U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

Open letter asserts performance-tied funding serves ideological goals, not students

U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

After the Ontario government announced in its 2019 budget that it would dramatically change the funding model for postsecondary education, a group of U of T professors and alumni wrote an open letter to President Meric Gertler on April 24 to express their concerns.

Among the changes in the provincial budget are plans to tie the amount of funding a school receives to how they are performing on a number of metrics, such as skills and job outcomes. Previously, funding was mainly tied to enrolment numbers.

In the open letter, the professors and alumni called on Gertler to refuse to participate in this new model, saying that the “proposed metrics do not in fact measure educational performance,” and their pursuit would only lead to “terrible incentives.”

The signees included professors Rachel Barney of philosophy and classics, James Allen of philosophy, Jennifer Nagel of philosophy, Sergio Tenenbaum of philosophy, and Jonathan Weisberg of philosophy, as well as alumni Stephen Chen and Terri Chu. 

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The letter cited graduation rates as an example of a damaging incentive, claiming that pressure to increase the number of postsecondary graduates would encourage universities to further privilege the admission of wealthy students, for whom finances would not interfere with graduation. Further, professors would be incentivized to pass all students, regardless of performance.

According to the signees, indicators such as this would “achieve the remarkable feat of making an Ontario university education at once less accessible and less meaningful.”

Furthermore, they assert that other proposed metrics do not correlate at all to education itself but rather to particular knowledge streams, which align with the government’s broader goals. In short, they say, “this is a radical attempt to realign what we teach and how we teach it on the basis of a political ideology.”

The letter acknowledges that the particular fogginess of the government’s plans make a “wait and see” approach palatable to institutional leaders, but it insists that this would be a “grave mistake.”

This is not business as usual, they write, and U of T should not collaborate with such a dangerous policy. They called on Gertler and his fellow academic leaders to “step up and speak out, and to refuse to collaborate in devising a regime that can only undermine the institutions [they] lead.”

Although the signees are sparse, the group expressed an intention to launch a grassroots advocacy campaign and an online petition to further share their message.

U of T response

According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, Gertler has since sent a response to the professors reassuring them that the university, as it is renegotiating the Strategic Mandate Agreement that governs provincial funding, will attempt to shape the way “performance” is defined.

Church went on to say that each university determines the weight of each indicator measured in the new provincial funding system, and as such, the university can place emphasis on areas of strength.

According to the budget, by 2024, 60 per cent of all university funding would be dictated by their adherence to these objectives. Currently, only 1.4 per cent of university funding and 1.2 per cent of college funding is connected to performance outcomes.

The performance indicators remain unreleased by the provincial government.

In Photos: The Rally for Education

Thousands converged on Queen's Park to protest cuts to education

In Photos: The Rally for Education

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.”

“We have a fight on our hands”

Two teachers on what the Rally for Education meant

“We have a fight on our hands”

On April 6, thousands of people crowded the lawns of Queen’s Park. Union flags swung above the crowd while kids dodged through protesters’ legs, dragging cardboard signs behind them.

Jointly organized by five Ontario teachers’ unions, the Rally for Education was held to protest the Ford government’s proposed cuts to education funding. Teachers, students, and concerned citizens shook signs and fists at the Ontario Legislative Building, which loomed over those gathered in its shadow.

Under the government’s new plan, 3,475 full-time teaching positions would disappear, with 1,558 positions this coming school year alone. Doug Ford further plans to increase the average class sizes of both elementary and high schools, as well as introduce mandatory online classes for secondary students. The government also proposed sweeping changes to funding for students with autism, which would drastically reduce their overall support.

Teachers, already underpaid and overworked, are infuriated. But not out of concern for their jobs or their workloads. Overwhelmingly, they’re worried about their students and what these cuts will mean for their quality of education.

To get a better sense of what this means, I asked two Ottawa-based middle school teachers: Lori-Ann Zylstra and Cindy May, who’ve both worked in education for over two decades.

Cindy is my mom, and Lori-Ann is her sister, my aunt. They’re both represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and teach in rural schools outside of Ottawa. They woke up at 4:30 am to catch the bus to Toronto for the rally and went back that same afternoon.

Lori-Ann, Cindy, and the author

“I went to the protest today because I felt it was really important to stand and be counted,” Lori-Ann told me. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding among the general public simply because they’re not teachers. When people hear 28 kids as a class size, for example, they don’t realize that that’s an average.”

Cindy nodded. “I have huge concerns about the impact of the cuts on the classroom. And what it’s actually going to mean, face to face, day to day with the students,” she added.

Classes are already dangerously large, they explained, and increasing them further will have significant negative effects on students. On rare occasions when a number of students are not in class, Cindy told me, “students who are remaining will almost always say, ‘Wow, this is so nice, we have so much time to talk about things and do things.’”

They’re also concerned about the impact the funding cuts will have on students with autism. “Doug Ford presents it like some new thing that there will be students with autism in the classroom,” Lori-Ann said, but “it is already common for me to have one or more students who are on the autism spectrum in my class.”

 She’s received no special training in how to better teach children with unique needs, but there is usually extra funding to provide specialized support. But “what [Ford] is going to do is take it all away and fund them with the same amount as a kid who isn’t on the spectrum,” she explained. This will transfer sole responsibility of their care to already-overburdened teachers.

While Lori-Ann told me that she wouldn’t mind taking on those responsibilities, she explained that “the problem is that it is already challenging to adequately service the the academic and social and emotional needs in my classroom.”

“The government claims… cuts are about fiscal responsibility,” Cindy continued. “If this is what all these changes and cuts are supposed to be about, then let’s get to the real meaning of that. Let’s address the mental health needs of our students, the social determinants of their health, development needs and so on. What are we doing now to address those?” She shook her head.

Both Cindy and Lori-Ann were also deeply concerned about what mandatory online courses for high school students might mean. “Unless you are a student who is very self-directed with lots of initiative, you aren’t going to succeed in online-only courses,” Lori-Ann explained. Furthermore, “the strong possibility is that there’s going to be private companies administering these courses,” which would effectively “move us toward the two-tier educational system,” she said.

A two-tier educational system would look something like this: children from wealthy families would be sent to high quality private schools, whereas children from poorer families would be effectively ghettoized into lower quality public schools. “And I think this is just Doug Ford’s first step into privatizing education. He’s trying to Americanize it.” Lori-Ann warned. “And we see where that’s gotten the Americans,” Cindy added.

If this worries you, take action. Cindy and Lori-Ann both hoped everyday people would engage critically with the government’s rhetoric and “just ask teachers questions, ask [them] what [they’re] so upset about.” Members of the public are also welcome to join teachers in the #RedForEd campaign, wherein supporters wear red shirts every Friday in solidarity with teachers and education workers. But most importantly, show up! “Anytime that there’s any sort of rally or protest, everyone is welcome,” Lori-Ann smiled.

“This was just the first step, I’m certain, in a series of movements and initiatives that teachers are going to take,” she said.

“In my 25 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything like [these cuts],” Cindy said. “We have a fight on our hands. And as teachers we need to be prepared to step up and fight for our students education.” We all do.

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.

Thousands protest Ford’s proposed education cuts at Queen’s Park

Massive crowd voiced anger over class sizes, dismantling autism program

Thousands protest Ford’s proposed education cuts at Queen’s Park

Thousands of teachers, students, and parents from all over Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park on April 6 to protest against proposed changes to education by the provincial government, with many coming from as far as Sudbury and Thunder Bay in more than 150 buses.

The rally was organized by five different teachers’ unions: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford’s decisions to increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28, introduce mandatory online courses for students to obtain a secondary-school diploma, and cut at least 3,475 teaching jobs across the province were among the issues protested.

These cuts could lead to class sizes of up to 40 students, the cancellation of various electives, and dismantling effects for the Ontario autism program.

The protesters packed the streets with banners at 12:00 pm, chanting “Shut it down!”, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Doug Ford’s gotta go!”

Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath spoke at the rally, condemning Ford and the education cuts.

“We have an education system that is really hanging by the thread, and we have a premier who is about to cut that thread,” Horwath said. “We are here to say no.”

Annalisa Crudo-Perri, President of the Ontario Association for Parents in Catholic Education Toronto also took to the stage. “Education is an investment in our child’s futures,” Crudo-Perri said.

“It must not become a deficit reduction exercise that will compromise their opportunity to seek higher postsecondary education.”

OSSTF President Harvey Bischof also spoke at the rally, saying, “Our message is simple: our education system needs investment, not cuts.”

He also believes that the Ford government is “starving the system” to allow for the privatization of the education system.

Other speakers at the event included AEFO Ontario President Rémi Sabourin, Ontario School Board Council of Unions President Laura Walton, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff; and Ontario Federation Labour President Chris Buckley.

“The premier, of course, will continue to threaten us and intimidate us, tell his lies, we will take none of it,” Yussuff exclaimed to the crowd.

Minister of Education Lisa Thompson echoed a previous comment from Ford, who called teachers’ unions “thugs,” and said in a statement the day before the rally that unions have not been focused on student success, adding that the government would not be “distracted by union tactics.”

 

Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT reflects on the dangers of Bill 66

Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Only a few months ago, Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 47 repealed many of the labour protections won through advocacy by decent work coalitions across Ontario — including the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Workers lost two paid sick days; pay equity between full-time, part-time, and temporary workers; and the scheduled increase of minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The bill passed despite persistent outcry, proving that Ford is not “for the people,” no matter how often he repeats it.

Following Bill 47, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government tabled Bill 66 in December, an omnibus bill titled “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act,” which proposes amendments to several, unrelated laws dealing with childcare, environment, and labour, among other things. The PCs claim it will “eliminate red tape and burdensome regulations so businesses can grow, create and protect good jobs.”

However, the so-called red tape that will be removed crucially protects workers’ rights. The bill is at its third reading stage and will almost certainly pass in the very near future.

When organizing works: the Greenbelt

When it was announced that Bill 66 would open the Greenbelt for development, the PCs were met with strong opposition. The Greenbelt, an established protected land strip, includes more than two million acres of environmentally-sensitive areas and farmlands. That section of the bill allowed municipalities to create “open for business” zoning bylaws, giving them the option to override legislation that prohibits development in the Greenbelt.

Individuals, communities, and environmental organizations were active in opposing this legislation. A testament to political organizing, the opposition was ultimately successful: Schedule 10 of Bill 66 relating to the Greenbelt was repealed.

However, while Bill 66 has received significant media and public attention around the Greenbelt, less attention has been given to its labour implications. This lack of awareness is partially due to the fact that Bill 66 is an omnibus bill that makes changes to multiple pieces of legislation at once.

Though omnibus bills save time by shortening legislative proceedings, they limit the ability for MPPs and constituents to express their objections to specific components of the bill. Instead, they are forced to either support or reject the bill as a whole. In majority governments, omnibus bills become a strategic way to quickly push through enormous policy changes — allowing segments of the legislation to fly under the radar without accountability.

Bill 66 continues the attack on labour

According to the current Employment Standards Act, for an employee to be able to work more than 48 hours a week, both the employer and employee are required to sign an agreement and gain approval from the Ministry of Labour. This specific provision has existed for nearly 75 years in Ontario thanks to labour advocates. However, Bill 66 removes the extra step of approval by the ministry, allowing employers to ask employees to work overtime with little to no oversight.

Ministry oversight is, ideally, meant to keep the power of employers in check. It can be difficult for many workers, especially workers in low-wage, precarious positions, to say no to their employers when asked to work overtime. Removing a mechanism of formal accountability makes workers vulnerable to abuses in the workplace.

Current laws also allow employers to average out hours worked over two or more weeks, but only with the agreement of workers and approval from the Ministry of Labour. For example, working 30 hours in one week and 50 hours in another could be averaged to 40 hours both weeks — and would thus not be considered ‘overtime.’

Bill 66 scraps the requirement for overtime averaging to be approved by the Ministry of Labour. Without oversight, employers are sure to take advantage of this loophole by avoiding paying workers time-and-a-half overtime pay.

When the Ford government says it wants to get rid of ‘red tape,’ what it really means is that it wants to give the green light to employers to place their bottom line above workers’ safety. Agreements between employers and workers are shaped by a clear power imbalance, in which workers are beholden to the whims of their boss, especially if they are relying on a paycheck to put food on the table.

Students are at risk

Students trying to make ends meet by working in precarious sectors, like retail or service, are especially vulnerable. As Ford’s policies, like cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program grants, make postsecondary education more expensive, students will find it difficult to say no to a boss who asks them to average their overtime hours or work excess hours.

Bill 66 also scraps the requirement for the Employment Standards Act poster to be displayed in “a conspicuous place” in all workplaces. While this change is quite small, it is not trivial: it limits workers’ access to crucial information about their rights, making them less likely to seek justice if they have been wronged.

Lastly, the bill harms construction workers. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act has a “non-construction employer” provision, which means that any employer deemed to be a “non-construction employer” is not beholden to any collective agreement that unionized construction workers would regularly be covered by.

Bill 66 expands the definition of “non-construction employer” to include municipalities, school boards, hospitals, universities, and colleges. Workers performing construction work in these settings would not be afforded the protection that their union usually offers them. By allowing these public employers to dissolve collective agreements, Bill 66 effectively undermines the power of unions, hindering access to fair working conditions and wages.

All of the changes to labour laws that this bill proposes are discomfiting, but the changes to the Labour Relations Act especially belie a pattern of the Ford government. Ford’s Student Choice Initiative effectively defunds student unions by making their fees optional, undermining their ability to provide services to students and advocate for structural change.

The collective power of students to challenge establishments like U of T is threatened by the Student Choice Initiative, just as the collective power of construction workers’ unions to advocate for workplace protections is threatened by Bill 66.

We must continue the resistance

In moments like these, when another piece of Ford legislation claws back worker protections, it is essential to remember that making noise has worked before and can work again. Though Bill 66 will pass very soon, we can still hold Ford’s PCs and exploitative workplaces accountable by continuing to organize and agitate.

Indeed, many of the labour protections that we’ve retained, such as domestic or sexual violence leave and the $14 minimum wage, are the direct result of tireless organizing by activist groups like the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Students have been a part of this movement for decent work, and we’re a part of a broader struggle that is resisting Ford’s continued attacks on our collective rights.

In this political moment, we must not only remind ourselves of the fights that have been won, but also be vigilant in advocating for one another in our workplaces and communities. Under Bill 66, when employers no longer have to answer to the Ministry of Labour, they will have to answer to us: the people.

Vidhya Elango is a fifth-year Linguistics, Anthropology, and Computer Science student at Victoria College. Talia Holy is a second-year Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, and Sexual Diversity Studies at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.