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.

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.

Back to work, but for how long?

While it facilitated students’ return to classrooms, the Ontario government’s response to the college strike was an unsatisfactory approach to resolving the labour dispute

Back to work, but for how long?

The five-week-long college faculty strike, which brought over 12,000 workers to the picket lines, has come to an abrupt end after just over a month of grueling standstill. On October 16, employees from 24 colleges, collectively represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), went on strike to fight for at least 50 per cent of faculty members to work full-time and to improve job security. The College Employer Council, which bargains on behalf of the college administrations, said that OPSEU’s demands would cost $250 million, which would result in thousands of lost contract positions. As a result, both sides dug their feet into the sand, refusing to come to an agreement.

What ultimately broke the tension was the Ontario government’s decision to swoop in with back-to-work legislation — thereby sending both workers and students back to the classroom. Although this undoubtedly came as a relief to many students previously left in limbo, we cannot in good faith praise the province’s actions without critically examining their consequences. The fact is that the conflict between college administrations and faculty is far from resolved, and the invocation of back-to-work legislation was but a band-aid solution to the underlying struggles that pushed employees to the picket lines in the first place.

It is true that, in stopping the strike, the province has at least temporarily alleviated the concerns of the many students who suffered substantially as a result of missing classes. While college administrations and faculty played tug-of-war, half a million students across the province had their educations abruptly suspended or halted altogether. Over 1,000 students at UTM and UTSC have also been affected, given the joint programs the university hosts in conjunction with colleges in the Greater Toronto Area.

While it is encouraging that the province plans to provide students with compensation for the coursework they missed, there is no tangible way to turn back the clock. A recent press release by the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario outlined the dilemma students now face: either call it a wash and bear the temporal and financial burden of a lost semester, or try to cram five weeks worth of course material into the little time that remains before end of session. Some colleges have suggested that classes will extend into winter break, ridding students of time that might otherwise have been spent with family and friends over the holidays.

International students were put in a particularly vulnerable position in this regard, given that their very ability to remain in Canada is often contingent on their ability to continue their studies. The strike’s indeterminate end time resulted in a scramble to extend study permits, which likely resulted in substantial stress for many students. Now, though other students have the option of taking time off to re-evaluate, some international students will be forced to remain enrolled in order to maintain their immigration status. This is on top of the financial costs associated with having to stay longer than necessary in a foreign country.

There is therefore a clear need to prevent the negative repercussions of strikes on students and other affected parties, as opposed to merely trying to remedy them after the fact. What this requires is long-term, sustainable support for workers, as well as meaningful negotiation mechanisms. By abruptly bringing an end to the conflict, Ontario has merely postponed its resolution.

Strikes are actions of last resort that result from logjam in the collective bargaining process. When workers have exhausted other options, taking to the picket lines may be the only reasonable way to push administrations to step up to the plate. In this case, it is reasonable to assume that the tensions that brought faculty to the point of no return will come to a head again in the future.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Local 3902 Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants among others at U of T, went on strike in 2015. The dispute’s ultimate conclusion was unsatisfactory for many people. In a move that some workers felt was inadequate, the union voted to stop striking and enter binding arbitration — a process that ultimately favoured the administration. Meanwhile, the underlying issues that culminated in the strike were left to fester until partially addressed in 2016, when the university eventually acquiesced to some of the union’s demands. Today, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and Unit 1, along with Unit 3, which represents sessional lecturers and other academic instructors and assistants. Unit 3 recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate, citing familiar concerns about precarious job security and lack of paths to permanent employment, though a tentative agreement with the administration has now been reached.

The fact that the Ontario government ultimately sent students back to school also does not absolve it of its share of the blame for ongoing problems between administrations and workers. Despite the government’s recent labour law reforms, as reported by CBC Newsabout 80 per cent of college faculty members are part-time workers, and colleges and universities continue to rely on part-time staff. The province has yet to put forth any substantial remedies to the precarious conditions often associated with this type of employment — conditions in which contract workers are being paid less than their full-time colleagues and have far fewer benefits.

It might also be argued that the province’s ability to invoke such measures comes at the expense of ensuring labour negotiations are as meaningful and genuine as possible. While both OPSEU and the colleges are responsible for ensuring staff have adequate working conditions, college administrations are the ones that directly collect fees from students, meaning they bear the additional responsibility of ensuring their educations are not unduly disrupted. With the cloud of back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads, college administrations are not given enough incentive to bargain in good faith with their faculty, putting workers at a clear disadvantage in the process.

It’s a good thing that students are back in class — but considering the strategy taken to get them there, the ends don’t justify the means. Negotiations between administration and faculty must continue in the spirit of securing a long-term, sustainable solution to this conflict. The province also has a responsibility to create conditions that are conducive to meaningful negotiation instead of waiting until the eleventh hour to take action.

Meanwhile, it would serve the U of T administration well to revisit its responsibilities to students and employees alike. Hopefully what happened with the college strike has not set precedent for how labour negotiations will be resolved in the future, particularly in the event that another strike threatens to break out at the university.

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.

What’s in a mandate?

The threshold of popular support for controversial advocacy remains obscure

What’s in a mandate?

VOTER TURNOUT RATES in the annual University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections have fallen well below what most would consider representative numbers. It was not until Brighter UofT, last year’s victorious executive slate, that election results reflected the participation of more than ten per cent of eligible voters. Granted, the university is the largest in the country and is attended by a significant number of commuters, a group whose voter participation is subject to several barriers.

The UTSU exists in order to provide some vital services to, and lobby on behalf of over 56,000 undergraduates. With their slim electoral support in mind, the extent to which the union should advocate in tendentious arenas is unclear.

For this reason, the union’s equity portfolio has drawn criticism from several students this past year. Example of this criticism are the grievances filed with the union’s Executive Review Committee over the vice president, equity and Social Justice & Equity Commission’s support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus.

That the union’s equity arm has expressed support for BDS is beside the point. Much of the furor over the legitimacy of the movement’s claims, objects, and methods is overblown if not entirely unwarranted. The movement has gained impressive support on campus without the union’s help. Over 125 faculty members signed a petition endorsing the movement’s call for divestment; additionally, BDS has been endorsed at other Canadian universities.

It is not the nature of the Commission, or the vice president’s priorities that should spark criticism. It is that the union’s equity portfolio flouts established processes and fails to account for its slim mandate when it engages in controversial activism.

Certainly, there exist systemic issues in our global, national, and institutional communities that reinforce inequitable dynamics in many forms, whether the issue is anti-Black racism, Islamaphobia, trans- and homophobia, or ableism — the list goes on. That is to say, there is no coherent argument for why equity advocacy doesn’t belong on campus.

Rather, the issue at the core of this past year’s conflicts over BDS is that equity advocacy is fundamentally at odds with populist democracy. Equity necessarily challenges the status quo and those who support it. How, then, can the union reconcile its obligations to be broadly representative, and to end up on the right side of history? The necessary threshold of community support for the union to stake an official equity position is unclear, aggravating the disagreement.

This dissonance metastasizes throughout student politics on campus and is clearly embedded in the continuing issue of BDS advocacy. Many of the students who filed grievances, and others who have expressed trepidation over the decision to wade into a discussion of BDS, pay membership fees to the UTSU and are justified when they feel unrepresented.

The situation seems unavoidable. There will always be disagreements between the electorate and its representatives on what constitutes appropriate action, particularly as it pertains to equity. This is not reason enough to suggest that the union should rein in its equity work. It might be reason enough though to re-examine the internal accountability mechanisms at play — a suggestion proposed earlier this year recommended that events organized by the vice president, equity be subject to the approval of the Social Justice & Equity Commission. The suggestion failed at the board level.

The current vice president, equity has resolutely refused to address the BDS grievances, declining to respond to, or attend a meeting with the complainants and the grievance officer, which is required by the union’s by-laws. The equity mandate seems to exist in a category unto itself while resting on the same dubious foundational support as the rest of the union’s work — there is little to no oversight or accountability.

Affordances to the lack of real democratic directive can be made for lobbying the government for access to education, increasing mental health resources on campus, and other elemental facets of student union advocacy. Whether or not they can be made in this case, or others like it, when controversy is deeply rooted remains unsure.