Strategy Associates and prominent post-secondary education analyst, argued that rising student debt is a myth. 

Usher referenced rising education costs in the 1990s, and said that increased federal expenditures on grants in the early 2000s could be accredited for the leveling off of those prices. 

While affordability and accessibility are related, according to Usher, lowering tuition will not have a major impact on students being able to access higher education.  

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada spends $20,932 USD per tertiary student every year, and ranks first among OECD countries in levels of adults with a college education. At the university level however, Canada ranks eighth. 

“Canada spends 40 per cent more on education than Germany. Education is not free to provide, and I’d argue that the quality is lower in countries where tuition fees are absent,” continued Usher. 

Usher is also unconvinced about how accessible implementation of the Canada Post-Secondary Education Act would be, saying the conditional cash transfer would have ambiguous effects on students who take into account other opportunity costs of not advancing their education, such as future earnings. 

“An act like this is not the way to do it,” said Usher.


The Canada Post-Secondary Education Act would put more control into the hands of the Federal government to assess post-secondary institutions. According to section 2 of the act, all post-secondary institutions must be directly administered by the provincial government or by an approved not-for-profit organization. 

Reports to the government and public audits would also be a requirement under the act.

McCormick explained the rationale behind these accountability measures. “In return for upholding those principles, provinces would receive adequate and predictable funding. Upholding these principles ensures provincial governments are held accountable for the money invested in education by the federal government,” said McCormick.

The bill has completed its first reading in the House of Commons. Similar bills have been introduced in previous sessions of Parliament, including the first session of the thirty-ninth Parliament and the third session of the fortieth Parliament.