Opinion: We don’t want this kind of Good Samaritan

Donation app to support homeless is divisive and cold

Opinion: We don’t want this kind of Good Samaritan

When was the last time you saw a homeless person panhandling? How did it make you feel? Guilty? Annoyed? Maybe just maybe you wanted to help, but weren’t sure how.

Well, much like food delivery and astrology, there’s an app for that. After witnessing a Black man panhandling, former tech employee Jonathan Kumar created Samaritan, a contemporary mechanism to help homeless individuals. Samaritan offers privileged passersby a way to help the homeless without needing to make eye-contact or use cash. Donations are even tax refundable.

Kumar’s program has two main goals: to provide urbanites with a convenient way to donate to homeless people in their area and to help homeless people develop closer connections with their community.

After two years of operation in the Seattle area, Kumar hopes to expand his enterprise. However, the Samaritan approach is not as good as it may appear and — despite homeless and social inequality crises in Toronto — it is absolutely not a solution worthy of import.

A seemingly straightforward system

Potential donors download the Samaritan app, which alerts them when they pass by a participating homeless person. The homeless participants are tagged with beacons that beam their photo, personal story, and financial need to the would-be Good Samaritan’s phone. In most photographs, program participants wear their beacons around their necks like crosses.

Givers can select the amount of money they would like to send and cue the transaction in a few swipes. The money is then sent to the beacon holders, who can redeem the donation at participating stores.  

While participation in the Samaritan program does not necessarily preclude the homeless from seeking other avenues of respite, it explicitly seeks to help sustain those left behind by mainstream sources of support.

While this may seem like a step forward, let’s take a closer look.

Despite Kumar’s lofty ambitions, the app itself is not particularly popular among the people it was purportedly designed to help.

In one telling interaction recorded in the Seattle Times, a Samaritan employee stood outside a temporary work placement agency, attempting to drum up interest in the beacons. One man, initially intrigued, looked at the demonstrative beacon the employee held. When he saw it, he asked, “It labels me as a hobo?”

Another reason for the program’s low participation rate is the requirements it imposes on homeless users. Not only are their choices and movement restricted, but beacon wearers must attend monthly meetings with Samaritan counsellors, otherwise they will lose access to the money on their account. The disciplinary tool swings between the collarbones of the wearer.

Gatekeepers to charity

Although Kumar has stated that Samaritan does not use institutional vetting processes for potential beacon recipients, he argues they seek out “those downtown that are truly struggling with homelessness and actively are trying to get themselves out.”

But how can they tell who is truly suffering, and moreover, who sets the definition?

Put simply, the donors determine who is allowed to avail of the service. Through the linkage of initial appearance and quick biographies with donations, participants must market themselves to their potential Samaritan. The appearances and backstories displayed on the app become weapons: a spade and a scalpel used to shape the kinds of people others want to give to.

Even if the donation is given, its very form creates other entanglements. The digital currency donated by Samaritans can only be used to buy “the essentials,” as determined by the developers who created the app and the stores willing to work with the program.

And if they do not have a cell phone or a data plan, beacon holders have no way of knowing who donated or in what amount. In order to check their own balance, they would have to find a participating store and inquire.

Siloing social classes

One might argue — and indeed, Kumar and his supporters do — that removing the cash component of roadside donations enables more spontaneous generosity, which in turn leads to more support for the homeless.

However, the giver  not the recipient  clearly benefits more from this cashlessness. It’s not just the removal of financial autonomy from the homeless person that is troubling either — reducing donations to a swipe sanitizes what should be uncomfortable.

Although some might insist that the app genuinely does help create connections, Samaritan actually works to further silo different social classes. Today’s Good Samaritans can give without looking up from their phones and feel better about themselves without actually encountering anyone. The app makes local suffering as distant as possible.

Moreover, valving compassionate impulses off through a quick dash of a digital credit card could reduce the likelihood of givers becoming more involved in long-term aid or advocacy efforts. After all, they have done their good deed of the day.

At the end of the day, Samaritan is a for-profit company, which makes donors pay up to 7.5 per cent of their total donation for the privilege of a painless transaction.

Contrary to many contemporary invocations, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about financial generosity. In the biblical story, a man is robbed and left bleeding on the side of a busy road. Two travellers pass him by, but the third — a Samaritan — stops. He cleans the victim’s wounds, clothes him, feeds him, seats him on his donkey, and shares his room with him.

Fundamentally, it’s a story of human connection — of messy, visceral sharing between those left intact and those robbed. This is the spirit of giving we must foster. Look to the work of Eva’s Initiative for Homeless Youth, for example, which fulfils the short term needs of homeless youth in Toronto of housing and food while also offering training and emotional support.

Actions rooted in our fundamental closeness, not distance, are the only path toward resolving homelessness and social inequality in Toronto.

Mikerah Quintyne-Collins on forging her own path to the blockchain scene

U of T dropout reflects on getting started with blockchain, formal education, and research

Mikerah Quintyne-Collins on forging her own path to the blockchain scene

Right before Christmas last year, then U of T math and statistics student Mikerah Quintyne-Collins received over $100,000 USD in cryptocurrency from Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and promptly dropped out of U of T.

In a Twitter thread between cryptocurrency developers in December, Quintyne-Collins tweeted to Buterin, “I will quite literally drop out if we got $100k in ETH.” She asked and she received.

After dropping out, Quintyne-Collins, a programmer, researcher, and blockchain enthusiast, switched to working full-time at ChainSafe, a Toronto-based startup that works on blockchain applications, such as automatically enforced smart contracts. Blockchain is a decentralized method of securely storing data that relies on cryptography, the math behind encoding and decoding messages securely.

Ethereum is the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capital, next to Bitcoin. At the time of the transaction, the 1,000 Ether that Buterin sent Quintyne-Collins had a value of $100,630 USD. Now, that same amount is worth around $174,000 USD.

Buterin is a university dropout himself, having left the University of Waterloo in 2014 to work on Ethereum full-time after receiving $100,000 USD through the Thiel Fellowship, a grant awarded annually to people aged 22 and under to drop out of school and pursue full-time work.

These days, Quintyne-Collins is pretty busy with her job, working to develop a platform that may eventually be a part of a new version of Ethereum.

“The main thing that I miss about university [is] Goldring,” she said.

While her mother had wanted her to return to her studies, Quintyne-Collins does not see the need. “People haven’t asked me about my degree. In fact, every time I tell somebody I dropped out to work on Ethereum, they just say, ‘Congrats.’”

“I know myself well enough to know that this is better for me, rather than taking courses I’m not interested in,” she told BreakerMag.

When I asked about her ambitions and plans, Quintyne-Collins said that she was going to “go with the flow.”

Even before university, much of her efforts had been focused outside of school. She taught herself how to code when she was 13 by borrowing library books. Bitcoin then piqued her interest around 2011 when she was in high school and it first made the news; this prompted her to start reading research papers on cryptography.

She became more involved in blockchain during her second year, when Buterin came to U of T for a talk on crypto-economics. This also brought her in touch with ChainSafe, where she would eventually start working part-time as a project lead while continuing her studies.

Before dropping out, Quintyne-Collins was also President of the U of T Blockchain Group and had co-organized a number of blockchain hackathons. Even after dropping out, she helped host this year’s ETHUofT hackathon alongside the group’s current president. This is where I met Quintyne-Collins, as I was volunteering with registration on a Friday evening in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

She believes that universities are more useful for forming connections than learning. She added that a number of top universities have materials and resources available online for free.

“This last semester, I wasn’t doing… any schoolwork, to be honest. I might have failed some courses,” she told me.

That being said, she would not encourage just anybody to drop out and find work. “If you have nothing else going for you, then your GPA is pretty much all you have.”

Quintyne-Collins was admitted to the first-year computer science stream when she started at U of T but chose not to pursue the program of study. “I wasn’t going to pay the extra tuition… If you can get a degree for 8k a year versus 15k a year and end up with the same job, who’s the idiot? The person who paid more for it.”

She has also co-authored a study published in the STEM Fellowship Journal and is currently conducting research with a fellow U of T dropout working in blockchain. They are not sure about which journals to publish in yet, but it will at least be on arXiv, an open-access digital repository of research papers.

“For computer science, it doesn’t really matter that much,” she said, referring to the publication they will ultimately choose.

When asked how to get involved in the blockchain scene and get one’s foot in the door, Quintyne-Collins said, “Contribute to open source projects and attend events if you’re technical. And if you’re non-technical, you should organize the events.”

She emphasized the need for talent in the scene beyond just computer science, but also in communication and outreach. “If you’re good at building communities and bringing people together, that’s just as important as being able to write code.”

Opinion: $100 million donation cements U of T’s global leadership

Recent donations to AI and biomedical research propel U of T’s innovation field toward greatness

Opinion: $100 million donation cements U of T’s global leadership

U of T’s plan to build a new 750,000-square-foot innovation research complex exhibits its commitment to artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical research leadership, which will greatly enrich our collective university experience. This breakthrough, courtesy of the university’s recent $100 million donation from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, firmly anchors its leading status in Canada and its rising position in the world.

After hearing U of T’s plans to build hubs to stimulate innovation, the billionaire couple announced the largest-ever donation the university has ever received at a press conference on March 25 to support these ambitions. The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, to be located at the corner of College Street and Queen’s Park, will realize the interplay of technology, culture, and society.

Philanthropic gifts such as these support universities by both expanding on existing innovation projects and seeking opportunities to launch new institutes in areas such as machine learning and biomedical and robotic improvement. At U of T, recent philanthropic projects such as the $6.7 million from TD toward data analytics, health care, and behavioural economics, as well as the $20 million for research on the biological causes of depression from the Labatt family strengthen U of T’s potential impact on innovation both domestically and internationally.

Importantly, the $100 million donation firmly ties U of T with the word “innovation,” as it is the largest donation ever made in the Canadian innovation sector. This donation will likely go down among the most noteworthy advancements in Canada’s innovation history. Other notable programs include CanadaHelps, the country’s largest non-profit platform for donating and fundraising with a focus on innovation, which surpassed $500 million in 2015, and Google Canada, which launched a $5 million prize for non-profit innovation. However, these influences are not as profound as that of the single $100 million donation. This is because the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will constantly remind future generations of scholars, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists of the spirit of innovation, and of the university’s commitment to a brighter future.

The emphasis placed on innovation in AI and biomedicine by U of T and Schwartz and Reisman reaffirms the significance of this gift. The donation continues a remarkable industry-wide outburst of philanthropy for innovations in AI and biomedical research to prominent universities around the planet. For example, in October, the single largest donation of $350 million USD to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prompted its commitment to dedicate $1 billion USD to research into the rapid evolution of computing and AI. That same month, the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute received a donation of approximately $17.6 million USD to foster research in advanced technology. In July 2017, a $10 million USD endowment to the Stanford Cancer Institute called for advance research in cancer cell therapy, the pioneering cancer treatment today. Six months earlier, Carnegie Mellon University had received a $250 million USD gift to fund a new robotic institution.

Colloquially, the term ‘AI’ is used to describe machines that mimic the cognitive functions of humans, such as learning and problem-solving. Biomedicine, meanwhile, applies biological and physiological principles to clinical practice, which has been the dominant health system for more than a century. Innovations, from a historic meaning, are meant to facilitate human wellbeing.

We are in the midst of a revolution focused on AI and biomedical systems. With the significance of such research, the industrial evolution that is now occurring shoulders the responsibilities of optimizing every facet of humans’ lives, from prolonging life to easing low-wage workers from heavy labour.

Schwartz and Reisman’s donation stamps U of T’s profound position as a top educational institution in the innovation industry. Thanks to generous recent donations, U of T is continuing to shift its focus to the innovation and technology spheres. The implication behind this donation also signals U of T’s rising and determinant role in the current revolution and its ambition to work collaboratively with other influential institutions to lead innovation.

U of T entrepreneurs’ journey through a startup-studded economy

ExploreTO on building a useful startup, overcoming challenges, and learning along the way

U of T entrepreneurs’ journey through a startup-studded economy

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ timeless wisdom certainly resonates with millennials today. On the one hand, we are blessed with an unprecedented amount of possibilities to launch new projects. On the other hand, the chance to start anew often feels imposed. Inspired by successful entrepreneurs, we detest the prospect of a career of clerical drudgeries and punching clocks, but we also fret about the insecurity of our gig economy, because the more the traditional market economy prospers, the more fleeting entrepreneurship’s promise seems.

Additionally, society’s romanticization of self-made entrepreneurs can conceal the challenges involved in launching and maintaining a startup. The road to successful entrepreneurship is a lot bumpier than one might expect. Students need to be mentally and financially prepared if they are serious about having their own business ventures.

On behalf of ExploreTO, a startup led mainly by U of T alumni, here are some insights into our entrepreneurial adventure and some survival tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Getting started

ExploreTO is a phone app that helps users find what to do and where to go in Toronto. Our four founders came up with this idea when they ended up going to the same places every time they hung out. As they saw the same faces at the same spots, they knew that they weren’t the only ones feeling tired of the same routines and frustrated by the surfeit of new options that popped up on search engines. People’s continued desire to have new and exciting hangout spots easily sorted for them is a testament to the necessity of this app.

Once they were set on what they wanted to do with their app, they began their research into the events listing industry, which consists of two types of companies: technology-oriented companies like Yelp and Facebook and content-oriented ones like blogTO and Narcity.

In the first category, companies work like aggregators that glean data from nearly every event and venue — there is nothing happening in the city that you can’t find on their apps. Despite their omnipotence, they lack original content and curation. Wading through the thousands of options they proffer, users may or may not eventually find something that interests them, contributing to the conundrum that ExploreTO seeks to resolve.

In the second category, media companies usually provide great original content. They have staff writers and editors who understand audiences’ expectations and deliver relevant content. Their apps, by contrast, are lacking severely. Most people we know either have no clue that these popular content providers have apps, or they have tried these apps only to delete them minutes after. Few system updates have been made on their apps, and with a focus on web content, their apps are generally poorly managed — restaurants in some of the reviews don’t even exist anymore.

ExploreTO targets what both of these game players miss: an easy-to-use app with carefully curated, updated, and original content. Not only does our team manually select venues and events for our collections, but we build in features that take into account users’ preferences, weather, the day of the week, time of the year, and other relevant factors. When launching a startup, the first thing to do is conduct research that helps you understand the industry. At the same time, it’s important to consider how to address some of the shortcomings of your competitors.

As the company has continued to grow, our founders have leveraged their education and spoken to a few professors who have offered valuable advice. So for any aspiring entrepreneurs, don’t let this resource go to waste. U of T also has such a large talent pool where you can meet your future business partners who share your values. Socialize as much as you can and meet people from different schools and departments — you’ll need different talents to build a successful business.

Building a team

The four founding partners are Val Neiman from engineering, Philipp Soummer from Rotman Commerce, and Liam Kelly from computer science, all graduates from U of T, as well as Ivan Gudov, a math graduate from the University of Waterloo. Between the four of them, ExploreTO had the perfect team. With Ivan as the developer building the backend database and Liam working on the frontend user interface, Philipp and Val took charge of business operations and project management.

The lesson for aspiring U of T entrepreneurs is to never overlook the importance of choosing the right partners. You will need them to be as competent as they are trustworthy, be able to meet deadlines, and share responsibility as team players, so you know that you can count on each other at the end of the day.

Building ExploreTO from scratch, our team has learned to work on everything independently and to keep costs low because we didn’t want to get funded too early and give away an outsized portion of equity. It may sound like an exciting learning experience, but in reality, it has been very daunting given how we are self-funded, and all four founders have highly demanding jobs in hedge funds, IT consulting, and project management. We all need to be resourceful and diligent, and we need everyone to play ball when working countless extra hours. Juggling ExploreTO with demanding day jobs certainly hasn’t been easy for them, and it can sometimes feel hard to stay motivated and keep a team motivated as well. Although our founders have never seriously considered quitting, the thought did cross everyone’s mind in the first two years as they didn’t know how it would turn out. But as our team keeps hitting milestones, gaining more traffic and user recognition, we believe that there is no better way to invest our time and efforts than in this venture.

Funding

Of course we do want to seek new sources of funding. The team is looking to expand and still wants to pay future interns in more than just charismatic experiences. In fact, Neiman and Soummer just auditioned for Dragons’ Den and received very positive feedback, so you may see ExploreTO with a deal on the next season!

That said, it’s not all about the money. The motivation is creating a product that people love and, if that ends up being financially rewarding, then it’s the cherry on top. But it’s also worth mentioning that while money problems can certainly be daunting — especially when they involve potential lawsuits — they are not always difficult to resolve.

ExploreTO’s issues with larger companies in the industry surprisingly only took a few emails and short explanations to resolve. People make threats and get threatened in the business world all the time, particularly related to money, but confidence and communication dissolve more conflicts than you might think.

Continued growth

It is difficult to know when to quit. It takes some intuition, which will probably come with experience. It’s important to define some goals, metrics, or milestones to judge your progress. If the project doesn’t seem to be progressing based on that outline, perhaps it’s a good time to re-evaluate. Maybe the goals are too lofty, or maybe it’s the strategic direction that needs work.

The best way to reconfigure your ideas is to ask the people who will be using your product. ExploreTO had small focus groups in its Alpha stages that involved our founders asking friends to test the app, while telling them that they were testing an app that someone they vaguely knew had developed. That way, the team could get honest feedback without testers feeling as if they were criticizing them directly. The app is currently on its 15th iteration because we takes the feedback of our users very seriously. Had ExploreTO never asked its users what they thought, the app would still look like it did a year ago. We would have liked it personally, but our users wouldn’t have.

For aspiring entrepreneurs in the initial stage of development, it’s imperative to testify the necessity of your product, coin down your specialty, and find the right partners who specialize in these areas. As the team develops, it’s also necessary to think about building a culture.

A successful startup needs to be people-oriented. Take into account the opinions, criticism, and concerns of your users, interns, and employees — those are the contributions that every startup needs.

— With files from Philipp Soummer

April Jin is a Content Writer at ExploreTO.

Opinion: Ontario budget’s climate change plan a mess of contradictions, inaction

Ford’s frivolous climate lawsuit will cost taxpayers $30 million while doing nothing for the environment

Opinion: Ontario budget’s climate change plan a mess of contradictions, inaction

The Ontario government’s frivolous $30 million lawsuit against the federal government over the carbon tax is a self-inflicted wound that the provincial 2019 budget, announced April 11, fails to address. Doug Ford’s government claims that the implementation of a carbon tax on Ontario would be ineffective, result in job losses, and be bad for business. However, he brought this tax on the province when he chose to scrap the cap and trade program, which aimed to hold industry directly accountable instead of putting the onus on consumers.

In lieu of clarification on the carbon tax or the binned cap and trade model, the budget vaguely outlines a performance-based emissions reduction program that it expects will circumvent implementation of the impending carbon tax. The program entails developing and setting emissions performance standards sector to sector and assessing reductions according to the previous output of facilities. This will be buttressed by the creation of an emissions reduction fund, meant to incentivize industries to adopt “cost-effective projects in various sectors, such as transportation,” with no mention of investments in renewable energy.

Ironically, the budget states that performance standards will be “tough but fair, cost-effective and flexible,” as if ‘tough’ and ‘flexible’ are not antonyms.

Initiatives like these may not result in substantial emissions reductions because preceding enforcement, industry can ramp up their emissions in order to be held to a lower bar — what they would have normally been producing — when the time comes to ostensibly reduce output.

Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner told The Varsity that the proposed plan mirrors the failing emissions reduction mechanism currently operating in Australia, which has a much larger budget of about $1.9 billion, compared to the $400 million “emissions reduction fund” proposed in the provincial budget.

Ford is fear mongering about job losses, when, in reality, Ontario has had a good year of job growth overall, and despite the carbon tax in British Columbia working for years. Whether Ford likes it or not, the federal government is within its rights to impose a federal tax according to the distribution of powers outlined in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The taxpayer-funded money used to fight the carbon tax will be wasted in a frivolous lawsuit.

Lastly, it is worth noting the province has based its emissions targets on the federal government’s, which was grandfathered in from the Stephen Harper era and does not comply with the Paris Agreement. Their target of reducing emissions levels by 30 per cent compared to 2005 levels by 2030 is not nearly aggressive enough to curtail catastrophic repercussions, as forewarned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

As Schreiner said in his address to the press during the budget lockup, it is clear that “this budget cares about the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

Despite ostensibly reducing fees, changes to OSAP, tuition will cost students, the economy more in the long run

Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

As promised, the 2019 provincial budget makes sweeping changes to the postsecondary education system as we know it, decreasing funding in 2019–2020 by $700 million compared to last year in the name of “efficiency” and “sustainability” while claiming to better prepare students for the workforce. In reality, these cuts, primarily through changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the availability of grants for the middle class, hinder the accessibility of postsecondary institutions for lower income families and the middle class, impacting the future of the economy as new graduates are burdened by more debt.

OSAP cuts and grants hang in the balance 

Before the formal release of the budget, the Ford government planned to cut funds available for grants by as much as 50 per cent in favour of more loans. This would impact middle-class students the most, as the budget commits to ensuring that 82 per cent of available grants are received by families with incomes of $50,000 or less, up from 76 per cent in the previous budget. However, the budget neglects to specify how much the total funds will be decreased — if they end up being reduced it at all — as previously stated.

The budget fails to disclose many policies previously purported, such as the elimination of guaranteed free tuition for low-income families and extending the amount of time parents are expected to financially contribute from four years after high school to six when applying for OSAP. We don’t know if these policies have been axed due to public outcry, or if the Ford government lost its nerve and is simply postponing the announcement.

Many students are able to fund a significant portion or even the entirety of their tuition through grants, and that is the only way they can afford it, regardless of the tax bracket their parents fall into. What will happen to these students? For starters, they will be forced to take out and pay back more loans. The cost of these loans will be inflated due to the elimination of the interest-free grace period for the Ontario portion of these loans — which gave graduates a six-month window to gain employment before running up interest on their loans. As if students in their final year didn’t already have enough to stress about, now they must frantically job hunt while cramming for exams and writing papers.

The interest-free grace period gave students a crucial cushion post-graduation, allowing them time to find a job before feeling the full weight of crippling financial debt. Its elimination will have an impact on the future of the provincial economy, as young adults moving into the workforce will have less disposable income to stimulate local economies. As baby boomers continue to age and exit the workforce, young people are poised to become the backbone of the provincial economy. It is unwise to burden them with financial debt straight out of the gate, before they have a chance to realize their full potential as contributors to the economy by entering the workforce.

This lecture brought to you by Coca-Cola?  

In a thinly veiled attempt at appeasing angry students, a 10 per cent tuition cut has been slapped on top of these austerity measures, painting lipstick on the proverbial pig that is this education budget. While this seems beneficial to students on the surface, without a means of compensating institutions for their revenue losses, this serves to further destabilize the postsecondary education system as we know it. The only institutions that will have help adjusting to the tuition rate reduction are “smaller Northern institutions” that will have access to an unidentified fund, amounting to an undisclosed amount, at an unknown rate.

In reality, the people who stand to benefit the most from the tuition rate reduction are those who can already afford it, because students who can’t afford it would have been able to offset the cost through grants, bursaries, and the free tuition program. With the aforementioned changes to OSAP, the amount of people eligible for financial aid programs has drastically been reduced, forcing students into the debt cycle immediately after graduation.

Postsecondary institutions will have to adapt to an approximate cumulative of $440 million in lost revenue, which will have a significant impact on the resources and services available to students on campus. At U of T, these measures have wiped $88 million from its 2019–2020 operating budget. According to the budget, the average student enrolled in an arts and science degree will save what amounts to $55 a month in tuition costs. In return, postsecondary institutions may rely on cutting back services and resources to students, such as closing libraries earlier or reducing writing centre hours. Depending on the individual, the savings may not feel worth it.

Regardless, postsecondary institutions will be forced to make up for this lack somehow. It is not unrealistic to presume they may choose do so through a dystopian amount of corporate sponsorships. Before we know it, lectures may soon be ‘brought to you by Coca-Cola’ on chalkboards plastered with bold logos and quippy slogans.

Prioritizing the wants of the rich

In another meagre attempt at appeasing students, the 2019 budget states students will be able to pick and choose which “non-essential” incidental fees they want to pay for. These “non-essential” fees serve to fund important student organizations and associations, such as newspapers, student unions, and clubs supporting minority groups. It is perturbing to realize how this move systematically defunds the very groups who are most likely to try and hold the government accountable for its actions and ideologies.

The degradation of the education budget is an example of the Ford government showing its true values; prioritizing the wants of the rich at the expense of the needs of the working class. Instead of balancing the budget within his first term as originally promised, Doug Ford is performing a precarious balancing act between attempting to appease students with superficial policies, while taking away key financial resources which will help them in the long run. He has underestimated and insulted the intellect of postsecondary students with red herring policies meant to distract us from the immediate and longer term consequences of these misdirected austerity measures.

As province-wide campus protests have shown, we will not take the attacks lying down.

Provincial budget outlines $9.2 billion deficit, $16.5 billion net debt increase

Ford government’s first budget sees GDP growth slow, employment growth increase

Provincial budget outlines $9.2 billion deficit, $16.5 billion net debt increase

The Ontario 2019 budget, announced April 11 by Minister of Finance Victor Fedeli, outlines the government’s intention to reduce the provincial deficit and achieve a balanced budget by 2023–2024. The budget projects $154.2 billion in revenue and $163.4 billion in expenses in 2019–2020, exceeding estimated 2018–2019 expenses by approximately $900 million. Over the next five years, the budget projects a cumulative $821.3 billion in revenue and $841.1 billion in expenses, for a net $19.8 billion deficit over this period.

As part of the province’s recovery plan, total annual revenue is estimated to grow at an average of three per cent, while expenditure will increase by an annual average of one percent. The 2023–2024 period is projected to have a “modest surplus” of $1.9 billion.

Economic and fiscal outlook

The government’s 2019–2020 plans will see net debt increase by $16.5 billion to $359.9 billion; accumulated deficit will increase by $9.3 billion to $230 billion. Ontario has the largest subnational debt in the world, for which the government will shell out $13.3 billion in interest payments in 2019–2020.

Current projected debt and deficit are greater than projections in the previous Liberal government’s budget, primarily owing to actual 2017–2018 figures being higher than previously estimated. Doug Ford’s government consequently inherited a $15 billion deficit, which it has since reduced to $11.7 billion.

The budget’s medium-term projections show that net debt will increase to $372.3 billion in 2020–2021 and $382.4 billion in 2021–2022. Accumulated deficit will rise to $235.8 billion and $240.4 billion in the same periods, respectively. This is also up from the previous budget’s 2020–2021 estimation of a $360.1 billion net debt and $212.3 billion deficit.

Owing to a “less supportive external environment,” Ontario’s economic growth is expected to slow, with real and nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth projections down from last year’s projections. The 2019 budget projects a 1.4 per cent real GDP growth and a 3.4 per cent nominal GDP growth in 2019, compared to the previous budget’s 1.8 per cent and 3.9 per cent projections. Government planning assumptions partially rely on consultations with private sector economists; in February, U of T projected that Ontario’s real GDP would grow by two per cent in 2019.

Employment growth in 2019 is forecast to grow from a previous 1.1 per cent in the 2018 budget to 1.3 per cent. Job creation is one of the government’s core commitments and, to this end, the budget notes that 132,000 net new jobs have been created since June 2018.

Infrastructure expenditure is slated to total $14.7 billion in 2019–2020, with the bulk of this coming from $8.6 billion in the transportation sector; $351 million will go to postsecondary education and training infrastructure.

Postsecondary education expenses will drop from $12.1 billion in 2018–2019 to $11.4 billion in 2019–2020.

Commercialization opportunities

The budget also includes plans to strengthen the province’s intellectual property (IP) position and increase commercialization opportunities. The government will create an expert panel that will oversee the planning of a provincial IP framework particularly geared toward the postsecondary education sector.

In addition to the wealth of research it produces, U of T is also a leading university-based entrepreneurial hub, with over 500 research-based startups launched across its 10 accelerators and incubators over the past decade.

Details on this panel’s constitution and the processes that will be involved in creating its framework remain sparse. According to the budget, “this panel will potentially include representation from the postsecondary, industry, innovation, venture capital and investment, banking and finance sectors, as well as from medical research and intellectual property legal expertise.”

While the province does not currently have a framework for IP in place, the federal government launched its Intellectual Property Strategy in 2018 and U of T has its own Inventions Policy, which outlines the commercialization processes for U of T-associated research.

Over 4,000 U of T employees represented on Sunshine List

UTAM President earns close to $1 million, U of T President close to $500,000

Over 4,000 U of T employees represented on Sunshine List

In 2018, 4,112 U of T employees earned salaries of more than $100,000, with Daren Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM), receiving $989,308. These figures were released on March 27 in the annual Sunshine List, a catalogue of public sector employees who make more than $100,000 per year in Ontario.

Employee representation from U of T and its federated colleges — the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC), Victoria University, and the University of Trinity College — has grown from 3,811 in 2017 and 3,626 in 2016. USMC and Trinity each have 20 employees on the 2018 list; Victoria has 35.

Smith is the second-highest paid public-sector employee in Ontario for the second year in a row. Brian Golden, cross-appointed at U of T and the University Health Network, is second on U of T’s list, with a salary of $493,120.09. U of T President Meric Gertler comes in third among U of T employees, earning $489,384.04 — an increase of more than $50,000 from his salary last year. Gertler tops other UTAM executives who had previously dominated the top of the list. Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr, who is 55th among U of T employees, earned $357,999.96 in 2018.
 

Over half of U of T employees on the list earn between $100,000 and $150,000. Smith is the only person to earn above $500,000 at U of T, with 24 people earning between $400,000 and $500,000. The average income of the 4,112 U of T employees was $159,767.40, which is up by about $200 from 2017, with the 2018 median income at $145,410.07.

Collectively, U of T’s Sunshine List earners accrued $656,963,528.24 in income in 2018.

Compared to the 2015 median Ontario household income of $74,287, in 2018, Smith earned 13 times more, Gertler earned six and a half times more, and the median U of T Sunshine List member earned double.