Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

Endowment to be distributed to five organizations to advance gender equality

Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

The federal government will be donating a $2.4 million endowment to support five women’s organizations in the Davenport neighbourhood, as a part of the Department for Women and Gender Equality’s Capacity-building Fund.

Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz, who presented the investment on May 3 on behalf of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, said that its aims are to “help [women’s] organizations attract and retain talented leaders, to digitize critical data, to improve fundraising, and to ultimately support long-term planning through the availability of sustainable and predictable financial support.”

The press conference was hosted at Sistering, a drop-in centre for homeless or precariously housed women, which is set to receive $203,270 over five years as a part of the endowment.

Other organizations that will receive funding include the Dandelion Initiative, a project run by survivors of sexual assault and violence to tackle gender-based violence; South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC), which aims to assist South Asian women in increasing their economic, social, and political status; Working Women Community Centre (WWCC), which provides recently immigrated women with employment counselling; and COSTI Immigrant Services, an agency which assists immigrant communities with employment, settlement, educational, and social services. They will respectively receive $740,960, $230,457, $247,598, and $980,000.

Creating “a level playing field”

Speaking on the reasoning for the investment, Dzerowicz said that it aimed to create “long-term, systemic change to ensure progress continues and women advance.”

The particular organizations were chosen for their commitment to assisting women with diverse challenges and for furthering a “strong, viable, and inclusive women’s movement.” Ultimately, Dzerowicz says that the government hopes to help create a “level playing field for everyone.”

The Dandelion Initiative will use the funds it receives to develop its “Safer Spaces Ontario: Strengthening Survivor Centric Work” project. Viktoria Belle, the Executive Director and Founder of the initiative, said at the press conference that the investment “comes at a time when we have a great need to expand and strengthen our network of support for survivors.”

Sistering’s project is expected to help address the unique challenges that homeless and transient women in Toronto face by supporting the hiring of new staff and expanding its support network and services.

The SAWC’s project aims to strengthen its long-term structure and sustainability through strategic planning and communication strategies. Kripa Sekhar, the Executive Director of the centre, said that the funding will “definitely improve the lives of women because more people will know about what we do, and enhance our ability to envision what the future’s going to look like.” This is the first time the centre has received federal funding.

The WWCC’s grant will help expand its support network for newcomer women from Portugal, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The funding will help further the WWCC’s work in helping women with language instruction, housing, and job training. Marcie Ponte, the Executive Director, expects the investment to “make a difference in the lives of many women throughout the Greater Toronto Area.”

The largest investment, nearing $1 million, goes to COSTI’s project. With the funding, Executive Director Mario Calla hopes to enhance their ability to identify and fill service gaps for diverse women who are experiencing gender-based violence.

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.”

Things to know about the 2019 federal budget

Budget increases student work placements, entrepreneurship support, eases student loan costs

Things to know about the 2019 federal budget

The federal government’s recently announced 2019 budget outlines a number of key provisions to support students and young adults, ranging from increased job creation to easing student loan repayments. What is the significance of some of these major changes, and how will they be implemented? The Varsity spoke to Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance (Youth Economic Opportunity) Jennifer O’Connell to learn more about what the budget has in store for students.

Student work placements

The federal government aims to create 84,000 new student work placements per year by 2023–2024. Expanding this program will cost about $798.2 million over five years. Of this amount, $631.2 million will be used to expand student work placements beyond the STEM fields. This will provide 20,000 new placements per year for students across numerous disciplines by 2021–2022.

Beginning in 2020–2021, $150 million will be allocated to the government’s Employment and Social Development Canada to create partnerships with businesses and support 20,000 additional student work placements.

The final portion of these changes is $17 million, budgeted to support the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, which aims to create 44,000 additional jobs per year by 2021. The initiative is run by the Business Council of Canada and partnered with a number of postsecondary institutions and private companies to “deepen collaboration and improve opportunities for young Canadians.”

“The idea is to complement current co-op programs, to complement internship initiatives, not to replicate and not to undermine existing academic institutions that have programs in place,” Bains said. “The goal is to leverage the most we can of the private sector.”

When asked how the government would ensure that its investments would be apportioned to creating student work placements that would benefit students and universities, Bains said that the vetting system “is still a work in progress” that would be adjusted “in the coming weeks and months as [the government moves] forward with implementing this initiative.”

O’Connell said that ensuring work placements are both incorporated into curricula and are paid is important. “We think that if students are being paid for their work, that [will ensure that there are no] abuses in the system, that you’re not just taking advantage of a student’s work… if a business has to pay that student, then they’re going to make sure that it’s a position that is actually adding that value.”

Entrepreneurship and research

With $38 million in renewed funding to non-profit organization Futurpreneur, the federal government is expecting to support the work of approximately 1,000 young entrepreneurs per year. Futurpreneur has provided financial and mentorship support to over 12,000 entrepreneurs since 1996.

“The exciting part is 40 per cent of them [in 2017] are women and that’s double than what we see in the private sector,” Bains said. “We’re really excited about that trendline because we want an economy that works for everyone.” Of the funding, $3 million will specifically be targeted support for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Bains added that this funding would complement existing entrepreneurship programs at U of T, including “Vector, [the Creative Destruction Lab], or MaRS, where there’s a lot of commercialization occurring, where businesses have the opportunity, where students have the opportunities to take their ideas to market.”

Bains also mentioned Canada’s Intellectual Property Strategy, an initiative that he launched in 2018, as an example of the supports provided to young entrepreneurs and researchers more broadly.

“One thing that we are very mindful of is that as we’re developing investments in research, as we’re focusing on commercialization, that we also lead on governance,” Bains said. “I’m firmly of the view that in the coming weeks and months you’ll see us take clear positions around how do we build trust with these investments as they’re becoming more and more commercialized.”

When asked to comment on the federal government’s stance on Huawei given security concerns brought up by other countries, Bains said that it is currently analyzing whether the Chinese firm is a cause for concern over privacy and public safety. He added that the Intellectual Property Strategy is a tool that can address incursions into research, including research that U of T conducts through its million-dollar Huawei partnership. “We need to… have robust policies and frameworks to protect the Canadian ideas and Canadian partnerships.”

Student loans

In a move that will cost $1.7 billion, the budget also outlines plans to change the federal portion of student loans by lowering interest rates and making the six-month grace period following graduation interest-free. These changes are expected to save approximately $2,000 over the period of their loan repayment. For students using the Ontario Student Assistance Program, these changes is counter to the provincial Progressive Conservative government’s introduction of interest accrual during the grace period in January. The provincial government said that its change was to “align Ontario’s repayment terms with that of the federal government… to reduce complexity for students.”

“We think more people should be able to afford a postsecondary education and we think we’re concerned about the increase of that cost and the debt,” O’Connell said. She added that the federal government’s changes to student loans were inspired by comments and concerns it had received from before Ontario’s changes.

O’Connell, who represents the Pickering—Uxbridge riding, said that she has heard a number of concerns with the provincial government’s changes to student loans. “I think that this budget and our focus on youth and making education more affordable should be a signal,” she said. “We’re happy to work with the province if they want to align their policies in this way.”

— With files from Srivindhya Kolluru

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

Additional job opportunities, mental health leave support among other changes in 2019 federal budget

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

The federal government is set to lower student loan interest rates and make the six-month grace period following graduation interest-free, according to its 2019 budget released March 19. The budget also provides financial support for students who are on parental leave, increases job placement availabilities for students, and provides additional funds to attract more foreign students to Canada.

Student loans

The federal government has reduced the floating student loan interest rate to the prime rate, from its current 2.5 per cent over prime. The fixed interest rate will be reduced to prime plus two per cent from the current prime plus five per cent. Most student loan recipients use the floating interest rate, which fluctuates, as opposed to the fixed interest rate, which remains constant for the duration of the loan. The prime rate refers to the annual interest rate that major financial institutions set.

These cuts are expected to cost the federal government $1.7 billion over the next five years. The budget predicts that the average student will consequently save approximately $2,000 over the period of their loan.

Currently, during the grace period, Ontario students who use the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are not charged the one per cent over prime interest rates for the provincial portion of their loans, but the federal portion of loans begin accumulating interest immediately following graduation.

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ OSAP reconfigurations earlier this year eliminated the interest-free grace period for the provincial portion of student loans. This means that the statuses of the federal and provincial portions of OSAP loans have effectively swapped. Perhaps ironically, one of the stated reasons the Ontario government made changes to OSAP was to “align Ontario’s repayment terms with that of the federal government… to reduce complexity for students.”

The federal government is also set to implement interest- and payment-free leave for students using OSAP who are on temporary leave from university due to medical or parental reasons, including mental health leave. These can be used in six-month periods for up to 18 months total.

Additionally, the budget proposes increases in compensation to provinces and territories by $20 million over five years. This compensation will be used to supplement provincial student aid systems, like OSAP.

The federal government is also set to invest $15 million to support students with loans who have disabilities or are in “vulnerable financial or life situations.”

Other changes

Sweeping changes are in store for job- and volunteer-seekers. Initiatives to create 15,000 service placements, connect 90,000 young people with jobs, add 84,000 new work placements by 2023–2024, and provide five years of support to 1,000 entrepreneurs will cost the federal government a total of $1.2 billion.  

The federal government has also proposed an additional investment of $37.4 million over five years to expand parental leave coverage for postsecondary students and postdoctoral fellows. It also expands coverage from six months to 12. The budget notes that these expansions “will further improve equity and inclusion in research.”

Over five years, $147.9 million of the budget will also be used to develop a new International Education Strategy. Part of these funds will go toward developing “an outbound student mobility program” for students who pursue studies or work abroad, while the other part will “ensure that top-tier foreign students continue to choose Canada as their education destination of choice.”

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler praised the announced expansion of master’s and doctoral scholarship awards and mobility programs. “These investments in experiential learning are investments in Canada’s future,” he said.

“The investments are good news because they will drive economic growth by giving Canadians the skills they need to succeed. They will enhance the success of U of T graduates and others across the country who are entering the labour force.”

Federal government to defund Networks of Centres of Excellence

Longstanding program has provided U of T with over $115 million since 1989

Federal government to defund Networks of Centres of Excellence

A 30-year-old federal funding program that has invested around $2 billion in scientific research, commercialization, and knowledge translation across Canada will be discontinued and phased out over the next three years, according to an announcement from Science Minister Kirsty Duncan last month. 

Lauded for increasing collaboration among scientists, researchers, and manufacturers, the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) is widely considered to be the catalyst for innovative world-renowned research that has established Canada as a global leader in science. 

Since its conception in 1989, the NCE has helped train more than 48,000 personnel, created 147 spin-off companies, and sponsored 1,332 startup companies with the goal of addressing challenges in Canada’s social and economic spheres. 

According to Vivek Goel, U of T Vice-President Research and Innovation, “The NCE program has helped support many cross-disciplinary research projects [at U of T] that brought together researchers from across the country to address pressing challenges.”

From student scholarships to startup seeds, U of T has benefitted from the variety of resources offered by 44 participating NCE organizations. The Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) in particular has supported the launch of three successful companies with U of T connections: BlueRock Therapeutics, ExCellThera, and Avrobio. 

“Our host is [the] University of Toronto, so we have a special and deep relationship with U of T,” said Michael May, CEO of CCRM and U of T alum. “We also attract companies from around the world to work in Toronto — to help advance their own initiatives and expertise. And facilities at the University of Toronto and other institutions in Ontario are important for attracting those anchor partners.”

Although the cancellation of NCE funding for CCRM — and by proxy U of T — makes it more difficult to translate research into commercial goods, both institutions have multiple sources of funding and can continue to function according to May. 

“A lot of government funding is on projects, and the NCE funding for us was building a platform, on building an ecosystem and a very specialized team with facilities to actually drive technology forward,” said May. 

“Our connection and partnership with the University of Toronto and other institutions goes beyond one source of funding and it involves lots of people, researchers and companies. It will not affect our relationship with U of T. It just makes it harder for us to achieve our common mission of getting product from the good research that happens.”

Less than one per cent of U of T’s total research funding in 2016–2017 came from the NCE. However, for U of T’s partner organizations that fund students at U of T and are solely funded by NCE, the funding decision could be disastrous and potentially slow progress in important scientific fields.

“If we’re successful in our renewal this summer… and we get the final three years [of research funding], at the end of those three years, our program will be shut down,” explained Alex Mihailidis, principal investigator and joint Scientific Director of AGE-WELL at the Toronto Rehab Institute. AGE-WELL is an NCE-funded organization that seeks to help older Canadians maintain their quality of life through the creation of innovative technologies and services.

In light of the cuts, Mihailidis said, “Our researchers will now have to start applying to the usual programs that already exist, that historically have very poor acceptance rates or success rates.” 

“We fund a number of researchers and students at U of T. So obviously that money will be lost, we will not be able to support great research that is happening there.”

Although the federal government has announced a replacement program, the New Frontiers in Research Fund, there is growing criticism of the decision to abandon the network model. 

“What we’ve done is that we have brought the community together,” said Mihailidis. “I know what the landscape was like before AGE-WELL. We were all trying to do our own things, we weren’t working well together, we were not getting industry involved, we were not getting older adults themselves involved in research, which is so critical and AGE-WELL was able to do that.”

“We were able to bring all these pieces together into one cohesive network working together towards the common goal,” said Mihailidis.

“It worries me if [the program is] not replaced with a strategy of coordinating good academic research in institutions with vehicles like CCRM that translate them and commercialize them,” said May. “By stopping the funding and having a number of new disconnected funds be proposed… I just don’t see the productivity. I don’t see the coordination. I worry about that strategy.”

U of T alum David Lametti new Attorney General in cabinet shuffle

Lametti replaces Jody Wilson-Raybould

U of T alum David Lametti new Attorney General in cabinet shuffle

In the latest cabinet shake-up on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Montréal MP and University of Toronto alum David Lametti as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, replacing Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Lametti, who graduated from U of T with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science in 1985, was promoted from his role as Parliamentary Secretary to Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous person and third woman to hold the position, was moved to a different portfolio as Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.

The shake-up is the last one expected before the federal elections in fall 2019.

Lametti is a former law professor at McGill University. He has represented the riding of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun since 2015.

Federal budget’s $3.2 billion investment is a win for science

More research funding means more student research opportunities

Federal budget’s $3.2 billion investment is a win for science

On February 27, the Liberal government announced the federal budget, which includes a $3.2 billion investment in scientific research over the next five years.

A fund of $1.7 billion will go toward research granting councils — the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — and $1.3 billion will be used to fund overhead expenses like research infrastructure, laboratories, and supplies.

Additionally, the budget proposes the formation of a new tri-council fund that will spearhead research that is internationally and interdisciplinarily based.

This large investment was driven considerably by the Naylor Report, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, led by U of T President Emeritus David Naylor and commissioned by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in 2016. The Naylor Report outlined 35 recommendations for the government to implement in order to better support scientific endeavors, including a $1.3 billion increase for research granting councils by 2022.

Though Budget 2018 does not meet all criteria outlined by the Naylor Report, it is evident that the government listened to scientists and took note of the Support the Report campaign led by U of T last year.

“The government did send a very positive signal to the scientific community, and provided for increased and longer-term stability to research funding going forward,” said Bryan Stewart, Vice-Principal of Research at UTM. “This is very welcome news.”

According to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, this investment is the single largest in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history. Morneau also said that the investment will help spur new industries and careers in Canada.

“Federal research grants have a huge impact on any individual researcher’s ability to supervise and train students of all levels,” said Stewart. “Any uptick in research funding will allow for more student research opportunities, and unfortunately, any downturn in research funding has the opposite effect.”

Additionally, the government plans to invest $210 million over five years in the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program. This CRC investment also aims to support talented early-career researchers and diversify its nominees to include more female researchers and researchers from underrepresented groups.

Only 28 per cent of Research Chairs at major universities are women, and they are typically at the bottom of CRC’s funding tiers. The budget aims to address federal sector gender pay inequity through proactive legislation. On average, a woman earns $0.87 for every dollar a man earns.

The budget also addresses inclusivity: $25 million has been allotted to support Indigenous research and researchers from minority groups so that they are better represented.

“Fundamental research explores the basis for why things are, and applied research tends to focus on how to use fundamental knowledge to make things work,” explained Ulrich Krull, the Principal of UTM. “Economic impact is largely tied to success in making things work, but this has no traction unless there is understanding of what needs to be done and there are skilled people available to creatively solve problems.”

While the reaction to the scientific funding allocation of this budget has been overwhelmingly positive, some have criticized the government’s inattention to the slow return on investment correlated with fundamental research, calling the investment an unwise way to spend tax dollars.

Funding for the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program has not been renewed and will end this year. This lack of funding will halt progress on research in the Arctic.

Despite concerns and a few gaps, Canada’s scientific community has rejoiced over the budget and that the government listened to the community’s concerns over lagging research and funding for investigator-led fundamental research.

“Overall, this budget sends a clear signal that the federal government understands that universities have a unique positioning to drive social, economic and cultural growth,” said Krull.

A prime minister for progress

Reflections on Trudeau’s promises to science

A prime minister for progress

It was already dark out on October 19, 2015 when Justin Trudeau took to the stage amid thunderous adulation in the Liberal Party headquarters. With the eyes of millions of Canadians on the newly-minted Prime Minister, he promised that, in Canada, “better is always possible.”

Since that night, numerous groups have debated whether a better Canada has indeed become our reality. For the scientific community, the election of Trudeau, following nearly a decade of silencing and suppression under the Harper administration, was the dawn of a brighter era. It is undoubtable now at the halfway point of his mandate that Trudeau has been a far better friend to scientists than Stephen Harper ever was.

Trudeau’s support for the scientific method and those who practice it is no recent development either. In the announcement of his intention to run for Liberal leadership in 2012, he stated that “the only ideology that must guide us is evidence. Hard, scientific facts and data. It may seem revolutionary in today’s Ottawa, but instead of inventing the facts to justify the policies, we will create policy based on facts.”

As an aspiring scientist, it is easy for me to praise Trudeau as a progressive champion for science in light of Harper’s clampdown, but what has Trudeau accomplished in cold, hard fact?

Acknowledging Trudeau as a breath of fresh air for scientists is not simply a hyperbolic partisan claim. Of utmost importance to scientists was Trudeau’s immediate reversal of the Harper government’s policy forbidding federally-funded scientists and other government officials from speaking to the press and public without legal hoops to jump through and permissions to obtain. There was also the restoration of the mandatory long-form census, to the hearty approval of social scientists everywhere.

However, the lack of suppression is not quite the same thing as progression. What precisely has Trudeau done beyond simply not hampering the efforts of scientists?

Most obvious and appreciable are the appointments made under Trudeau’s administration. As promised, the federal government created the non-partisan position of Chief Science Advisor and filled it with University of Ottawa’s Dr. Mona Nemer this past September. This was followed by the installation of Julie Payette this October — astronaut, engineer, and businesswoman — as Canada’s 29th Governor General.

The inclusion of scientists and other high-achieving people in government, however powerful their roles may actually be, demonstrates that the government is not simply paying lip-service to those who want experts contributing to the decision-making process.

Similar appreciation should be shown for the series of investments made by the federal government into research and green technology. With the $800-million-promise to a new Innovation Agenda fulfilled, the Liberal government has made it clear that they value the expansion of Canadian industries supported by science. Likewise, a number of environmentally-friendly decisions like the cancellation of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the restoration of federal funding into ocean and freshwater research demonstrate a commitment to evidence-based policies.

From the above, it is clear that the realms of science and innovation were not mistaken to place their trust in Trudeau. But, in the spirit of empirical science, it is important to judge the administration not only on its successes, but on its failures as well.

There are several decisions and policies that I would call technical failures, where Trudeau made promises for science innovations but did not fully carry through with these promises. An example is the $50 million dollars given to the Industrial Research Assistance Program when $100 million was promised. Others, like the incomplete repeal of the ban on blood donation for LGBTQ men, appear only to be negotiated variants of original promises.

With all of this in mind, I find it is easy to conclude only one thing about the Prime Minister with certainty. Although Trudeau is a vast improvement on Harper with regard to science, he is not the torch-bearing messiah of science that some had hoped him to be, and that perhaps was implied during his campaign.

Yet total pessimism is undue. In the past two years Trudeau has clearly delineated his position as a supporter of scientific progress in Canada, with only the degree to which he is dedicated in question. In a world where anti-intellectualism is becoming increasingly prevalent in democratic governments, scientists — and the public alike — should be thankful for the leadership we have, despite its flaws.