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Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

U of T visit part of town hall series before 2018 election

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Hart House on March 1, delivering a keynote address and participating in a moderated discussion hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogues Committee. The event was largely focused on student-related subjects.

The discussion and Q&A period with the audience, led by Debates & Dialogue Committee student chair Aceel Hawa, focused on the province’s minimum wage increase and issues of mental health.

During her address, Wynne emphasized the significance of publicly funded education, which she described as “the most important” government responsibility. “I’m in politics because I believe that there is inherent unfairness in our world — that’s a reality that we deal with,” she said. “I came into politics because of my deep commitment to publicly funded education.”

Wynne also spoke to the controversial decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. The change, she said, was balanced with a decrease in small business taxes from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent as well as youth hiring subsidies. She added that the minimum wage change is closer to providing a living wage for GTA workers and was instituted during an opportune time of economic growth.

Audience members expressed concern that the government had failed to deal with employers sidestepping the minimum wage increase by cutting worker benefits and breaks. In response, Wynne said the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors visiting businesses had been increased to ensure that improvements for workers would materialize.

“The vast majority of employers are following and complying with the law, but we’re very determined to make sure that happens,” said Wynne. “If we find that it’s not, we’ll move ahead with making more changes.”

Another topic addressed by Wynne during the Q&A session was mental health. She said that the government had a clear plan to put more money into support on campus and in the community. “You will see, as we move forward, we are going to make more investments to provide more practitioners, more places for people to go to find mental health supports.”

The Premier’s visit was part of a series of town hall-style events that have recently focused on issues relevant to postsecondary students. The province will take to the polls in a general election in June 2018.

College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne introduces legislation to force end of strike

College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation

Since October 15, over 12,000 Ontario college professors, instructors, counselors, and librarians have been on strike, demanding academic autonomy and longer contracts. Last weekend, the Ontario legislature passed a bill that will force them back to work on Tuesday, November 21, ending the strike and pushing outstanding issues to a binding mediation-arbitration.

MPPs debated in a special weekend sitting of legislature to get the bill through. It passed by a vote of 39 in favour and 18 against, with all Liberal and Progressive Conservative (PC) MPPs present voting for it and all New Democratic Party (NDP) MPPs voting against.

The bill would have sent students back to class on Monday, November 20 if it had reached unanimous consent in legislature, but it was blocked by the NDP, with party leader Andrea Horwath claiming, “I want students back in classrooms Monday, and I want that achieved through a deal.” The PC party has supported the back-to-work legislation from the beginning. Classes for students will now resume on Tuesday, November 21.

The strike has affected 1,000 students in joint UTM-Sheridan programs and less than half of the 170 in UTSC-Centennial programs.Province-wide, approximately 500,000 students found themselves “caught in the crossfire,” of the strike, said Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren Thomas.

Efforts to end the strike diminished when striking faculty members voted overwhelmingly to reject a contract offer by the College Employer Council, which approached the Ontario Labour Relations Board to force a vote — at least 50 per cent plus one vote in favour would have been required to approve the offer. A total of 95 per cent of the 12,841 striking faculty voted, with 86 per cent voting to reject the council’s offer.

Thomas called the bill “the worst kind of political theatre,” claiming that it pitted students against faculty.

“I am disappointed in the extreme that, even after the College Employer Council extended the strike by two weeks by forcing a vote on its last contract offer, and even after 86 per cent of faculty emphatically rejected that offer, the Premier has put forward a bill that does nothing to hold the colleges responsible for their bad behaviour throughout this process,” said Thomas in a bulletin posted on the OPSEU web site.

Thomas blamed the council for the length of the strike, claiming that they knew they would get the back-to-work legislation and then “ran the clock down” until that occurred. He goes on to claim that the council has been “vying all along” for the return to work legislation to result in arbitration, but he said they might be in for a “rude awakening” depending upon the arbitrator, equating the varying possible outcomes of arbitration to “rolling the dice.”

Meanwhile, legislatures justified the legislative decision by referencing the students affected by the strike. “Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it is not fair,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in her initial statement proposing the back-to-work legislation.

International students

International students have been especially concerned since their fees are significantly higher than domestic ones. Potential extensions for the semester may result in additional rent and other expenses.

“The situation is a mess,” said Temiloluwa Dada, a fourth-year international student from Nigeria. He is expected to graduate at the end of the academic year, but his plans may be subject to change, and a study permit renewal will be necessary if his graduation is postponed. Dada still has an internship to complete for his journalism program, which could also be affected by the prolongation of the semester.

“My meeting with the school wasn’t as productive as I would have liked it to be,” said Dada. He stated that the staff he spoke to at UTSC said that “UTSC’s plans are contingent upon the length of the strike and what Centennial College plans to do.”

Elizabeth Oloidi, another fourth-year international student from Nigeria, is concerned about her plans after graduation, which is supposed to take place at the end of this year. Like Dada, she will have to renew her study permit and visa as a result of the elongation of her study period. In addition, she is worried the strike may affect her grades.

“If I go outside of Canada to pursue my graduate studies not all institutions might understand the strike that happened at a college while I was a university student,” said Oloidi, “and why that affected my grades so much in what was supposed to be the last year of my studies.”

Both Dada and Oloidi had plans to travel back to their families during the winter break, but now their plane tickets may have to be postponed or cancelled.

The state of provincial politics, explained

The state of provincial politics, explained

On June 7, 2018, Ontarians will head to the polls and elect a premier. With Democracy Week happening from September 15–21, people across the province will be celebrating our democratic institutions in preparation for the next major election.

The Varsity compiled a guide outlining the current state of provincial politics as we enter the unofficial campaign period this school year; before the media buzz and before the noise — this is what you need to know, now.

The Issues at Hand


Students will want to pay particular attention to this election cycle as there are a variety of policy proposals that will directly affect them. Kathleen Wynne’s education budget was increased to $23.8 billion this year, however, much of these funds will be distributed within the public and Catholic school boards to help children with special needs and reduce class sizes.

Another education issue up for debate is whether public and Catholic school boards should be merged. Merging the two school boards will help with budget allocation and will reduce redundancies in the budget but will cause a prominent culture-shift in the province.

With regards to post-secondary education, candidates will likely argue vastly different opinions on specific issues that affect college and university students. These issues include recent reforms in financial aid for students, including the implementation of the Ontario Student Grant, an additional $6 million for post-secondary mental health funding, and possible changes to funding programs based on graduation statistics and employment rates.

Environment, resources, and energy

Speak to any homeowner in Ontario and you are almost guaranteed to hear dissatisfaction with the rapidly increasing costs of hydro. This has been one of the more controversial aspects of the provincial government, and can partly account for Kathleen Wynne’s abysmal approval rating. It is possible that hydro rates, and the sale of Hydro One, will be a deciding factor in the 2018 Provincial Election.

The environment is another important issue this election, however it seems to have dropped in urgency among the electorate given the concerns surrounding hydro rates.

The economy

Employment and the job market is almost always a point of contention for party leaders in election campaigns and, unsurprisingly, the issue is just as important for much of the province. Additionally, jobs are on the forefront of the minds of post-secondary students, especially those graduating soon. While Ontario is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate since 2001, the youth unemployment rate remains higher than the national average.

Housing affordability and the housing market is a cause for concern. Demand for houses and apartments is on the rise within the GTA and the lack of properties for sale is causing prices to skyrocket. According to RBC’s Provincial Outlook, the rapidly increasing housing prices were on a path to destabilize the market, however Wynne’s Fair Housing Plan has slowed these rapid increases.


One issue expected to garner a lot of voter attention during this campaign is healthcare. Currently, Ontario has a universal, single-payer healthcare system to provide healthcare for citizens. Yet, Canadians are required to pay out of pocket or depend on insurance provided by employers to cover the cost of prescriptions.

Pharmacare, hospital, and clinic wait times will remain a primary topic in this election cycle.


Transit and infrastructure will be a specific concern for the electorate within the GTA. There have been significant controversies within the TTC in the past few years, including the dismal Bombardier streetcar contract and the PRESTO contract.

According to the TTC’s status report by CEO Andy Byford, customer service performance was off target for all four subway lines with regards to transit delays. The GTA’s electorate has undoubtedly noticed these delays and will likely take this into consideration when casting their vote.

Another consideration will be the rising cost of the one-stop Scarborough subway extension and the criticisms it has faced.

The breakdown: who’s who in the 2018 provincial election

Patrick Brown — Progressive Conservative (PC) Party

Sitting at the top of the polls, with 10–20 point differences, is PC Leader Patrick Brown. Elected to the position on May 9, 2015, Brown is no newcomer to politics. Brown comes from a political background, having served as the MP for Barrie under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper for nine years. Prior to this, Brown was elected to Barrie’s city council when he was 22.

Brown’s platform has struggled to win voters’ attention, however as the election campaign gets underway, it is likely that specific platform points will become more apparent.

Brown has focused much of his leadership on invoking a grassroots, socially progressive image for the PC party with an entire advertising campaign focused on diversifying the image of the party as more inclusive to Ontarians with minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs.

Brown also attended and marched as part of the Toronto Pride parade in a sign of support for LGBTQ+ Ontarians. However, as a federal member of parliament, Brown opposed gay marriage.

Much of Brown’s policy thus far concerns the environment and hydro taxes. His endorsement of a carbon tax and explicit acknowledgement of climate change is a powerful attempt at rebranding the PC image.“I am going to be a Progressive Conservative who talks about the environment,” he stated.

Although no official hydro plan has yet been proposed by the PC party, Brown denounced Wynne’s 25 per cent hydro rate cut. He argued that it is short sighted, that long-term interest will cost Ontarians $25 billion, and that it fails to target “structural issues,” specifically the “bad” private electricity contracts he vows to cancel if elected Premier.

What to watch for this year:

Social issues: Brown has a track record for social conservatism, however his PC rebranding could suggest otherwise

Leadership: Brown has offered the public little on his personality and personal leadership style

Policy: expect concrete policies this coming year

Andrea Horwath — New Democratic Party (NDP)

Trailing closely behind Brown in the polls is NDP leader Andrea Horwath. Horwath has been the leader of the provincial NDP for eight years, despite having received flack for triggering the last provincial election by revoking support for the Liberal’s budget and subsequently failing to increase NDP seats.

With an arguably vague platform in the 2014 election, the NDP this year has an ambitious and specific platform. The platform is outlined in a 40-page vision statement entitled “It’s About Change. It’s About You.”

Broadly speaking, in addition to promising to raise the minimum wage in Ontario to $15 last year — something the Liberal government announced this past May — Horwath’s platform points mostly encapsulate hydro and pharmacare.

With regards to hydro, the NDP has outlined a policy proposing to cut hydro costs by up to 30 per cent through negotiations with the federal government. They have also said they will renegotiate or cancel long-term private electricity contracts signed by previous Liberal and Conservative provincial governments.

Recently, Horwath also announced the NDP’s $475 million-a-year universal pharmacare plan, the first in Canada, which would guarantee all Ontarians prescription drug coverage. The NDP proposes that the plan would create $835 million in savings for private payers, and $1.9 billion in private sector savings.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Distance from the Liberals: recently, Horwath stated the Liberals were stealing NDP policy ideas; will the NDP stand out enough to get elected?

Popularity: in a traditionally-centrist province, it will be interesting to see if the NDP can garner enough political hype to prove competitive in this race

Kathleen Wynne — Liberal Party

Lagging in the polls is Kathleen Wynne, our current Premier. Leading the Liberal Party in the battle for re-election, Wynne is facing dissatisfaction from all sides of the political spectrum.  However, some political pundits have suggested that some criticisms may stem from sexism and homophobia.   

With the anger of many Ontarians still fresh from the recent hydro crisis, Wynne’s platform this year is as critical as ever. Liberal Party rankings have increased following several major policy announcements made between April and May alongside the release of the 2017 provincial budget. Some of these policy announcements include the Liberal’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15, reduce housing market tension by introducing a tax on foreign buyers, and follow a balanced budget with a youth pharmacare plan.

In her tenure, Wynne has also established a new Anti-Racism Directorate, implemented a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, and reduced the unemployment rate. These are the plans and policies that will push the Liberal Party forward throughout the election campaign in the next 11 months.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Approval rating: Wynne has record low ratings — will her left-leaning policies boost her popularity enough to get re-elected?

Framing: with widespread dissatisfaction, how will the Liberals frame their party this election?

Mike Schreiner — Green Party

Mike Schreiner has been the leader of the provincial Green Party since November 2009. The Ontario Greens have yet to win a seat in the House and are widely considered to be a long-shot in the upcoming election.

Schreiner has a background in business; he’s owned an organic and local food distribution company for over a decade.

The Green Party appears to have gained some momentum following the recent provincial election in British Columbia, where they successfully won three seats.

Schreiner has yet to release a full platform, however, in recent months he has publicly advocated for sustainable housing development and low-cost water power. He opposed the sale of Hydro One, and is pleased with the recent reforms in electoral fundraising that have effectively banned donations from both unions and corporations.

Of course, Schreiner, like most Green Party candidates, puts climate change at the top of his political platform.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Recognition: will Ontario recognize the Green Party as a contender, and win their first seat this election?

It’s up to voters

Throughout the year, each political leader will gradually shape their platforms and fine-tune their political agendas. Issues will continue to develop and media coverage will pick up speed. Oftentimes, campaign season sees superfluous promises, hyperbolic concerns, and late-in-the-game issues to entice voters to vote for a specific party. As Election Day approaches, the need for self-motivated research is increasingly necessary to ensure students are making a truly informed 

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Premier announces seven new ministers and more women in cabinet

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a shuffle and expansion of her cabinet, which will now contain more female ministers. Wynne stated, “These ministers bring experience, energy, fresh ideas and diversity to the cabinet table.”

Some of the long-term ministers who were also part of former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet will remain, including Charles Sousa as Finance Minister, Eric Hoskins as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and Glen Murray as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Ontario’s cabinet will be expanded from 27 to 30 minister positions.

“Wynne expanded the size of the cabinet so she could appoint more women,” said Nelson Wiseman, U of T professor of Canadian politics and director of the Canadian Studies program. “I think Wynne felt pressured after Trudeau appointed women to as many cabinet portfolios as men.”

In comparison, Wynne created a 40 per cent female cabinet, and Trudeau created a 50 per cent female cabinet.

Wynne’s expansion also creates three new portfolios, as she divided some of the larger ministries. There are now separate ministers for Housing, International Trade, and Infrastructure.

Included as new members of the cabinet are: Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Chris Ballard, Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Minister of Housing; Marie-France Lalonde, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs Minister and Minister of Government and Consumer Services; Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; Eleanor McMahon Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport; Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy; and Indira Naidoo-Harris, Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan).

These changes to the cabinet come after four ministers recently announced their departure, including former Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur and former Chair of Cabinet Jim Bradley.

According to Wiseman, “Election campaign planning begins much earlier now so that MPPs are asked to commit now to whether they will run again in 2018. Since some cabinet ministers were not planning to run, [Wynne] had them resign now to open up some cabinet posts.”

The announcement also included Deputy Premier Deb Matthews’ new appointments as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Digital Government.

“Wynne trusts her advice, judgement, and competence,” Wiseman stated.

Matthews’ appointment to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development will see her take on the responsibilities of the recently revamped Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Previously, Reza Moridi served as Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities; Moridi will now serve as the Minister of Research, Innovation, and Science.

Within her new role, Matthews will be overseeing the launch of the Ontario Student Grant program in September 2017, which is expected to lower or cover the costs of tuition for university students. In addition, Matthews will be charged with equipping the Ontario workforce with the necessary skills in order to compete within the global economy.