Doug Ford, stop trying to be the Premier of Toronto

Ford’s first months in office culminate in an assault on Toronto city politics, reflecting a faux populism that threatens Ontario's most vulnerable

Doug Ford, stop trying to be the Premier of Toronto

Last September, Doug Ford announced that he would again run for Mayor of Toronto in 2018 — having lost the 2014 election to John Tory. Ford’s experience in City Hall, however, was never commensurate with his eagerness for the mayoralty. As a city councillor, Ford had one of the worst attendance and voting records among his colleagues, often spoke of his frustrations with the council as “dysfunctional,” and even spoke about “running away” from Toronto politics.

Ford first expressed interest in running for Premier of Ontario in 2013, and so he did successfully this past year. His platform was particularly focused on eliminating the “inefficiencies” in government. He also promised to represent Northern Ontario and everyday Ontarians, as opposed to the elites.

But instead of “running away” from Toronto politics, Ford dove right in. One of his most targeted “inefficiencies” seems to be the size of the Toronto City Council, which he tried to halve earlier this summer with the passing of Bill 5.

Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba recently struck down Bill 5 as unconstitutional, ruling that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Belobaba’s ruling states that the cuts “undermine an otherwise fair election and substantially interfere with the candidates’ freedom of expression.” In response, Ford is attempting to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter, which would enable him to override certain portions of the Charter and overwrite the judge’s decision.

The number of wards is being debated and contested in the middle of the campaign cycle, with the municipal elections just five weeks away. Opposition and protest against the council size cut has intensified. Former Chief City Planner, U of T instructor, and 2018 candidate for mayor Jennifer Keesmaat even expressed support for Toronto’s secession, though she later retracted this, saying that it was in “frustration.”

Ford claims that he is standing up for the 2.3 million Ontarians who elected him, “because it is the people, not the judiciary, who should ultimately decide how we are governed.” Ford’s reasoning that he is entitled to push through legislation because he was elected, whereas the judge was appointed, is fundamentally flawed.

In an imperfect but functional liberal democracy, it is not sufficient to govern based on the will of the majority, as represented through the government. Rather, there are checks in place to protect individual and minority rights and freedoms. The independence of the judiciary reflects a separation of powers, which is intended to hold the government accountable if it tries to breach those rights and freedoms in the name of ‘democracy.’

It is vital to remember that judges are not elected because the insertion of politics into the judicial system would undermine the very impartiality needed to hold governments accountable. Ford’s disrespect for the judge’s decision undermines the very rule of law upon which our society functions, and sets a dangerous precedent to further invoke the notwithstanding clause whenever he sees fit.

His appeal to majoritarianism is also questionable. Only a plurality, not a majority, of Ontarians, voted for his government; he was handed a majority of seats in the legislature because of the first-past-the-post system. He should therefore be careful when trying to use majoritarian rhetoric, and should understand that his mandate is to govern Ontario, not Toronto.

Like US President Donald Trump, Ford is a faux populist. He claims to be challenging the elites, when in fact he is a millionaire businessman who is very much one of them. Thus far, his policies have not attempted to dismantle the elites, but rather have targeted democratic norms and Ontario’s most vulnerable communities.

His interference with Toronto’s election, for instance, happened without any consultation or electoral mandate — it was never a part of his campaign platform. Furthermore, the impact of the council size cut promises to be devastating. Fewer wards translates to more residents per ward; this means that each individual resident has less representation and voice in government.

This particularly worsens conditions for marginalized communities, who already lack voice when it comes to issues related to low-income and race. They would have benefitted from the 2016 decision to increase the number of wards from 44 to 47, as well as the emergence of newcomer candidates from those communities. Instead, they are left with less access to city democracy than ever.

Ford’s intervention, by adding confusion and uncertainty about the fate of the election, has also shifted public attention away from the actual content of the election. Issues like affordable housing and transit, which are key for students, have unfortunately taken a backseat.

Some argue that Ford’s obsession with Toronto is revenge for his mayoral loss to Tory four years ago. But this understates Ford’s ideological scope. Since the beginning of the summer, Ford’s pursuit of “efficiency” has meant cuts to social, educational, and environmental policies that would have benefitted marginalized communities. He scrapped the basic income project and made cuts to welfare increases; reversed the 2015 sex ed curriculum, which addressed LGBTQ+ issues; cancelled a curriculum update that would have included more Indigenous content; and is challenging the federal government over climate change on the carbon tax plan.

While making cuts, Ford has invested in disciplinary surveillance tactics that threaten marginalized communities. For instance, creating a ‘snitch line’ to report teachers committed to the 2015 sex ed curriculum; threatening universities into adopting ‘free speech’ policies at the risk of losing funding, which invariably targets critics of oppression; and investing millions into the Toronto Police Service in response to a violent summer, even though racialized communities have indicated the need for socioeconomic investment.

Ford’s assault on Toronto parallels his attack on universities, schools, and marginalized communities. All reflect an anti-democratic agenda, which exploits ‘for the people’ rhetoric, but in reality stands up for no one but the most privileged in society.

Democracies function by achieving a fine balance between the will of the majority and the protection of minorities. Ford does neither: he has failed to respect the will of Torontonians and engage in fair democratic processes, and through strongman politics he has made an aggressive assault on vulnerable communities in Ontario.

If Ford is truly committed to the people, he should stop making harmful cuts in the name of “efficiency” and spending time on unconstitutional power plays. He should stop trying to be the Premier of Toronto and undermining the city’s jurisdiction, and focus instead on improving the lives of all Ontarians.

Students’ political, social, and economic interests are at stake. We should be aware and ready to resist Ford if there is no end in sight to his faux populism.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

Protesters arrested, MPPs walk out from heated debate

Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

The Ontario legislature descended into chaos on September 12 after members of the opposition and the public spoke out against Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter, also known as the notwithstanding clause. This landmark decision comes after a Superior Court ruling struck down Bill 5 on September 10, which would have downsized Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats. The invocation of the notwithstanding clause by the government overrules the court decision, and allows Ford to continue with his plan to cut down city council. The provincial government is also appealing the Superior Court ruling.

Ford will be the first Ontario Premier to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the province’s legislative history. This section of the Charter allows the federal or provincial government to override certain sections of the Charter; in this case, Ford is using it to bypass the court ruling. Most instances of its enactment were in Québec as a form of protest.

Ford made the sudden announcement to use the notwithstanding clause hours after Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Bill 5. After he invoked the clause, Ford boasted of “not being shy” to pull such a move.

As a result of this bill, a single city councillor would be representing 120,000 residents in a riding — up from around 70,000–95,000 residents currently. Ford said that by doing this, he will be “saving taxpayer dollars.”

“By invoking the notwithstanding clause, he should expect the people to respond and that the people of Toronto are not going to take their rights being ignored very simply,” said Kate Schneider, a second-year Political Science student who showed up to protest the bill. “They’re not going to just let him override their rights.”

Most protesters were escorted out of the public gallery, and none remained after the first reading. Two protesters were arrested by security, one announcing that she was a “77-and-a-half-year-old woman.”

Members of the opposition criticized the arrest, calling it an attack against democracy.

ANN MARIE ELPA/THE VARSITY

Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), was especially critical of the premier’s motives, calling his move a vendetta against Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto.

“All this time to get back at, to get revenge on NDP city councillors that he didn’t like — that’s not what a Premier is supposed to do. And then to use this heavy hand, to use the notwithstanding clause to attack people’s charter-protected rights?” said Horwath later in a media scrum. “It’s a black eye on our province. It’s a shame that our premier is such a petty, vindictive human being, whose focus is on himself and his own quest to ‘show those folks in Toronto that he’s the boss of them.’”

Horwath also questioned Ford on why there was no mention of such an initiative in his 2018 provincial election campaign, claiming that he is “tramping over people’s right to override the initiative that he did not have the guts to run on.” She, like many other members of the opposition, were ejected from the chamber for disrupting the reading of the bill by banging on desks, coughing, and yelling words such as “democracy.”

Speaker of the House, Progressive Conservative (PC) MPP, Ted Arnott, Ford, and members of Ford’s cabinet left the chamber abruptly at around 10:50 am, reconvening roughly 20 minutes later.

When asked about the events that took place in the galleries, Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said, “I am fully supportive of our government’s decision to appeal the decision of the Superior Court, which we believe was wrongly decided, and so, we’re appealing that case. And because time is of the essence — there’s an election in the City of Toronto in a few short weeks — we have decided to use a tool that is a available, a legal tool that is available to the legislature.”

“We are using that tool to ensure that… the people of Toronto have rules they need and the clarity that they need for this election.”

Her father, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was a staunch advocate against the notwithstanding clause. When asked what she would say to her father, she replied, “With respect to my father, his views on the notwithstanding clause have been well documented. He is open to the opportunity to speak to those, and he was opposed to the notwithstanding clause when it was introduced — but he recognizes and said yesterday that it is a legal tool available for democratically-elected legislatures to use.”

Steve Clark, PC MPP for Leeds—Grenville, commented on the decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause, saying that “we came here with the mandate to reduce the cost and size of the government.” Clark said that constitutional experts have indicated that the government is “well within” its rights to invoke the clause.

When asked if six hours was enough time for a thoughtful, measured response to the judge’s decision, Clark responded, “Time is of the essence. We’ve got, on October 22, a municipal election. We need to be able to have some certainty around those 25 ridings and that’s why we’re reintroducing the bill.”

All Ontario universities must develop free speech policies, says provincial government

Policies must be in place by 2019

All Ontario universities must develop free speech policies, says provincial government

The provincial government has mandated that all universities in Ontario draft a policy on freedom of speech by January 1, 2019. This follows Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promise that he would “ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody.”

In a press statement released on August 30, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced that every publicly-assisted college and university will have to develop and publicly post a policy that includes a definition of freedom of speech and principles based on the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression, developed in 2014.

Free speech policy

According to the government, the policy must apply to faculty, students, staff, and management alike and uphold principles of open discussion and free inquiry.

The policy should also explain that “the university/college should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive.”

“Speech that violates the law is not allowed,” according to the press release.

For student groups, failure to comply with the policy in the future could mean a severance of financial support or recognition.

The release also states that schools should “encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy.”

In order to ensure that universities are following through, all schools must prepare annual progress reports for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, beginning in September 2019.

“If institutions fail to comply with government requirements to introduce and report on free speech policies, or if they fail to follow their own policies once implemented, the ministry may respond with reductions to their operating grant funding, proportional to the severity of non-compliance,” according to the press release.

U of T has had a free speech policy in place since 1992. SCREENSHOT VIA FREESPEECH.UTORONTO.CA

U of T’s response

U of T has had policies on freedom of speech in place since 1992. Titled the Statement of Institutional Purpose and the Statement on Freedom of Speech, they state that freedom of speech means “the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate, and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large.”

The 26-year-old policy also states that “every member should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination and harassment.”

In a press release from U of T, President Meric Gertler said, “Our principles have served us well and must continue to guide our practices. It’s important that members of our community understand the university’s policies on how we address these issues.”

“We have a responsibility as a university community to ensure that debates and discussions take place in an environment of mutual respect, and free of hate speech, physical violence or other actions that may violate the laws of the land,” he added.

In response to the Ford government’s announcement, U of T club Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) told The Varsity that it is “happy to see the Ontario Government making a commitment to the cause of free speech in Ontario universities and colleges.”

SSFS is a club that fights for the rights of students in regards to freedom of expression. It has hosted some controversial events in the past, including a rally in support of the Halifax ‘Proud Boys’ in July 2017.

“We remain cautiously optimistic as we await the full policy, and look forward to the work of Minister [of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee] Fullerton,” said the SSFS. “We hope this policy ensures the rights of students to express themselves freely while maintaining a respectful environment free from harassment and discrimination.”

The politics opposing the cap and trade plan are bad science

Ford’s climate change initiatives are damaging at best

The politics opposing the cap and trade plan are bad science

“We are getting Ontario out of the carbon tax business.”

One of Premier Doug Ford’s first moves was to scrap the cap and trade plan in Ontario and challenge the federal government. The cap and trade program rewards businesses and corporations for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to below the provincial government’s set threshold.

Now, the Ford government promises to eliminate the carbon tax as early as next month.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also scaled back its carbon tax plan, and Ford has used it as a political tool to divide Ontario from the federal government.

Starting in 2019, however, the federal government will tax Ontario companies $20 for every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted and up to $50 per tonne in 2022.

According to Matthew Hoffman, U of T political science professor, “The federal government will collect the carbon tax for the province and then funnel the tax back into the province” to aid companies and individuals with higher costs of living. However, the main issue with the federal government’s design is how exactly that will be achieved.

The carbon tax is meant to be revenue neutral, contrary to Ford’s claim that the tax is a business.

Climate change should be of greater concern to Ontarians, and scaling back the cap and trade program and rewarding corporations that pollute heavily should not be endorsed.

The Liberals had introduced the cap and trade system to Ontario, setting a long-term goal to reduce emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, as well as several interim objectives.

With Ontario under cap and trade, over three-quarters of Canadians would live in a province with some form of carbon pricing. However, Ford is erasing this progress.

Incidents like the Ford government’s scrapping of cap and trade are microcosms of a growing issue where climate change has become one of the most polarizing issues in Canadian politics.

Climate change is a unique issue in Canadian, American, and Australian politics, says Hoffmann, because in most places in the rest of world, it is not a partisan issue.

Unlike the rest of the world, where the political debate is about what should be done to stop climate change, the debate in Canadian politics is whether anything should be done at all, he says.

Despite this divide, the Progressive Conservatives have promised to unveil a climate change plan in the upcoming months.

Hoffmann believes that the Ford government’s promise to come up with an alternative climate change plan shows that Ontarians are concerned about climate change. In fact, voters have already been impacted by climate change. According to Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy, the 2013 ice storm in Southern Ontario inflicted approximately $1 billion in damages.

According to a 2011 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, climate change could cost Canadians up to $91 billion by 2050.

“Ontario voters also expect that the government should have a climate plan,” says Hoffman. “You don’t see massive protests in Ontario that are against the environment.”

The growing story is whether Justin Trudeau’s federal government will impose a carbon tax on the Ontario government if the Ford government loses the battle.

This can already be seen in the Trudeau government’s recent action to ‘soften’ the carbon tax in order to keep businesses competitive in Canada. What will become of Ontario and Canada’s greenhouse emission initiatives may be determined by next year’s elections.

If the Liberals choose to impose the carbon tax on Ontario, it could set off a political battle that may not end anytime soon.

Safe injection sites save lives

The provincial government’s opposition to the sites is a poor response to the ongoing opioid crisis

Safe injection sites save lives

The first public health emergency of the twenty-first century was declared in March 2003, four months after the first outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). There were 438 cases of SARS and 44 related deaths in Canada.

The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic from June 2009–2010, one month after the first outbreak of H1N1 in Canada. There were 33,509 cases of this virus and 428 related deaths in 2009.

Three decades after the opioid crisis was presumed to have started, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to declare a public health emergency in April 2016.

In 2017, there were 3,987 suspected deaths from opioid use in Canada — almost twice the number of motor vehicle fatalities in 2016 and eight times the number of SARS and H1N1 related deaths combined.

These staggering statistics demonstrate the necessity for an immediate, comprehensive, and detailed plan to approach the opioid epidemic. However, with Minister for Health and Long–Term Care Christine Elliot’s decision to halt the introduction of new supervised consumption sites in Ontario and to pause ongoing activities in some existing sites, the lives of many drug users are at stake.

Elliot, who became Minister at the end of June, stated in a press release that Premier Doug Ford needs to examine the evidence and hear from experts before coming fully onboard with supervised injection sites.

However, the evidence regarding Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) and Temporary Overdose Prevention Sites (TOPS) as harm reduction tools has been well established since the first site opened in 1986 in Switzerland.

SCS and TOPS provide safe spaces and access to sterile drug use equipment for pre-obtained illegal drugs, emergency medical care in response to overdoses, basic health care, and support from health professionals with the aim of reducing communicable diseases and saving lives.

According to Dr. Eileen de Villa, City of Toronto Medical Officer of Health and Adjunct Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, “Experiences from other jurisdictions other than our own local ones have demonstrated that Supervised Injection Services and Overdose Prevention Sites provide many health benefits, including reversing overdoses and saving lives.”

“We believe that these health services continue to be part of a comprehensive approach to the overdose emergency, along with harm reduction, prevention and treatment services, in response to this very challenging and complex health issue affecting so many people in our community and beyond,” wrote de Villa.

In a 2006 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found that the use of an SCS in Vancouver was associated with reduced syringe sharing, no significant increase in public drug dealing near the facility, and a reduction in public drug use.

In the three years that this study was carried out, there were no overdose-related deaths at the facility, and 60 per cent of overdoses were successfully managed by the facility without the need for external help. More than 2,400 referrals were made for addictions treatment between March 2004 and April 2005.

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Public Health in 2007 found that SCS garnered positive changes in injecting practices, including less reuse of syringes, use of sterile water, swabbing injection sites, cooking or filtering drugs, less rushed injections, safe syringe disposal, and less public injecting.

“The people who claim that there is harm would claim that people are going to be more likely to inject drugs if they know that there is a safe place to do that,” said Barry Pakes, Professor of Public Health at U of T.

“In my personal opinion, I don’t think it’s very likely that [SCS and TOPS] increase drug use, but there are some people who would believe that the more society gives permission for this, the more prevalent it might be,” he continued.

“From a public health perspective, we don’t believe that’s the case and we prefer to reduce harm in those people.”

Despite Elliot’s insistence on evaluating the merit of SCS and TOPS, the evidence which suggests that these sites do not work or increase harm is unsubstantiated.

The potential fallout of this decision could be disastrous. Individuals from marginalized groups and those who have the least resources will be most affected by the withdrawal of services.

Cities across Canada can do little by themselves to aid drug users. For instance, Toronto Public Health operates a supervised injection service, but they can’t fund or approve funding for it or overdose prevention sites. Such decisions are made at the provincial level.

A recommendation from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s review on how to deal with overdoses is expected to be released in the coming months. Until actionable steps are taken, the fates of individuals and families of opioid users remain grim.

“There is no question that addictions care could be better… but improving care is a very small part of dealing with the opioid epidemic,” wrote Pakes in an email.

Ford’s forcing of ‘free speech’ inhibits freedom

The PC government’s tying of postsecondary funding to free speech on campuses is an ironically coercive tactic that reflects antipathy toward critics of oppression

Ford’s forcing of ‘free speech’ inhibits freedom

On August 30, Premier Doug Ford delivered on his campaign promise to prioritize ‘freedom of speech’ on university and college campuses. A statement issued by the provincial government indicated that Ontario schools that receive any amount of provincial funding are required, by January 1, 2019, to develop and implement policies that would foster freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas both on campuses and within student groups.

If compliance is discovered to be insufficient, schools could face funding cuts. On an individual level, the government also recommends that students who present themselves as barriers to freedom of speech should be subject to campus disciplinary measures.

The idea of a government compelling freedom through threats and coercion indisputably contains a certain irony. There is also an eerie hypocrisy about Ford suddenly heralding himself as the defender of freedom of speech, being that one of Ford’s first actions upon taking office was to require that school teachers teaching sex ed only use a syllabus from the ’90s, essentially omitting any information dealing with gender identity, sexual orientation, or consent.

A casual reader might be confused about Ford’s seeming oscillation on the concept of the free and open exchange of ideas. However, any person who has some insight on what freedom of speech means in a modern Canadian context will be less flummoxed.

Ford’s enactment of this policy follows a trajectory which can be traced back to the University of Toronto in late 2016. The issue of free speech became contentious shortly after a series of vindictive public pronouncements were uploaded to YouTube by Professor Jordan Peterson.

In some of them, the professor adamantly and furiously denigrates the racial sensitivity training that he and his colleagues were required to undergo. In others, he angrily refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they and them, on the grounds that he does not desire to be recruited into transgender ‘ideology.’

The uproar over free speech that followed was not aimed at Peterson’s concerningly public targeting of soon-to-be-protected marginalized groups, but instead was directed at various parties of students, trans people, and Black activists who expressed concern and anger over the professor’s statements.

The connection between Peterson and the free speech policy goes deeper. Just before it was announced, the two men publicly met at an Ontario Progressive Conservative Youth BBQ at Ford’s home and discussed the issue of free speech on campuses. It seems that Peterson, frustrated at the reactions to his public speeches, discerned a potent way to bar the expressions of those who disagree with him.

So rests the self-defeating foundation underlying this distorted iteration of freedom of speech: that one should be free to flout whatever speech one wants. And no matter how dangerous, harmful, or cruel the ideas contained within, any reactions are wholly unwarranted and should be discredited — preferably with legal measures, says the Ford government.

If, hypothetically, free speech were to be truly admired and respected, the freedom to respond, protest, or otherwise react to others’ ideas would be given equal priority. There can be no legitimate freedom of expression without the freedom to express criticism. The current idea of free speech seems to subsist with narrow focus and intent: to allow social conservatives to express controversial opinions without consequence.

Unsurprisingly, this idea is quickly discarded when the controversy is from the other side of the political spectrum, or when the disparaging is directed from the disenfranchised to the privileged. We can turn to the example of Palestinian-Egyptian-American Randa Jarrar, a Professor at California State University, Fresno, who came under fire this spring for her tweet about recently-deceased Barbara Bush: “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.”

Calls for her removal from her position at the university quickly followed en masse, and the university was quick to state that her words were “beyond free speech.” Outrage from the crowd that had ferociously defended Peterson was mysteriously absent.

Perhaps this selective outrage is not so mysterious when one places the current uproar about free speech within the trend of a movement deemed by its supporters as anti-political correctness. In today’s political climate, it is for the most part no longer appropriate to openly and unapologetically say disparaging things about marginalized groups.

The federal government has taken legal measures to attempt to deter persons or institutions who might discriminate or compel violence against disenfranchised groups. For instance, Bill C-16 added gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, while Motion 103 calls for the development of approaches to reducing systemic discrimination against Muslims in Canada.

The increasing inappropriateness of publicly proclaiming ones’ hatred or distrust of marginalized groups requires that these reactions go underground — disguising themselves in clever cloaks. One of these cloaks targets political correctness, which asserts that the increased impropriety of speaking disparagingly about marginalized groups is itself oppressive and in opposition to the principles of freedom. This is the factory wherein the disguise of ‘free speech’ is manufactured.

It is a clever ploy: when the anti-political correctness brigade frames their argument as fighting for freedom, it is difficult to disagree with them without being attacked as a person who opposes freedom. Ford’s motion will likely go unchallenged for these reasons. On the surface, the discourse of fostering academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas seems unequivocally good, and a thing that should be unanimously desired by all Ontarians. Only by reading the fine print and placing the motion within the current political climate do its true intentions surface.

Campuses in Ontario stand to lose autonomy when they are required to be ideologically aligned with the state. And as with Ford’s infamous sex ed snitch line, the methods of policing that come with this bill are ambiguous. That the institution of the state would intervene and decide what kinds of discourses are appropriate and inappropriate on campus is contrary, not conducive, to the freedom of expression.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College.

Survival strategies for the Ford era

We need to stick up for each other, whether with our time, words, or money

Survival strategies for the Ford era

As Ontario’s favourite Labels and Tags aristocrat sweeps into office, the future of our sweet settler province is starting to seem a little cloudy. We no longer have a kindly lesbian with a no-nonsense haircut representing us in Queen’s Park and, like, bleeding on stuff or doing whatever it is that female politicians do.

Instead, we elected her very antithesis — and now we need to deal with it. However, unlike white wealthy men stumbling into positions of power, this is easier said than done. Everyday, we’re inundated with a range of international issues that demand and deserve our attention. The fact that many of us get to choose what to care about or pay attention to is an incredible privilege.

Nevertheless, the constant onslaught can be a lot to carry.

Personally, the rotting trust fund club that is global politics smacks me in the sternum whenever I open my phone to a goddamn New York Times push alert. That alone gets tiring.

Now I open CBC — usually the home of classical music and soothing radio personalities — to distressing headlines from my home province, my home cities, my home schools. It’s a stark and startling change. How to cope?

1. Do something about it. If you care about health curriculum rollbacks, email the Education Minister. Thanks to bureaucracy, if there’s an issue, there’s a minister. So make your voice heard. Go to protests — heck, organize a protest. Sit on the lawn of Queen’s Park and just fart loudly for a few hours if it makes you feel better. But don’t sit still and complain. If you’re lucky enough to not be directly impacted by the Ford government’s new policies, care for those who are.

2. Okay, now you’ve done something. Keep doing the thing. Get others to do the thing with you.

3. Alright, you’re really doing the thing. So are your roommates and your mom and your chiropractor. Are you tired? Yes. Okay, I respect that. Go home! Make a big pot of pasta. Cover the pasta in something rich in cholesterol and low in nutrients. And have it with a glass of wine on the side and someone you love in front of you. Talk about something silly. Like farts. Can you tell I have a true weakness for scatalogical humour? Oops.

4. Another nice way to unwind? Queer Eye. Say what you will about the show, but there is something so precious and wholesome about its lovely cast that it makes everything seem a little lighter. Plus, with Jonathan van Ness around, you’re pretty much going to church.

5. Turn off the tech! I tend to roll my eyes at The Olds constantly bemoaning the rise of smartphones and the decline of ‘real, human interaction,’ but sometimes it’s nice to swipe over into airplane mode. You don’t need to dissociate entirely, but give yourself a few hours off the news cycle. The news will go on. Haven’t you heard? CTV never sleeps.

6. Do all the classic self-care ritual junk that has been floating around the internet like single use plastic on our oceans’ surfaces. Will a Korean face mask make Ontario Great Again? No, but it might clean out your pores. And honey, based on how stressed I’ve been lately, those boys are clogged!

7. Oh god, okay, I’m gonna have to hit you with another Wholesome Tidbit — but, exercise. I know, I know, I just mentioned heavy carbs. But balance! Yes, our bodies are just flesh vessels, but sometimes it’s nice to get the blood going. I am the kind of embarrassing person who lip syncs along to my music while on the treadmill and occasionally — okay, often — air drums. I also sometimes upper-body dance, which manifests in a strange abdominal wiggle. Do I get hit on at the gym? Rarely.

8. Sit in the park with someone you love, or could love, or might be falling in love with. Friends or otherwise, INTJ or ENTJ, sometimes we all need a little human connection.

9. I am earnest to a fault and can’t help myself with this one, but don’t lose heart! We’ve got a long road ahead, and speaking out can get tiring. Don’t try to do everything all the time. You’re only human and you only have so many hours in a day.

If you’re lucky enough to be ensconced in privilege and emerge intact from Ford’s rollbacks, congratulations! But that’s no free pass. We need to stick up for each other, whether it’s with our time, words, or money. Just remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, too.

Restoring the 1998 sex ed curriculum makes little sense in 2018

The Ontario PC government’s decision to scrap the 2015 curriculum undermines youth education on crucial topics like identity, consent, and the digital world

Restoring the 1998 sex ed curriculum makes little sense in 2018

Shortly after taking office over the summer, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced its decision to repeal the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, replacing it with the previous 1998 curriculum, which was taught until 2014.

During his campaign, Ford had accused the previous Liberal government of creating a curriculum that reflects an “ideology” that turned schools into “social laboratories” and children into “test subjects.” Ford’s politicization of the sex ed curriculum as a central campaign issue panders to a vocal minority of social conservatives who have opposed the update since its inception in 2015.

However, the 2015 curriculum is a huge step toward helping all students navigate social norms in the twenty-first century. The repeal of this curriculum brings us backward by two decades: gay marriage was still seven years away from legalization in Canada, consent meant the absence of a ‘no’ rather than the presence of an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ and social media as we know it had yet to come into existence.

For U of T and other university students, many of the critical issues on campus reflect the sex ed battleground. For instance, the gender pronouns controversy in 2016 and the C grade assigned by Our Turn to U of T’s recent sexual violence policy demonstrate a systemic inability to sufficiently normalize sexual and gender diversity and consent among youth.

The Progressive Conservative government’s position does not reflect the best interests of youth — who themselves could not vote in the election. Youth, as future postsecondary students, workers, and members of society, stand to lose the ability to make informed, safe, and healthy decisions on campuses, in workplaces, and beyond.

Sexuality, gender, and consent

Unlike the 2015 curriculum, the 1998 curriculum makes no mention of different sexual orientations or gender identities. In the 2015 curriculum, Grade 3 students learn about same-sex relationships, Grade 6 students discuss assumed gender roles and the issue of homophobia, and Grade 8 students develop an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Those opposed to the 2015 curriculum have claimed that elements of it, such as discussions about same-sex relationships, are not age-appropriate. The notion that same-sex relationships are less appropriate than the heterosexual ones discussed in the 1998 curriculum is, quite simply, homophobic.

All students should have the opportunity to learn information that may help them to improve their understanding of themselves and of others. Instead, the government’s move eliminates resources and support for students trying to figure out their sexuality or gender identity.

The 2015 curriculum also made strides toward helping LGBTQ+ youth feel both accepted and included. Although Canadian society has become more accepting of people who identify as LGBTQ+, LGBTQ+ students are still the targets of bullying and violence.

For this reason, learning to accept and respect these differences at a young age is crucial. Raising a generation of Ontarians who are more accepting has the potential to be lifesaving, since bullying contributes to the higher-than-average suicide rates among LGBTQ+ identifying people.

Like LGBTQ+ issues, consent also goes unmentioned in the 1998 curriculum. The 2015 curriculum, on the other hand, has students as early as Grade 2 learning that they have the right to say ‘no’ to activities with which they are uncomfortable. In Grade 8, students develop the understanding that consent is not automatically implied just because someone has agreed to other romantic behaviours in the past.

These lessons are necessary because they can help to prevent sexual abuse and because many adults still do not fully understand what constitutes consent. According to research conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, less than a third of Canadians fully understand consent: that it must be both positive — there must be clear indications that sexual activity is desired — and continuous — it must continue throughout the sexual encounter and can be revoked at any time.

Beyond sex: the digital world and comprehensive education

Opponents of the 2015 curriculum also overlook the fact that it teaches about topics beyond sex, including internet usage, bullying, body image, and mental and emotional health. Lessons about internet and technology safety are absent from the 1998 curriculum because many of today’s technologies did not exist at the time.

According to the 2015 curriculum, students in Grade 4 learn about cyberbullying, and how to retain privacy and vigilance when using the internet. In Grade 7, students are educated on the dangers of sexting. The understanding of these digital matters is crucial to society in 2018, and reverting back to a lesson plan created before grade school students were born places them at risk of not being able to adapt to the digital world.

Some opponents to the 2015 curriculum believe parents should be responsible for teaching their children sex ed. However, just because parents can teach their kids themselves does not mean they will, or that they will do so adequately. This leaves young people dealing with complex matters, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, without support.

Students will face many of the topics that have now been excluded from the curriculum, whether they are taught in class or not. They can easily access information whether from friends or the internet. Including these topics in a formal school setting provides a comprehensive and open way to learn and helps limit the misinformation and shame often attached to them.

Moving forward in September

Following fierce backlash from parents, community members, educators, and opposing political parties, the Ford administration appeared to be backpedaling. On July 16, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said gender, same-sex relationships, and internet safety would still be taught in the fall, despite not being included in the 1998 curriculum. She also said that educators would be returning to what was taught in 2014.

However, the curriculum used in 2014 was still the 1998 curriculum. As Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser points out, there is no third curriculum, different from either the 1998 or 2015 curricula, which includes these topics.

To muddy the waters further, teachers, as of the beginning of August, do not have access to the 1998 curriculum to organize their lesson plans for the upcoming school year, which is only weeks away. As of press time, the Ministry of Education’s website still features the 2015 curriculum. Furthermore, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association has not been given any instruction on how to proceed in the fall.

Typically, when switching curriculums, training and resources are offered to teachers so they can be better prepared to teach new material. This has not occurred. Teachers need to know what they will be legally required to teach come September, especially since newer teachers may be unfamiliar with the 1998 curriculum entirely.

This uncertainty demonstrates how the Progressive Conservative government is irresponsibly reversing a policy through an irresponsible process. Come September, a number of teachers do plan to supplement the topics outlined in the 1998 curriculum by continuing to teach their students about LGBTQ+ issues, consent, internet safety, and other contemporary issues. Nearly 30 school boards have released statements expressing such intent, while one board is refusing to teach the 1998 curriculum entirely.

While expressing concern about the government’s decision to repeal the 2015 curriculum, the President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Sam Hammond, said that he would support any teachers who choose to teach beyond the 1998 curriculum. However, since the teaching of social issues will no longer be a standardized requirement, some students will lose out.

The need for accountability and inclusion

The government has indicated that the 1998 curriculum will be taught until province-wide consultations lead to a new curriculum in the 2019–2020 year. The government claims there had not been enough consultation with parents during the development of the 2015 curriculum.

However, the curriculum underwent almost a decade of consultation, which, according to Fraser, included discussions with 2,700 teachers, 4,000 parents, and 700 students. Hammond described it as the “largest, most extensive consultation process” for curriculum development in Ontario.

The Progressive Conservative government has provided no details as to what topics they wish to include in the 2019–2020 curriculum. Premier Doug Ford has promised consultations that would involve discussions with parents in all 124 ridings.

Students must hold the social conservative pushback on education policy to account, lest regressive reforms to elementary and high school settings become the prelude to dangerous policy changes on university campuses — for instance, Ford’s campaign vow to make university funding conditional to ‘free speech.’ Students and teachers should continue to advocate for the 2015 curriculum, both in policy and practice.

When it comes to Ford’s consultation process, students must demand that the government be inclusive of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds so that the curriculum adequately addresses the needs of all students and is representative of all Ontarians. The Progressive Conservatives claim to be “for the people.” It’s time for them to prove that they are for the children, too.

 

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.