The fall of the Liberal centre puts students’ issues at a crossroads

Students must review the big issues that affect them, be informed, and vote on June 7, no matter the party

The fall of the Liberal centre puts students’ issues at a crossroads

After four controversial years of Liberal reign, a new government will emerge from the provincial election on June 7. Ontario is poised for big change — and not just because change is inherent to elections.

Kathleen Wynne, the well-qualified, perpetually unliked Liberal premier, has already conceded the election — telling voters to not worry about her being premier and to vote in as many Liberal candidates as possible, instead.  In a pessimistic call for strategic voting, the Toronto Star’s editorial board has urged Ontarians to vote for Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP) — to stop Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives (PC) from occupying the top post in Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, the Green Party remains a fringe option but reminds us of the necessity of a sustainable future.

The fall of the Liberal centre means that the future of students’ issues are at a crossroads between arguably the two most ideologically divergent parties. The party that wins will control an economy that will very seriously affect you over the next four years. Tuition, youth unemployment, housing, and transit are the big issues that should be on your mind as students, graduates, and future workers.

As of 2016, millennials outnumber baby boomers by 3.5 million in Canada, so student turnout at the polls could cause significant change for the future of Ontario. Do your part — review the big issues, as we describe them, and be informed when you take to the ballot box on June 7. If you understand what is at stake, you will know that you have no other option than to vote — whatever the party.

Tuition

Arguably the most concerning issue to students’ pockets is the rising cost of tuition and debt that accumulates from postsecondary education. In March, the Business Board of the university’s Governing Council approved widespread tuition fee increases, with three per cent raises for domestic Arts & Science, Architecture, Music, and Kinesiology & Physical Education faculties, and five per cent for the Engineering faculty.

A 2015 analysis found that Ontario has one of the least affordable tuition rates in the country for median-income families. This past academic year, Canadian full-time undergraduate programs cost students an average of $6,571, which increased by 3.1 per cent from the previous year. For students in Ontario studying business or the sciences, however, tuition fees exceeded this average, with fees for business programs topping out across Canada.

Provincial and federal policies have been implemented to offset the cost of postsecondary education, and to encourage students from lower-income families to pursue further education. As a result, student enrolment in postsecondary education has steadily increased since 2001, especially of students with lower parental incomes.

Federal and provincial financial assistance programs, like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), mainly use family income to assess which students are eligible for grants. However, strict cutoffs for OSAP eligibility mean that many students cannot afford postsecondary education. In that case, students often take out high-interest loans and accumulate student debt. In 2017, the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) was formed to help students in such tricky situations by easing restrictions to financial assistance. However, the OSG was designed to cover the ‘average’ tuition costs of a student’s program, despite the fact that many programs cost significantly more. The government did not invest new funds into this initiative.

The rising cost of tuition is a central election issue. The NDP mapped out a 10-year plan to convert all student loans to grants and forgive interest on all provincial student loans. The Liberals will put new funds into the OSAP program, particularly in the form of grants, as opposed to simply shifting funds around. The Green Party aims to eventually guarantee fully public tuition for all. The PCs have not yet discussed their take on tuition costs.

Youth unemployment

Ontario is one of the worst provinces in Canada for young job-seekers. Many recent university graduates have difficulty securing work in their field of study following graduation. A 2014 Canadian Teachers’ Federation report, referenced by CBC News, states that more than 40 per cent of youth in Canada are unemployed, working fewer hours than they desire, or have given up on the job hunt entirely. Since previous work experience is greatly preferred by employers, many new graduates have difficulty getting their foot in the door. Challenges in finding work are even more pronounced for already marginalized young people, such as those who are racialized, LGBTQ+, disabled, or low-income.

Those who do find work are met with a changing employment landscape. Increasingly, people are being hired on short-term contracts or as temporary workers, leaving them with no job security and a great deal of stress. Additionally, these jobs often have irregular hours, low pay, and no benefits. ‘Side hustles’ are becoming increasingly common for millennials in order to make ends meet. These bleak prospects are of particular concern for new graduates, since many face large debts upon completing their studies. Students need more assurance that the time, energy, and funds invested into their degrees will not be for naught.

In their platforms, all of the parties express interest in creating new jobs in Ontario. The Liberal Party highlights its record of creating nearly one million new jobs since the recession, and plans to continue this success by attracting industry, investment, and innovation to the province. The PCs plan to create jobs by lowering business taxes, stabilizing hydro bills, and cutting red tape. The Green Party is interested in creating more green jobs. The NDP plans to create more opportunities for postsecondary students to gain real-world work experience while they complete their degrees. The NDP also plans to allow more workers to unionize to improve the current problem of precarious work.

Housing

The Varsity’s 2018 Winter Magazine highlighted a serious yet largely invisible issue: student homelessness. As the Parkdale rent strike demonstrated last year, affordable housing constitutes a crisis in Toronto. Even though a 2017 U of T report indicated that U of T needs 2,300 beds by 2020 to meet housing demands, the City of Toronto has largely opposed housing expansion projects — such as the proposed Spadina-Sussex building near campus.

A heated housing market and gentrification have culminated in skyrocketing rent and a lack of affordable housing, affecting vulnerable communities — including students — the hardest. Students are often left to pay more to access housing, with compounding debt on top of their tuition. In the GTA, 23 per cent of residents pay half their income on rent. A lack of supply and intense demand for housing has led to unreasonable rental rates. However, students must concern themselves not only as current tenants, but also as near-future homebuyers who will be affected by the next government for up to four years. The rate of Canadian renters is currently higher than the rate of homebuyers, meaning that home ownership is an obstacle for young graduates and workers.

Ontario is in desperate need for an increased supply in affordable housing. All parties agree that there must be change, and that people should be able to access the housing market without taking on unreasonable risks or burdens. The Liberals’ Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan (FHP) of April 2017 was intended to improve rental affordability for all units in the province. They hope to continue to extend the FHP, increase the supply of housing, and protect renters and real estate consumers, with a $1 billion investment in affordable housing. Following sharp criticism, Doug Ford backstepped from his housing development proposal in the protected Greenbelt area, and has instead pledged to increase housing supply and cut red tape. The NDP views housing as a human right and has promised 65,000 affordable homes over 10 years. The Green Party announced that its housing plan will prioritize seniors, youth, and families.

Transit

Transit is a hot-button topic for U of T students in the upcoming Ontario election. The voter participation seen in the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) failed U-Pass referendum illustrates the crucial role that affordable transit plays for students.  In March, a total of 12,428 students turned out, with 35.4 per cent in favour and 65.6 per cent in opposition of the U-Pass. If approved, U-Pass would have provided undergraduate St. George students with a discounted TTC metropass, but with little option to opt-out.

Transit is not solely an issue for St. George students. Students at UTM and UTSC rely on GO Transit and the TTC to attend classes and also get around the GTA.

In the upcoming Ontario election, it is in the best interest of students who use transit to support candidates who prioritize low-cost and reliable transit. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s campaign promise to reduce GO Transit fares for PRESTO users is an example of such a policy. The Liberals also pledge to invest $79 billion for different public transit projects. The PC Party supports underground transit and has committed an additional $5 billion for transit infrastructure, including subways and relief lines in Toronto. Meanwhile, the NDP and Green Party promise to fund 50 per cent of the TTC’s operating costs.

U of T residents in the University—Rosedale electoral district can vote at Hart House from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on June 7.

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.

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

Party-by-party breakdown on tuition, jobs, transit, and more

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

 


As Ontarians head to the polls, four major political parties vie for their votes: the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Progressive Conservative Party (PC), and the Green Party. The Varsity has looked through each party’s platform to see how they plan to address issues that affect students, from tuition to jobs to transit and more.

Voters choose one candidate from their riding to send to the Legislature as an MPP. The party that wins the most seats forms the Provincial Government. Incumbent Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is competing with PC Party Leader Doug Ford, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner for the position of Premier, which leads the majority party and represents the Head of Provincial Government.

 

Tuition

BELINDA HOANG/THE VARSITY

While Schreiner and the Green Party do not specify a plan to address rising tuition fees and student loan debt, they do advocate for the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). If elected, Green MPPs would call for a $3.4 billion increase to the 2018-2019 budget for social assistance, and invest $6.4 billion per year by 2021-2022 to provide all Ontarians with the BIG that matches the low income cut-off.

In the 2017-18 academic year, Wynne’s Liberal government increased the number of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) grants by 235,000, bringing the total number of supported students with financial need to 435,000. The 2018 Ontario Budget draft aims to further expand OSAP loans and grants by increasing financial aid and assistance to more middle-income families to decrease the amount parents and guardians are expected to contribute.

Horwath and the NDP have pledged to replace loans with non-repayable grants for new post-secondary students eligible for OSAP. The NDP would also cancel interest on provincial student loans held by current or past students who still hold provincial loans.

Ford and the PC Party have not revealed any plans concerning tuition costs, but have stated that they would mandate that universities uphold free speech on campus and in classrooms. Ford has stated on the campaign trail that his party will “ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody.”

 

Health care and dental care

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The Green Party platform pushes for a $4.1 billion increase in funding for mental health care over four years, ultimately including mental health services in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan+. According to their website, the Party supports increased funding for culturally-sensitive mental health services.

After passing a policy introducing publicly-funded pharmacare — also known as prescription drug care — for health care recipients under 25, the Liberal platform states that, in addition to an $822 million investment in hospital care and infrastructure, they will also allocate funds to support and hire long-term care nurses. The budget also includes $2.1 billion to reform Ontario’s mental health system and infrastructure, and cover 80 per cent of specific drug and dental costs.

Horwath and the NDP have pledged to introduce dental care for all, bring in universal pharmacare for 125 commonly prescribed drugs, and provide complete coverage for self-administered cancer drugs and transition drugs. The NDP plans to meet growing hospital capacity needs by adding 2,000 hospital beds and investing at least $19 billion over 10 years in hospital capital expansion. In addition to preventing further layoffs of nurses and frontline health care workers, they would hire 4,500 new nurses, increase hospital funding, and ensure there is an adequate number of hospital staff. This would allow hospitals to remove arbitrary caps on the number of surgeries, lead to fewer surgery cancellations, cut wait times, and end hallway medicine. The NDP will also establish a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and hire 2,200 new mental health care workers.

The PC Party promises to spend $1.9 billion over the next decade on mental health and addiction support. Ford has also called for an end to hallway medicine and has pledged to add 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years, and 30,000 new beds over the next 10 years. A PC government would also invest $98 million a year to provide dental care to low-income seniors. Ford has also voiced opposition to safe-injection sites in Ontario.

 

Jobs

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The Green Party wants to relieve the financial stress on employers to ensure better wages for employees. The Party would increase the Employer Health Tax exemption from $450,000 to $1 million in payroll. To reduce the precarity many face in the workforce, the Greens argue that their BIG plan provides a social safety net to all Ontarians.

The Liberal government pledges to continue its current policies in its platform. Following the 2018 minimum wage hike to $14 an hour, as well as the planned investment of $124 million to develop youth employment, the Liberals would increase minimum wage to $15 an hour on January 1, 2019 and leave the corporate tax rate unchanged.

The NDP have pledged to create 27,000 new work-integrated-learning opportunities, such as paid co-ops, apprenticeships, and internships that allow students to graduate with real-life work experience while pursuing their post-secondary education. The NDP would also increase the minimum wage to $15 before indexing it to inflation.

According to the PC platform, their government would make Ontario “open for business” by focusing on policies that make it easier to start, grow, and invest in businesses. This would involve stabilizing hydro rates, cutting corporate income tax from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent, and eliminating “stifling” regulations to spur job growth.

 

Affordable Housing

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The Green Party would require 20 per cent of all new developments to be affordable housing. They would also increase the budget for shelters, social, co-op, and supportive housing by $200 million.

In the 2018 Ontario Budget, the Liberal government laid out plans to maintain provincial investments of more than $1 billion each year in affordable housing to target “four priority areas: youth, Indigenous peoples, chronic homelessness, and those who are homeless following transitions from provincially funded institutions and services.” This includes $3 million to develop a fund to encourage new cooperative housing.

The NDP have pledged to add 65,000 new affordable housing units over 10 years. They would also increase the percentage of affordable homes required and bring rental properties under regulation by overhauling the government’s inclusionary zoning regulations to ensure that they accomplish what they set out to do. Horwath’s party has also pledged to introduce legislation to make rentals more affordable, apply a Non-Resident Housing Speculation Tax, and fund Ontario’s one-third share for social housing repair costs.

Although few specifics have been made available, Ford has said he would preserve rent control for existing tenants across Ontario and increase the supply of affordable housing in the GTA while protecting the Greenbelt.

 

Transit

MALLIKA MAKKAR/THE VARSITY

The Green Party has pledged to implement a $1-1.5 billion per year increase for transit funding. They want the province to fund 50 per cent of the operating costs of municipal transit systems. Green MPPs would also push for a $2.17 billion increase over four years for the long-term development of municipal walking and cycling infrastructure.

In their platform, the Liberals have promised to invest $79 billion into various transit projects, including $11 billion to develop the groundwork for a high-speed rail between Toronto and Windsor. The remaining $68 billion would go toward integrating municipal services to allow for broader regional infrastructure.

The NDP have pledged to fund 50 per cent of municipal transit operating costs, build Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit and the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto, and implement two-way all-day GO rail service between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto and year-round GO rail service between Toronto and Niagara.

The PCs would commit $5 billion more in funding for subways, relief lines, and a two-way GO Transit service to Niagara Falls. They would also take the proposed $1.3 billion Hamilton LRT Project to a vote.

 

Changes in taxation

Queen’s Park, home of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. HELENA NAJM/THE VARSITY

The Green Party has proposed numerous methods to increase funding. This includes implementing a 0.5 per cent increase on taxes for the largest corporations, and taxing the top one per cent of income earners by one per cent more. They would also introduce a housing speculation tax.

On top of preserving the 11.5 per cent corporate tax rate, the Liberal Party plans to maintain the tax rate for approximately 8.6 million people. Readjusted tax brackets would see 1.8 million people paying about $200 more and about 680,000 people paying $130 less. In addition, in line with gradual increases over the past two years, the Liberals propose another $4 per carton increase in cigarette taxation in 2019.

The NDP have pledged to return the corporate tax rate to 13 per cent, while maintaining the one per cent reduction for small businesses. The NDP will raise income taxes for Ontarians earning over $220,000 by one percentage point, and for those earning over $300,000 by two percentage points. In addition, the NDP will introduce a three per cent luxury tax for vehicles over $90,000.

Ford has vowed to lower the corporate tax rate to 10.5 per cent and to reduce the rate for the provincial middle-class tax bracket by 20 per cent. He has also stated that a PC government would eliminate income tax for workers earning minimum wage anyone making less than $28,000 a year while also freezing the minimum wage at $14.

Election day in Ontario is June 7.

How green are we compared to other Canadian campuses?

U of T lacks published stats on greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption

How green are we compared to other Canadian campuses?

Despite its environmental accomplishments — like being named one of the country’s greenest employers — U of T does not publish annual statistics on its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and water consumption, unlike some other schools in Canada. Here, The Varsity takes a look at what other schools are accomplishing around the country — and how U of T compares.

GHG emissions and water consumption are two of the most important measurements of greenness, so it is difficult to quantitatively compare U of T’s accomplishments with those of other schools across Canada.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Some schools, like Université Laval and the University of Northern British Columbia are already carbon neutral, meaning that they don’t produce more carbon than they offset.

The University of Calgary (UCalgary) has decreased its GHG emissions per student by 35 per cent between 2008 and 2016, while the University of British Columbia (UBC) saw a 30 per cent reduction between 2007 and 2016. McGill University, as of 2015, reduced its GHG emissions by 25 per cent since 1990, and it has recently announced plans of to go carbon neutral.

Amelia Brinkerhoff, a sustainability strategy coordinator at McGill, said that they wanted to put something more ambitious on the table to work toward. “It’s one thing just to say that you’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s more interesting to say let’s go for zero.”

While U of T does not publish statistics on its GHG reductions, the annual Sustainability Yearbook that the school releases does highlight some savings in carbon dioxide. Notably, as of 2015, Robarts Library has saved 1,221 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, while the Medical Sciences Building has saved 1,205 tonnes.

According to Ron Swail, U of T’s Chief Operations Officer for Property Services & Sustainability, the university has managed to decrease GHG emissions despite the “massive growth” U of T has seen since 2000.

“We use less energy today… than we did in the year 2000. We’ve been able to avoid over 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is the equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road,” said Swail.

Water consumption

Water consumption is another major indicator of whether a school is achieving its sustainability goals. At UBC, water use per student has gone down 59 per cent between 2000 and 2016. According to the same metric, UCalgary has decreased consumption per student by 27 per cent between 2008 and 2016. The University of Waterloo has decreased water use per square metre by 22.1 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

James Tansey, Executive Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, said, “We don’t really have water shortages on the campus, we have [a] pretty good water supply, but we still [report on water reductions] in order to demonstrate leadership.”

Though U of T does not measure water consumption as these other schools do, Swail said that the school does use less water today than in the year 2000.

Waste diversion and releasing statistics

One statistic that U of T does publish is its waste diversion rate, which measures how much material is diverted from landfills. UTSG has one of the highest rates in Canada, diverting 70.6 per cent of its waste. In comparison, UBC was at 67 per cent in the 2015-2016 academic year, the University of Ottawa is at 64.5 per cent, and Waterloo is at 41 per cent.